Let the Parents’ Voices Be Heard: How to Boost Inquiries into Jewish Day Schools

by Irene Lehrer Sandalow and Miriam Brosseau

The undecided, the uninformed, and the critic of Jewish Day School education: we are all trying to “get to them” so we can persuade them to give day school education a shot. If only we had the opportunity to invite them to our school to show them the students’ academic excellence, their strong sense of civic and social responsibility, the school’s ability to prepare its students to succeed in the 21st century – all while grounding them in Jewish history and tradition. But many won’t even step foot in a Jewish Day School to find out because of the misperceptions and misinformation about what day schools are about. According to a 2008 study by UJAFederation of NY, “The perceived religiosity, scholastic singularity, and social structure of Jewish day schools are leading non-Orthodox parents to believe that, Jewishly and academically, day school education “isn’t forpeople like me.” (To Go or Not To Go: Perceptions of Jewish Day Schools Among Non-Orthodox Parents in Manhattan and Long Island)

How do we persuade potential parents that day school education can provide what they are looking for? By empowering current day school parents to share their own stories.

Start with those who are Passionate about the School:
Seth Godin writes: “The easiest way to get people to do what you want them to do is to start with people who want what you want. Identify, organize and excite people who are already predisposed to achieve what you had in mind and you’re much more likely to have the outcome you seek. It’s far easier (but less compelling) than turning strangers or enemies into customers/voters/supporters/colleagues. […] Today, you change minds indirectly, by building a tribe that influences via connections to others.” (Seth Godin Blog) Current parents are the greatest advocates for the value of a day school education; talk to them first.

Uncover their Motivation
Choosing a school for your child is one of the most important, personal decisions parents will make for their family; there is always a story there. We have done numerous “listening tours” of day school parents as part of the Parent to Parent initiative of The Jewish Education Project, asking them why they made the decision to send their child to a Jewish day school – a question they are rarely, if ever, asked. The stories we heard were rich and moving, with enormous potential to resonate among other parents. Well articulated, these stories are outreach and marketing treasures for day schools.

It’s All About Word of Mouth
Parents’ social circles play a huge role in the decisions they make on behalf of their families, and choosing a day school education is no exception. A study by Measuring Success demonstrates that 59% of new inquires (out of 5,522 total inquiries measured), came through word of mouth. In addition, a recent pilot study under the auspices of the Avi Chai Foundation demonstrated that one of the key factors for parents to enroll their children in a Jewish residential summer camp was due to cues delivered to them from their social circles. The more of these passionate day school advocates we can invite to join the effort, the more people they will tell about the value of day school education.

Social Media Amplifies Word of Mouth
Studies have shown that people were three to four times more likely to trust a friend or acquaintance than an expert for advice and therefore friends or peers are the best people to clarify the misconceptions about Jewish day schools. With the help of social media, we can begin a visible, measurable ripple effect around the perception of day school education.

Getting Started
It’s time to empower parents to share their stories. Here’s a sample plan on how to start implementing a Parent to Parent approach in your own school.

  • Find two or three parents who are comfortable with social media and value the importance of a peer approach to promoting the school; ask them to lead this initiative.
  • Get a group of 5-15 parents together for an informal gathering.
  • Invite them to share why they chose Jewish Day School education for their children.
  • Show them examples of articles where parents share the benefits of Jewish Day School education.
  • Present a couple ways they can promote the school using social media, on their own time, in whatever forum they feel most at home.
  • Ask the parents to share where they “hang out” online to find information on parenting or education. Could they share their day school stories in those spaces?
  • Encourage parents who like to write to start jotting down a story that highlights the benefit of Jewish Day School education. Encourage authenticity, while also thinking about “undecided” parents as a reader of their article.
  • End the meeting with a short survey asking them what they would be interested in doing to spread the word about their school (including writing a blog post; using Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest; meeting with early childhood parents, and more).
  • Follow-up with the parents who completed the survey and develop a plan on how they can share their day school stories.
  • Make it social. Schedule regular group meetings to discuss how and where they can share their stories, photos, and videos.
  • Promote the parents’ stories to the entire parent body of the school and encourage them to share those stories with their own networks.
  • Set-up an online conversation space, such as a parent Facebook group. If parents start talking among one another and sharing articles and stories, they are more likely to continue sharing them with their network.

When more parents participate in an initiative to increase the profile of the school, collectively we can elevate the value of day school education as a whole, and engage parents in new ways. It’s up to us to show them the magic.

Parent to Parent is an initiative of The Jewish Education Project. Learn more about Parent to Parent on our website, blog, facebook and follow us on twitter. If you are a New York area day school or yeshiva and would like to get staff assistance to implement this project, contact Irene Lehrer Sandalow, Project Manager in the Day School Department of The Jewish Education Project at isandalow@jewishedproject.org.