Sunday, October 1, 2023

Private schools on the Peninsula still see steady numbers even during the economic uncertainty of the coronavirus. Here’s why

In coming years, Williamsburg Christian Academy will change from a traditional curriculum to an International Baccalaureate program. (WYDaily/Wikimedia Commons)
Williamsburg Christian Academy.  (WYDaily/Wikimedia Commons)

There are a few private secondary schools for children to attend in the Historic Triangle but as many people lose their jobs or see reduced income, how do these private institutions plan to retain their student body?

Johnny Graham, head of school at Williamsburg Christian Academy, said the pandemic has families in the region searching and exploring new education options, which has led to a spike in inquiries about the institution. Graham said Williamsburg Christian seems particularly interesting to students because it prepared for the pandemic ahead of many other public and private schools.

Graham said Williamsburg Christian started planning for the pandemic in February by asking teachers to prepare for virtual lessons and finding ways to continue education seamlessly.

He said as the economy continues to change, Williamsburg Christian’s “affordable price point” and its goal to create greater access makes the institution stronger in the face of economic uncertainty.

According to its website, Williamsburg Christian tuition ranges from $7,650 to $11,950 a year, depending on a student’s grade level.

Graham said there have always been financial challenges for some families but the school tries to work with them and meet them at their point of need.

“So we do have conversations with families who need to talk with us about their financial situation just as any organization or business is doing with its clients currently,” he said. “That’s just smart business at the end of the day and we are happy to have those conversations.”

At Hampton Roads Academy, Head of School Peter Mertz said there is a similar trend. 

“Specifically regarding enrollment, we are remaining surprisingly steady given all of the uncertainty that our community is coping with,” Mertz wrote in an email. 

The number of new applications is similar to that of previous years and the level of attrition is actually lower that usual due to families moving from the area, he said.

Hampton Roads Academy has started to see an increase in requests for financial aid from families that are facing financial setbacks. Mertz said the school has been able to meet the level of assistance, so far.

According to the school’s website, tuition ranges from $11,730 to $20,790 annually, depending on grade level.

As the school plans for the next school year and potentially reopening, Mertz said there are a lot of other aspects to consider.

“These are interesting times indeed for everyone in our community,” Mertz said. “As you might expect, planning itself is not difficult but figuring out exactly what we should plan for is the challenge. HRA, has developed an extraordinary number of scenarios for the opening of school, the majority of which we hope we will not have to use.”

The school anticipates admission inquiries to increase for the middle and upper graders as the school year ends. Mertz said he also expects the steady demand for the institution’s Lower School program will allow a new extra section to be added to the Lower School Building.

Graham said the key to survival long term is creating an innovative and expansive virtual learning platform that lasts even after the pandemic.

“School leaders and boards should be challenging themselves right now to prepare for the modernization of 21st century education,” he said. “It’s not just about affordability, but access. I think school choice and access will see a major leveling of the playing field over the next decade.”

Graham said the new virtual learning at Williamsburg Christian has allowed the school already to expand its language offerings and reach its international students around the globe.

“Course offerings that were never completely possible under the scope of a traditional way of delivery because of the finances associated with it are now accessible,” he said. “So we’ve used this opportunity to push the gas pedal a little bit.”

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Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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