by Jim Rieder, head of admissions, West Island College (Alberta, Canada)
West Island College (WIC) is a coeducational independent day school for grades 7-12 located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Like all other schools, fall and winter are busy for our admission team which is occupied with tours, shadow days, open houses, marketing events, testing, interviews, and, eventually, offer and contract signings.
The spring and early summer are much quieter in terms of contact with new families who will be joining the school in September. We send regular mailings and invitations to school productions, sporting events, and summer camps, but we wanted to see the families one more time prior to the summer to give them a head start on their journey with WIC. We hoped that by bringing all of the new families together prior to the summer, we could help them feel connected to WIC and preempt summer melt. So, we decided to host a “Welcome to New Families” event at the school.
At the beginning of every July, Calgary hosts “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” the Calgary Stampede. For those unfamiliar with the event, it is a 10-day rodeo, festival, and exhibition that attracts over a million tourists to the city. For Calgarians, it is an event that brings the whole city together over free pancake breakfasts, BBQ lunches, and general merriment. With Stampede just around the corner, we decided the best way to welcome our new families was stampede-style!
WIC is a tight-knit community, and with that in mind, we invited not just the new students but their entire families to the event. We encouraged younger siblings to come to get them excited for when they are old enough to attend WIC. We filled our back field with western-themed carnival games that were fun for kids and adults alike and served a BBQ dinner for everyone to enjoy family-style, encouraging families and students to get to know one another.
Our grade 7 jazz band was there to showcase its talents, performing a repertoire of upbeat country songs learned specifically for the event. Many teachers also attended, giving students the chance to get to know their teachers and ask questions. Large signs were placed around the venue, showcasing the myriad of programs WIC offers such as our institutes, STEM opportunities, and language programs, reaffirming student and parent excitement for the upcoming year.
One of the highlights of the evening was a visit from the Stampede Royalty. They spoke to the over 400 attendees and led the crowd in a few line dances to get the party started. The Stampede Queen, Lindsay Lockwood, also happens to be an alumna of WIC, giving her visit a personal touch. She and the princesses stayed for the whole evening, mixing and mingling, taking photos, and reminiscing about her time as a student at WIC. Having alumni at the event illustrated to the new families that being a part of the WIC community doesn’t end at graduation. Once a WIC Wolf, always a WIC Wolf.
We also used the evening to hand out summer reading lists to students with a reading buddy, which is a toy assigned to “hold the phone” for students while they read their books this summer. (see photo, left). The grade 7 teachers spoke to the students and asked them to take photos of themselves over the summer reading with their buddies. The photos will be used for fall class activities and bulletin boards.
For those students who did not make it to the event, the admission team spent a day driving around the city, hand delivering the summer reading lists and reading buddies. It was truly wonderful to see the smiles on the faces of our new students as we created a special moment for them and personally welcomed them to the WIC community.
The inaugural Welcome New Families event was a great success and we are already looking forward to planning next year’s welcome event for the next batch of new students. The event strengthened the connections these new families have with one another and the school, and as we write this article in late July, there has not been any summer melt.