A Call to Private Schools — Give Away Your Distance Learning Program

Due to the precautions surrounding COVID-19, everyone is home and all schools are now challenged with distance learning. Many independent schools have quickly risen to the challenge with impressive distance learning programs. Some public schools have done the same but their programs often lack the engagement that private school programs are implementing. Other public schools, often in underserved communities, have no current resources for digital learning. Personally, my wife works at a public school that sent kids home with a stack of worksheets to do. For her students, there will be no engagement with their classmates and minimal email engagement with their teachers.

Parents need some heroic help.

Children at home are unable to see friends or have contact outside of their family. Their minds are still firing at full capacity but they are stuck with a sort of sensory deprivation. Parents who have relied on regular commercial child care are stuck at home by necessity. Those who have relied on regular help from grandparents are forgoing that assistance to protect the grandparents’ health.

Give your distance learning program as a gift.

Independent schools are in a unique position to assist their communities in a time of great need while exposing new families to some of their greatest assets — their teachers.

I know what you’re thinking. We can’t do that.

CHALLENGE 1: How can we justify collecting tuition payments from our current families while other families are receiving our distance learning resources at no charge?

Consider your current families to be on the “premium” distance learning plan. Then look into what could be offered as a “free” program. Some of the asynchronous components of your distance learning program are candidates for the free plan. And of the synchronous components, are there some short sets of coursework that could be offered to the public for participation?

CHALLENGE 2: We can’t offer actual credit for a distance learning class to non-matriculated students.

That’s OK. Many school systems will not be offering credit to their own students. Since the state requires that all students receive equal access, most public schools are not requiring student participation nor giving course credit since they cannot guarantee access to students who lack a proper home computer/WiFi setup. What families need anyway is engaging instruction for their directionless children.

CHALLENGE 3: Since one of the goals is to expose our community to our gifted teachers, how can we do that without offering our “premium” experience of live teacher engagement?

As previously mentioned, design some short sets of coursework that could be offered to the public with live teacher engagement. Introduce families to some of the unique curriculum at your school that public schools may not offer — courses like the following.
1. Introduction to Mandarin Chinese
2. Women’s US History
3. Creative Writing
4. Songwriting Workshop
5. Introduction to Coding
6. Modeling for 3D Printers
7. Sports Medicine
8. Theology: The Bible and Christian Theology

Surely there are existing course offerings from your school that come to mind after scanning this list.

The minimester concept might be a good model upon which to frame public offerings. These courses, which often combine hands-on work and independent learning, are perfect candidates for a public mini-course.

CHALLENGE 4: How would we notify our community to encourage participation?

This a marketing, communications, and PR challenge like any other. Since this project generates no immediate income for your school, you’ll want to push hard on your free social media channels and earned media PR opportunities. Parents are online in greater numbers than ever, so a modest budget devoted to paid social media is worth considering.

Companies that are giving away their services in this time of need are making the news and their philanthropy is being shared in great numbers on social media. Independent schools that lead will experience the same.

This is a gift to the community, but what’s in it for our school?

Firstly, an unprecedented amount of goodwill is waiting for you. Independent schools often bemoan how some families in their area view private schools as elitist institutions available only to the very rich. Wouldn’t it be great for people to get a unique experience of what your school community is really like instead?

Zoom, a major video conferencing platform, is offering free service to K-12 schools. The payoff may not be direct, but it is obvious. The brand equity and loyalty earned by Zoom will pay off for years in scores of paid subscriptions in the future.

This will affect future admissions.

Your school’s unique value may be recognized by new families who participate in your distance learning offerings.

What’s more, some families will be introduced to their future school. Many public schools are faltering when faced with the execution of distance learning. There is a unique opportunity to impress families who may be looking toward independent schools for the first time this fall.

Share your community distance learning success stories.

How is your school helping community families through the COVID-19 challenge? We plan to follow this article with some great examples of community distance learning in action. We’d love to hear your story.

Share your story with us.