The coronavirus spread to the United States in the early months of 2020, as the state of Washington had the first reported case in the nation in January.
The effects of COVID-19 was deadly and altered everyday life for everyone around the world.
The virus would start to arrive in Delaware around March where the state would be in lockdown, as almost every industry closed down in the state except a few which were deemed essential jobs.
The lockdown would throw the K-12 schools in a new territory which they have never been in before as all the resources would have to become virtual and remote learning would have to begin immediately.
As each school district faced this challenge, each school’s leadership would be tested as to how prepared they were for an unexpected crisis and how fast a solid solution could be made.
I had the privileged to chat with Rob DeMasi who saw the challenges of operating within a high school in real-time during this pandemic because he is the Director of Admissions at Saint Mark’s High School. DeMasi talked about how the school has still been able to thrive through the great leadership at Saint Mark’s. A lot of the success has been from the out of the box ideas that the staff has come up within this abnormal time.
DeMasi also talks about the Muscle Movement Foundation, which is a charity he founded to help families who are affected by neuromuscular diseases. Through all the challenges the coronavirus has thrown at the foundation, it has not stopped them from helping the families that need it most.
How St. Marks Is Still Thriving In Face Of Unkown Climate
Transition From Face To Face To Online
As soon as Saint Mark’s High school received the word that their students were not coming back to the building due to pandemic, the leadership there immediately were working on making teaching resources and remote learning up within 24 hours of the news. Mr. Demasi noted that Francis Corrigan who is the school’s Assistant Principal for Mission and Academics was a huge part of the quick smooth transition from face to face learning to distance.
St. Mark’s Admissions Go Virtual
DeMasi who is the Director of Admissions at Saint Mark’s is in charge of recruiting prospective students who want to get a well-rounded education at the school.
Pre-COVID-19, one of the ways the admissions office would recruit prospective students is through a program called “Spartan for a day”. The program includes a tour of the school and the student goes through a full day with a current student with similar interests of what it would be like at St. Mark’s High school if they attended.
Now the admissions process looks a little different due to the pandemic as the recruiting process is now virtual. The Zoom videoconference app comes into use for the admissions office as they hold Q&A sessions for prospective students through the call. The admissions staff tries to make the virtual process of recruiting as similar as to face to face one, as a current student of St. Mark’s will be on the Zoom call talking about their experience at the school.
The campus tour of the high school is a little different then pre-coronavirus days, as it has become virtual as well. Before any student goes to a particular school, they would be curious about what the school looks like and the admissions team at St. Mark’s does a really good job showing the amazing views of the school for students to see.
To give the prospective student more information on Saint Mark’s, the admissions office also created a viewbook which has everything from stats of their academics, a look at their various student clubs and organizations, a look at their different athletic programs and the different kind of arts they have at the school.
One of the last things that the admissions office created is a video with current students in different locations of the campus telling what the school means to them.
The Steps To Get A Good Virtual Admissions Plan
We learned what the admissions team at St. Mark’s did to transition their ” Spartan of day program” online but what were the steps to get this program effectively virtual.
The admissions team through the elements of engagement starts with effectively communicating the vision and mission of Saint Marks High school.
Saint Mark’s mission states that they are a “college-preparatory coeducational Catholic high school, inspires young men and women to create a better world, one more pleasing to God and more helpful to others, by modeling faith, excellence, humility, and integrity.”
The next step would be how to effectively communicate the mission which the admissions staff did this in three steps:
- Why does St. Mark’s do what they do?
- How does the school carry out what they do?
- Lastly, the matter how school carries out the mission
To accomplish all the goals the admission team has for the school it helps to have a great leadership team behind you.
A leadership team in the workplace usually starts with a boss which if they stoke of an environment of distrust, it is usually hard for the employees to be innovative when thinking of new ideas for the business.
Saint Mark’s does not have this type of leader in the school, their Principal Thomas Fertal is supportive and pushes his team to be creative or think of out of the box when it comes to helping the school grow.
DeMasi made it adamant that he could not do any of this without the support of his Principal and the Saint Mark’s team. He also notes that “The buy-in of school leadership is pivotal and the relationship we create is vital”, which only came together within six months but the bond the team has is strong. The strong bond that the team feels from the leadership has not only left them feeling empowered which makes them do their job more efficiently. It also allows them not to be afraid to get creative to think of ways to bring growth to the school.
The strong bond is good for another reason as in uncertain times like these bonds get tested. If the trust is strong among the team before these times, there will be no problem coming together with a plan to get through a tough time.
After the leadership is behind your plan, the company has to have a solid culture as the idea might be great but it will not work if the workplace is a chaotic or stressful environment.
St. Mark’s has a welcoming culture as the school wants incoming or prospective students to know that no matter your background, where you came from, what your learning abilities are or what middle school you came from that you are welcomed there.
Mr.DeMasi says the school is proud to be built on a culture of inclusivity in “which they can provide accommodations and opportunities for any or all students that are interested in a Catholic education.”
After leadership and culture, DeMasi talks about one more thing the admission department does to carry out their goal which is to develop different strategies.
A tool that Saint Mark’s admissions staff use to recruit prospective students is different types of technology which includes virtual tours and connecting with families on social media.
DeMasi talked about how he feels the use of social media is a needed aspect in any organization or business because it is the modern-day newspaper. As anyone can log on to these social media platforms from their cell phone and can get any news they want or need access to. The Saint Mark’s Director of Admissions also mentions how easily one can reach out to people on social media from student’s families, sponsors, or constituents.
It is great to use social media but to use it effectively to help your business grow is another challenge for an organization.
The Saint Mark’s admissions staff made sure they were using social media effectively by evaluating data trends. The admissions department looked at how and what was grabbing an individual’s attention from the school’s social media account. The department also looked at what time of day did their posts from the account get the most attention. From analyzing the data, the school also can tell how to reach certain demographics on the different social media platforms.
DeMasi notes that Facebook is less popular among the younger crowd but it is a great place to reach parents of students from the school. He also notes that 55% of Facebook users are between the age of 25-54 and that younger crowd is more logged on to Instagram and TikTok.
“Being very innovative, creative and being to able to adapt and adjust to our new way of communication or expanding on old ways of communication virtually will be the key to grow the admissions for Saint Mark’s now and in the future.”
The Saint Mark’s Director of Admissions also makes an interesting point about how a decade ago a lot of schools thought participating on social media was a waste of time or not an appropriate place to share academia or just news of the school. Fast forward to the present day where students and families spend more time than ever online which now a lot of schools and businesses do interact with families or consumers. In this modern age, if a business is not on social media and using it effectively they will miss out on socialization and possible communication with your students, consumers, or community in general.
Getting enrollment takes doing all these steps but as DeMasi noted the “effort of admissions does not start when you enrolled the student but it starts from your communication on day one.” He also said everything matters when you communicate with prospective student’s families from the tone of your voice, how tentative you look, and if you are looking at them in their eye.
St. Mark’s Enrollment See Record High In COVID Climate
In the uncertain times we live in, a lot of Catholic schools are having a tough time as donations and enrollment are down but Saint Mark’s is not one of them.
As we described in the previous section that St. Mark’s leadership, culture, innovative thinking, and the use of social media has helped the school to a record enrollment.
Saint Mark’s incoming freshmen class is one of the largest among all Catholic high schools in the state of Delaware — perhaps the largest. Guided by Saint Mark’s new leadership, the Saint Mark’s Class of 2024 is the largest incoming freshman class at Saint Mark’s since 2012. Consequently, this is the first time since 2007 that Saint Mark’s has had a larger incoming freshman class compared to their graduating class — something difficult to accomplish in Catholic education, let alone in the midst of a pandemic.
One reason why the school is still thriving within the pandemic because the team there had a pre-existing prevention strategy in place for any crisis that could happen.
This prevention strategy helped Saint Mark’s pivot, adapt, remain transparent, and continue to tackle the mission of their school during this pandemic.
The Graduation Must Go On
The graduating class of 2020 did not get the traditional send-off due to the pandemic. A lot of graduations went virtual but Saint Mark’s was able to give the students a more traditional ceremony but it was held outside of the school.
The Saint Mark’s team went through all the proper protocols for the idea as the outside ceremony was approved by the Delaware Department of Education. The team looked at everything from the curve of the virus at the time and modeled how they could still do the graduation with set restrictions the state had in place.
On June 6th, Saint Mark’s High School held their graduation outside on the campus with all social distancing guidelines and masks protocols in place. The high school streamed the event live on their Youtube page.
Muscle Movement Foundation Still Making An Impact Despite Uncertain Times
When the school day is over at Saint Mark’s, DeMasi focuses on his other passion which is enhancing the quality of life of families who are affected by neuromuscular diseases through his foundation called the Muscle Movement Foundation.
The main event for the foundation every year is their MMF Run For Strength 5k which is held at Saint Mark’s High school. The Run For Strength 5k is the largest 5k in the state of Delaware which supports the fight against muscle disease. Hundreds of supporters participate in this run every year but this year’s 5k looked a little different from past races.
The foundation was ready to host the race as donors, sponsors, participants were already registered for the Run For Strength 5k which was supposed to be held in March but the pandemic threw a wrench in those plans. As the race was in jeopardy of not happening, the team thought of three options which were to cancel the race completely, postpone it, or host a virtual 5k run.
MMF decided to turn the race virtual which turned out to be a great move as the foundation raised the most contributions they ever had for the Run For Strength 5k race. The virtual 5K raised over 25,000 dollars for families fighting muscle disease which is the most ever in the four years the event has taken place.
The record number of contributions happened because of the foundation’s loyal supporters, sponsors, and donors who want to help the families in need that battling different kinds of muscle diseases.
The virtual route of this 5k allowed participants to choose the place where they ran, walked, or jogged which made it easier for more people to participate this year.
The success of the virtual MMF Run For Strength 5k has given the team a roadmap for their other big yearly held event which is the MMF Crush Course 5k. The Crush Course 5k is usually held at Dewey Beach in Delaware in early September but this event may have to go virtual as well because of the pandemic.
DeMasi Knows What These “Muscle Champions” Are Going Through
The passion that Rob DeMasi has for MMF and the “Muscle Champions” comes from that he knows what they are going through. DeMasi was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis at the age of 17 where at a time he was virtually paralyzed from head to toe. Myasthenia gravis is an “autoimmune disease that causes extreme muscle fatigue, weakness, and paralysis, according to the Muscle Movement Foundation.
He started this foundation at 19 years old with a simple blog with just sharing his story which he hoped he could provide hope to other people battling the same muscle disease.
It is very important to DeMasi that his foundation is transparent to the supporters on where their money is going. On MMF’s website and social media channels, the foundation highlights their “Muscle Champions” as supporters can see the money they donated is helping families in need.
Make no mistake, DeMasi and his team at MMF are very hands-on with everything that happens for the families they are fighting for. Anything that has the Muscle Movement Foundation involved in, DeMasi will most likely always be there supporting the families battling muscle diseases. When he created the foundation he wanted it to be a very individualized experience for “Muscle Champions” and the MMF team.
The pandemic has limited a lot the face to face interaction but that has not stopped the foundation from still changing lives for families who battle muscle disease.
As in late May, the team gave a new wheelchair accessible van to one of their “Muscle Champions”. As the Founder of the MMF, DeMasi would have been there to give the family the keys to the vehicle but in the times we live in with COVID-19, it happened a little different this time. The MMF team was able to coordinate with the family through phone calls which allowed them to pick up their new van.
MMF Operations Go Virtual
As for every business during the coronavirus, MMF has been using the Zoom video conference app to stay connected. As mentioned earlier, some of their events went virtual and how they help families changed some but it was not as much as a shift for the Muscle Movement Foundation as it was for some other organizations.
Even before the pandemic hit, the foundation was pretty used to the virtual life as with their website has many different ways to donate, their use of social media, and crowdsourcing.
Social media is a critical tool for the foundation in this time as it gives them a way to still connect with supporters, “Muscle Champions ” and constitutes through their channels.
It also allows them to shine a light on important issues, for example, to bring attention to myasthenia gravis in June as it was Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month. The Muscle Movement Foundation shared stories of survivors of the disease during that month on Instagram.
Saint Mark’s High school and the Muscle Movement Foundation show if your organization has a great leadership team that even in the toughest of times, growth can still happen.