As August swiftly approaches, you're likely fine-tuning the details of what your fall schedule will look like. More than ever, much of your decision-making will have to be tailored to studio parents—some of whom may be eager to return to in-person instruction, and some of whom may be understandably scared.
"Having three studios across two counties in the midst of this crisis, we're really seeing the full spectrum," says Melanie Gibbs, owner of Boca Dance Studio, ProAm Dance Studio and Weston Dance Academy, all in Florida. "We have people who are firmly in the camp of, 'Get these kids out of my house—they're climbing the walls, and they want to get back into the studio with their friends.' We have other clients already telling us they won't be back to in-person classes this season—even if the school districts reopen—though they're happy to continue virtual training."
1. Highlight safety and wellness<p>Though the health of your students has likely always been a studio concern, now is the time to put that sentiment forward. "What we're selling as studio owners had to flip. Safety and hygiene were never something we mentioned on our fancy print brochure, because it was sort of assumed," says Gibbs. "Now we're leading the conversation with safety and wellness." She created a "Safer Studio" plan, with instructions regarding mask-wearing, increased sanitization and social distancing, and posted it on her website and on signs around the studio. She's also included safety measures as part of videos she's posted to her Facebook page and her website, and that play in her lobby. She's also made sure her cleaning supplies—and between-class cleaning protocol—are visible to parents at all times.</p><p>By implementing and communicating hygienic necessities, like constant studio sanitization, taped-out six-foot grids and staggered class start times, you'll reassure parents that their children's health is an utmost priority not only for you but also for your entire staff. "Teachers are now part of the janitorial staff," says Gibbs.</p>
2. Offer multiple modes of instruction<p>"Every family is not experiencing the pandemic in the same way," says Gibbs. "And we want to be able to say yes to every family, in every way we can." She's offering five different ways for students to take class, come fall: in-facility private lessons; semiprivate lessons ("a customized class for a family or friend group," she says); standard in-studio classes, with a strictly limited capacity; livestreamed classes, created specifically for students taking class at home ("We want to make sure it's a separate class—that they're not just getting the scraps of in-person instruction," says Gibbs); and prerecorded, on-demand classes that families can take on their own time. By letting the decision of how to take class fall to her parents—with the option to mix and match instruction methods, depending on how the pandemic evolves over the fall—Gibbs guarantees her studio families' comfort.</p>
A pre-COVID class at ProAm Dance Studio
Photo courtesy of Gibbs
3. Invest in technology<p>Upgrading the virtual components of your studio's instruction demonstrates to parents that you're committed to giving every student—even those learning from home—a top-notch experience. "In our new normal, even once we have a vaccine, every physical group class that meets in the studio will have a Google Classroom assigned to it, whether those students are interested in a virtual component or not," says Gibbs. "It'll become a homeroom of sorts—we can post announcements, students can communicate, and I can train my people so they're comfortable with the technology before another crisis."</p><p>Boniszewski is investing in efforts that will make students who are taking class virtually feel as if they're in the studio. "We have four classrooms, and each will have a smart TV," she says, which will allow the teacher to interact with online students. "We'll also have a 180-degree camera on the ceiling near the back wall. When a student logs into Zoom, she'll feel like she's in the back row of the class. She'll be able to see the teacher, see into the mirror and see the full classroom." Boniszewski's teachers will also wear headsets that are integrated with the studio's monitors, so students taking class virtually will only hear the teacher's voice and the music. "They won't hear background noise, and they'll feel like they're hearing the music at home," she says.</p><p>Though this technology was a considerable financial investment for Boniszewski—$15,000—its payoff will be bigger, she feels. "We surveyed our families and realized that 30 percent of them are still uncomfortable with in-person classes," she says. "That's a big enough percentage that I felt we needed to be able to offer them something more than just a computer set up in a classroom." It also offers a built-in backup plan, she says, in case New York mandates that in-person instruction is off the table at any point, or if a family decides to travel for any length of time.</p>
A Tonawanda Dance Arts Zoom class
Photo courtesy of Boniszewski