Catholic high schools in archdiocese hold virtual open house visits

| May 4, 2020 | 0 Comments

Catholic and other high schools couldn’t hold open houses on campus this spring because of Minnesota’s stay-at-home orders to help prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. But that hasn’t stopped the schools from reaching out.

Many have created virtual-reality open houses, highlighted by video tours of their campuses, complete with catchy music and expert camera work, as well as comments from school leaders and students.

Hill-Murray School in Maplewood created a 360-degree video tour that can be found on its homepage. School officials say the special, from-all-directions-view is rare if not unique at the high school and even college level.

Video tours and comments from school leaders are available on the website of Visitation School in Mendota Heights, which held a virtual open house April 15 for prospective students and their parents.

“Since people can’t come to Vis (Visitation), we’re trying to bring Vis to them,” said Cecilia Petschel, the school’s communications and marketing director. “We had a (live) open house scheduled … and we turned it into a virtual open house.”

Totino-Grace High School in Fridley held a virtual open house April 27.

“Although we would rather welcome you to our campus in person, we are glad you are here,” said Shari Nichols, Totino-Grace’s director of enrollment and international students, in opening remarks for the school’s presentation, which included Craig Junker, president; Cheri Broadhead, principal; and other school leaders.

Junker, as well as officials at Hill-Murray and Visitation, said their work in reaching prospective students is happening on top of distance learning efforts that are required for current students since schools across Minnesota closed in March to help the state weather the pandemic.

While not as desirable as in-person visits, more people are visiting the website offerings for open houses than might have shown up in person at spring open houses held on their campuses, school officials said.

Hill-Murray’s numbers help tell that story. The school’s virtual-reality-tour website page saw 2,075 visits between March 25 and April 29, and 1,674 unique visits. The school’s average attendance at its fall open house is about 400 people. Its spring gatherings bring in about 50 people.

“We have more visits to this page than we ever would have had bodies in the room,” said Amy Gutknecht, marketing and communications director at Hill-Murray.

Traditionally, fall open houses draw more parents than spring open houses, school officials said. In fact, Visitation planned to hold its first-ever spring open house this year, and “then COVID-19 hit,” triggering the virtual-reality effort, Petschel said.

“We realized we didn’t have a virtual tour of the school,” she said. “So, our head of school and lead enrollment person and I worked with a videographer who met us up there” and created one.

Distance learning as a whole at Catholic schools is strong and rigorous, with laptops or MacBooks available for each student, and in Junker’s words, “teachers who know how to use them.”

“The value proposition of Catholic schools has never been higher,” in the midst of the challenges brought on by the pandemic, he said.

Now, the video tours are made and will remain, but schools also hope to have students back in school in the fall — as well as prospective students and their parents once again able to visit campuses in person.

“That’s the goal,” Gutnecht said, “for everyone to be back in the classroom in the fall, and open houses as well.”

Tags: , ,

Category: Local News