Claudia Lee '24
It’s March 2020 on the Hill. Flintridge Sacred Heart students, faculty and staff are packing up their things and preparing for distance learning in order to adjust to a world newly facing a global pandemic. After initially thinking it would only be a few weeks of distance learning, the FSH community saw quarantine turn into a few months and then a whole year, everyone staying socially distanced and away from the Hill.
Some had to stay farther away than others. Residential life students at FSH had to journey back home to different cities, states and countries. Because of restrictions, it took some students weeks before they were able to fly home. Once home, they not only had to adjust to online learning but the struggles of being in a different time zone than most of their peers.
Now, after a year and a half, everyone is back on campus, and these Tologs are readjusting to life in the boarding hall.
Last year, residential schools all over the world had to adjust their programs to deal with quarantine. As a result of the challenge Covid presented, boarding programs across the United States dealt with reduced numbers of international students. There were 38 residential life students at Flintridge Sacred Heart on campus before the pandemic. During distance learning, the number of residential students dropped to its current number of 35. While FSH is close to its pre-pandemic levels of residents, the school wants to increase that number even more and aims to get to 52 residential life students by the next school year.
To reach this goal, the school is pursuing two strategies: outreach efforts overseen by the admissions office and an overhaul of the residential life program spearheaded by Director of Community Life Dr. Juli James.
“What we’ve been doing in the admissions office in particular is that we’ve been going out and talking to schools outside of this area, outside of California, and getting our name out there,” the Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management Ms. Tracy How said.
Ms. How works with Assistant Director of Admissions Ms. Analise Gay, who said that not only is FSH taking physical trips to increase awareness, the school is continuing to attend virtual events.
“The virtual aspect has been super helpful to us. It was born out of the necessity of Covid, but it’s really nice to see how it’s helping us to move forward as we continue to recruit students,” Ms. Gay said. Ms. How and Ms. Gay mentioned some of the ways they have been reaching out, including using niche.com, a website that helps families find schools.
“We are using websites as well to expand our reach and to put our name out there into the world, so for example, for people searching for ‘boarding schools in California,’ we would show up,” Ms. How said.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by the rest of the Flintridge Sacred Heart staff and faculty.
“Our marketing is doing a very good job of explaining our programs and sharing them with people,” Assistant Principal of Student Affairs Mrs. Rosemary Johnston said.
Mrs. Johnston said that she appreciates how much the marketing department has worked to showcase some of the unique parts of FSH, including their commitment to social and emotional wellness, programs that were already part of the school before Covid.
“It’s made very apparent how helpful the resources are that we’ve put in place: our great advising program, college counseling for the seniors, student services, Ms. Gallant [the director of psychological counseling and services], campus ministry and the administration,” Mrs. Johnston said.
During quarantine, Dr. James made some changes to the residential life program. She revamped its curriculum and is striving towards having a “home away from home” feel. Her approach has been to make changes from the perspective of a girl living in the community and asking herself what she would want from FSH.
“I would want to have second moms who really care about me and take me places and make me cookies and have me into their apartments for hot-pots and just really have a person I could go to with any issues,” Dr. James said.
Dr. James remarked on the activities that the residential life program offers, including hikes, shopping trips and outings every weekend. She also explained that the program now has 77 life skills that the girls are being taught, from cooking to sewing to self-defense. The life skills are part of a five-part curriculum that also offers social and emotional health lessons and focuses on areas like character building.
“We do these lessons once or twice a week; it’s almost like school, but we make it fun,” Dr. James said.
Dr. James wants to make the boarding hall a place where day students feel welcome and hopes to make the community stronger by hosting more events and being more open about activities at the hall.
“We’re trying to demystify the residential building. I’m finding that more and more day girls are attending our weekend field trips, dinners, other trips and coming for life skills,” Dr. James said.
Ms. How touched on the unique programs that Flintridge Sacred Heart offers as well and says she is figuring out how to be clear about marketing what FSH can do for its students.
“I think that when we’re talking about a boarding school, we have to be able to market ourselves as a boarding school offering all those benefits, and not a school for troubled teens, or a place to go when you’re not doing well,” Ms. How said.
Ms. How added that she often gets calls from parents who are hoping to send their daughter that is having a hard time to Flintridge Sacred Heart. She believes that those parents have an outdated view of residential life schools and is working on marketing FSH so that people understand that it is not a school for troubled girls.
Both Ms. How and Ms. Gay agree that brand awareness is something that they should be focusing on a lot this year, and are working to spread the awareness worldwide.
“If you were to go overseas and you were talking about FSH or Flintridge Sacred Heart, no one would know what you were referring to. What we want to see is brand recognition: you hear it, you know what it is,” Ms. How said.
Ms. Gay also expressed the importance of using words and connecting with other departments to market FSH in a clear and accessible way.
“Words are important. The ways that you describe something matters. That’s where we are as a school, working interconnectedly with all these other departments as well, so we can get the word out,” Ms. Gay said.
Whether for day or residential life students, Flintridge Sacred Heart remains committed to having rigorous and inclusive programs that uphold the values of Veritas.
“I love seeing how what we do helps young people grow in the world, so the more people we can share this with, the happier it makes me,” Mrs. Johnson said.