With school schedules and enrollment timelines in flux, families are faced with even greater barriers to finding the best school for their children. Many of the most competitive schools begin their enrollment processes in the fall, which advantages those families with time and resources to dedicate to the process a year in advance. The pandemic is exacerbating these inequities.
“These application processes inherently favor families who have participated in these systems previously and have the time during typical work hours to call and visit schools,” says Anna Stacia Allen, Navigate STL School’s Executive Director. “We are trying to make sure all families are aware of their options and have support navigating these processes.”
Navigate STL Schools, a new not-for-profit incubated by The Opportunity Trust, was designed with families often disadvantaged in this process to help level the playing field by providing transparent school data, resources, and coaching.
The organization intended to partner with churches and other community organizations through in-person engagements, but these partners now struggled to provide their own services virtually. Navigate STL Schools needed to find a way to connect with families and build trust, a difficult feat to accomplish virtually, especially for a new organization.
In a matter of weeks, the organization pivoted to a digital-first campaign focused on raising awareness and engaging families in virtual spaces where trust had already been established. The team reached out to online community forums, ultimately securing engagements in 25 outlets reaching tens of thousands of local families. Allen and Maria Anaya Pintor, a Navigate STL Schools staff member, were featured on the podcast We Live Here. Pintor shared the challenges of understanding the St. Louis education landscape as a first-generation American with immigrant parents with limited English. In an interview with The STL, Allen shared her own experience as a gifted black child navigating schools in Ohio and how education made way for new opportunities that she now wants to ensure all children have.
“When we share our own stories and engage other voices in the community, people can connect with our organization on a personal level,” says Allen.
Navigate STL Schools also partnered with parent influencers with large social media followings to increase awareness of how the organization can support families. Dope Dads, a community organization whose mission is to highlight, encourage and motivate positive relationships between fathers and their children, teamed up with Navigate STL Schools to share their resources and host events, including a distanced, outdoor hike where families were able to ask a Navigate STL Schools representative questions.
Staci Static, a veteran radio personality, spent October sharing tutorials of how to use the website and her own experience using the tool to find a middle school for her daughter with her social media followers. “During distance learning, a lot of parents realized their kids needed more than what they can give them and maybe more than what they had been getting from their schools all along,” says Static. “For parents feeling overwhelmed making school choices, Navigate STL Schools helps you be the best advocate for your child’s educational needs.”
Continued Commitment to Equity
Navigate STL School’s innovative campaign drove a 118% increase in weekly visitors to their website, where families can search and compare school data and access resources to help them understand their options and determine their priorities. To further support families, Navigate STL Schools recently launched the Navigator program, which provides personalized support to families as they navigate the admissions process.
“Navigate STL Schools is working to ensure that every family, regardless of their race, economic status, or scholastic ability, can find and access a school that enables their child to thrive,” says Allen. “This vision guides every decision we make and calls us to ensure we are reaching those who have historically had the greatest barriers to accessing high-quality school options.”