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Saint Mark’s High School brings in prospective families for a little food, fellowship at ‘Sparta-Q’

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Saint Mark’s athletic director and baseball coach Matt Smith talks to eighth-grader Anthony Mariano (striped shirt) and his parents, Ryan and Chrissy, and sister Alayna. Dialog photo by Mike Lang.

MILLTOWN — With pulled pork and cole slaw on one side of a big tent, and part of the marching band on the other, there could be no question what was happening Oct. 8 at Saint Mark’s High School. It was time for the weekly “Sparta-Q.”

Saint Mark’s principal Tom Fertal said the barbecues were part of a brainstorming effort “on how to reinvent the admissions season in the midst of COVID,” as well as a continuation of the recruiting efforts that led to the school’s biggest freshman class in 10 years.

Eighth-grader Charlotte Aldridge of Odyssey Charter School takes part in Sparta-Q with her family (from left) Michele, Liam and Chris. Dialog photo by Mike Lang.

“It’s not just a matter of trying to do what we used to do, whether its admissions and any of our activities. It’s ‘how can we capitalize and do things that might be just as good or better?’ he said. “We knew that we had to be outside for most things, we knew that we wanted to make personal contacts with people, and what better way to do it than breaking bread with some food?”

The events began in early September and were originally scheduled to run through the end of October. They have proven so popular that Saint Mark’s is looking to extend them into November, Fertal said.

Eighth-graders from schools all over the area are invited, along with their families. There, at socially distanced tables, they have the opportunity to speak with Fertal and other members of the administration, faculty members, coaches and current Saint Mark’s students. The school has been distributing Spartans face masks and informational material about the school.

Admissions director Rob DeMasi said there is a Saint Mark’s connection to every aspect of the Sparta-Q. The family of a graduate is responsible for the food, and the tent came from another family associated with Saint Mark’s.

DeMasi said in normal times, the Sparta-Q could have happened as one big event, with 400-500 people milling around, “but one thing I like about the small group, socially distanced aspect of the Sparta-Q is the intimacy of getting to know the families.”

Instead of just introducing themselves, the faculty and staff can sit at a table and have a conversation with a family or group of students, he said. The Sparta-Q also fits in with what the administration is trying to do at Saint Mark’s.

“We’re dedicated to maximizing the engagement opportunities, no matter what the climate is. Whether you can have a global pandemic or not, we’re always going to push the envelope to make sure that our local community understands the significance of Saint Mark’s High School and what makes it so special,” DeMasi said.

Fertal said the school is trying to capitalize on the momentum it built up last year, which resulted in a freshman class of 200. The school is hearing from eighth-graders who have targeted Saint Mark’s as their first choice.

“There’s definitely buzz and excitement. On every level, we’re seeing the fruits of last year’s labor,” he said.

Along with barbecued chicken and potato salad.

All photos by Mike Lang.