Crooms Academy is the only Seminole County school that must recruit its students. So how does that work in the modern age?
Many institutions are finding new and creative ways to conduct business in what’s being called the new normal, and Crooms Academy of Information Technology in Sanford is no different. Crooms is unique among Seminole County high schools – it doesn’t have a specific zone from which to draw students. Instead, the school’s advanced technology programs are open to all high schoolers in the district, and nothing attracts IT-minded learners like some hands-on interactions with the many programs available at Crooms... and therein lies the 2020/2021 problem.
Typically, Crooms relies on a variety of in-person recruitment efforts to introduce the school and its offerings to Seminole County families and entice eighth-grade students to apply. And while Crooms is well regarded in the state and across the country – it’s recognized as a Distinguished Academy, the highest honor by the National Academy Foundation, and is a School of Excellence, the highest honor given by Magnet Schools of America – many local families may not know about the school’s programs or its application process.
“We are severely hamstrung in terms of what we usually do for recruiting this year,” says Dr. Brandon Hanshaw, the principal at Crooms. “Last year, we nailed it – we had our best and highest recruiting class ever.”
To achieve the feat, Crooms was in direct communication last year with each middle-school principal. The academy sent counselors, a marketing coordinator, and two or three student ambassadors to each middle school to meet with interested students one-on-one.
In addition, the academy arranged field trips for eighth graders to visit the campus for the day to give them a taste of the full Crooms experience.
“We invited the kids to come tour our campus,” says Dr. Hanshaw. “We would send school buses to their schools to pick the kids up, take them here, tour them around campus, feed them lunch, and send them back.”
Those tours plus a Magnet Night event gave students and their families a chance to see the academy’s 11 computer labs up close, including an Apple Mac desktop lab and two game and simulation labs.
But then COVID hit. Trips to each middle school: cancelled. Field trips: cancelled. Family Magnet Night: cancelled.
Time to Rewire
Since they couldn’t bring prospective students to Crooms, the staff brainstormed ways to bring Crooms to the kids. Erin Millwater, the academy’s cyber center specialist and marketing coordinator, led the charge.
Erin and her team created a virtual Magnet Expo, which was held in late October. The expo included four events hosted throughout the day via the online conferencing platform Webex. The school made this year’s Magnet Night virtual, as well.
Michael Lawrence, director of communication for the district, reached out to ALL eighth-grade families to share information about Crooms and its application process, and every eighth-grade family received a promotional video about Crooms, which can be seen on the academy’s website.
Because no one is quite sure when COVID-19 restrictions will end, Crooms has also created a virtual, interactive tour of the entire campus.
“We’re the only school that’s doing this, as far as we know,” says Dr. Hanshaw.
“It’s kind of like a Google Earth street view, but it’s inside,” adds Erin.
If families are interested in taking a physical campus tour, that option is still available, it’s just slightly restructured to allow for social distancing and adherence to SCPS safety protocols. Families can fill out a campus tour request form on the Crooms website. Student ambassadors then guide families on private tours by reservation each Friday. Masks are required for students and guests, and tour groups are kept small.
Another unique program at Crooms is the academy’s partnership with community businesses that offer job shadowing and paid student internships for juniors and seniors.
“Students can work up to 150 hours at a rate of at least $10 per hour with our partners in industry,” explains Dr. Hanshaw.
And what’s better than graduating with a Crooms diploma? How about a diploma and an associate’s degree.
“The biggest point of emphasis we offer that other high schools do not have is actually our Associate in Arts pathway,” says Dr. Hanshaw.
About one-third of students in each of the academy’s graduating classes earn a two-year Associate of Arts degree from Seminole State College concurrent with their high-school diploma. That gives graduates an enormous head start on their college careers.
And, during 2020, the best and most innovative way to market these unique features of Crooms is also the most old-fashioned.
“Families can call me directly if they’re interested in talking to me about the program,” says Dr. Hanshaw. “This is a very comfortable place for students to express who they really are.”
There’s still time to apply for the 2021-2022 school year at Crooms. The application period, which normally runs from October 1 to December 1, is being extended into 2021. Interested students and their families can visit cait.scps.k12.fl.us or call 407-320-5750.
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