Donna Aravena and her daughter Nicole own and operate Seven Star School of Performing Arts in Brewster, New York. Enrollment is 550 students; 300 are ages 6 and under. Donna shared these tips in a seminar at the 2010 Dance Teacher Summit in New York.
1 Start young. Offer a class for 2 1/2-year-olds. Because other programs generally enroll children beginning at age 3, your school will get a jump on the competition. Donna Aravena recommends that you be prepared with lots of activities, since attention spans are shorter in this age group. This special class also performs one number in the Seven Star School annual recital. “It usually brings down the house,” she says. “They are so cute.”
2 Offer a two-hour class. The basic preschool class duration is one hour, but two-hour classes are popular with parents. The Aravenas structure their “Broadway Babies” class this way: The first hour is dance—ballet, tap and acro—followed by a 10-minute snack. The remaining time is for acting and singing sessions. They recruit instructors from the local college: performance studies majors, who minor in elementary education.
3 Simplify enrollment. Seven Star School communicates tuition in annual terms. For example, the school collects annual tuition of $550 (for a one-hour weekly class) in 10 monthly installments. Annual tuition for a two-hour class is $825—that’s half off for the second hour.
4 Enroll more students in each class than you expect to attend. To reach an ideal class size of eight students (considering absences and dropouts), enroll a maximum of 12.
5 Never turn a student away. If you tell a parent you’ll put them on a waiting list, they will take their business to another studio. Instead, find space to start an additional session.
6 Build your contact list with off-premises classes. A local Montessori school pays the Seven Star School to send a teacher to conduct a weekly class. Some of these children later become Saturday students at the studio, and enroll for classes when they’re older.
7 Offer free introductory classes. Contact local preschools and day care centers, and offer to teach a free one-hour class. The Aravenas never make a sales pitch at these free classes—they don’t even mention the school to the children. The only requirement is that the host school send a goody bag home with students that includes a brochure for Seven Star School. Last year, from five free classes, the Aravenas enrolled 22 new students.
(Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Suzy Oliveira)