Home Education and Careers Diocese of Wilmington schools make adjustments during pandemic to accommodate open houses

Diocese of Wilmington schools make adjustments during pandemic to accommodate open houses

Tom Fertal and administrators and students at Saint Mark's High School prepare to announce a scholarship winner at open house in 2019.

Besides the children currently inside their buildings, local Catholic schools also have their attention on those students who may be part of their communities in the future. The fall especially is an important time for school officials, as it is normally filled with open houses, designed to introduce a community to prospective families.

But the coronavirus has forced changes to plans for traditional open houses, as it has to just about every aspect of educational life. School leaders have adapted but are otherwise moving forward with plans for modified open houses.

At Saint Mark’s High School, principal Thomas Fertal said normal open houses are still on the schedule, but not in the usual format.

“We’re retooling open house to like a 60-minute consolidated smaller version,” he said.

At least eight of those will be scheduled, he continued. One will be on a Sunday, another on Veterans Day during the daytime. Two will happen at night. Last year, Saint Mark’s drew between 400 and 500 families to its open house. In 2020, they may get the same number, but it will be in groups of 50 students.

“It will be a similar format, but it will be a little bit more directed. We’ll be doing multiple ones of those,” he said.

According to admissions director Rob DeMasi, Saint Mark’s open house was originally scheduled for Oct. 25. But the school understands why a big single event is not possible.

“You’ve got to follow what the professionals say. Most importantly, it’s the safety of our kids, the safety of our families. Although we do have the land here … we have to stay with the protocol and the proper mitigation. Rest assured, we’ll make it happen,” he said.

Ss. Peter and Paul Elementary School in Easton, Md., may bring prospective students to campus at some point this fall, principal Sherrie Connolly said. A back-to-school night was done virtually, and that went well, she said, and there were a few exterior tours over the summer. They went well, although they are not ideal.

“If you can really see the school in action, that’s the best-case scenario,” Connolly said.

Tina Morroni, principal of Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Wilmington, agrees. “So much of the feel of a school comes from the energy of being in the building and seeing things.”

IHM has built a series of virtual open houses that include a tour of the building, teachers talking about their programs, photos of classrooms in pre-pandemic times, and an aerial look at the campus. Student ambassadors narrate the videos. The open houses are tailored to specific age groups. There are two more scheduled for the youngest prospective students and their parents, Morroni said, with details available at the school website or its social media outlets.

Families who want to see the school in person can do so by appointment. They have to be done when no students or extra staff are present.

“We can bring them in in the evening or on the weekend as an individual family,” she said.

A fully virtual open house is on the calendar at St. Elizabeth School for Oct. 18, admissions director Collin LeNoir said. Families that register at the school website will receive an access link. Once there, they will be able to engage through various media, such as pre-recorded messages and text documents. The day will also include live question-and-answer sessions about academics and athletics. Everything will be preserved for those unable to make it on the 18th.

St. Elizabeth also is offering virtual tours, using the same route families would take if they were physically in the buildings, he explained. And they will have in-person visits during non-school hours.

“We certainly understand that there is a need for families to see the campus,” he said.

“We’re hoping that some of these virtual options will help put St. Elizabeth on the map for some families who maybe haven’t heard of St. Elizabeth before or wouldn’t necessarily come out to our in-person open house because they can access these materials from the comfort of their own home.”

LeNoir said he wouldn’t necessarily call the current situation frustrating, but it is different. This is the busiest time of the year for the admissions team, with the assistance of the marketing people and some others. All are pitching in to make the best of the situation.

“We’re fortunate to have a great team here that’s able to think fast and put together some great options for our prospective families,” he said.

Fertal said the coronavirus pandemic has forced the team at Saint Mark’s to be more creative.

“It’s cliché that in any crisis there’s opportunity and there’s danger, but it’s true,” he said. “So, yeah, you’ve got to embrace it and rethink it. I think there’s things that we’re learning this year.”