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St. Francis Prep Has Music for Everyone!

St. Francis Preparatory School, NY

6100 Francis Lewis Boulevard, Fresh Meadows, NY, USA
Director: Robert Johnston
Category: High School Recruitment Program
Award: Gold, 2020

Project Description

St. Francis Prep is one of the country’s largest Catholic high schools. Music is a very important component of who we are, and 62% of our students study Music. This happens due to multiple factors, all of which are rooted in the efforts of our award-winning Music program.

Prep is a private school, and we do not have a dedicated feeder system. Therefore, we must develop relationships with neighboring schools, parishes, and families to ensure we are drawing not only students who are are already playing and singing, but those who have an interest, given we have an extensive beginner program for all four orchestral families, and an entry level chorus for young women.

This is done through various means. The first is our heavy presence at our Open House each October. We have three of our elite groups performing (choir, jazz band, orchestra), as well as classroom presentations with Music faculty and parents. We show our department video, distribute our department brochures, and answer countless questions. Families are given vouchers to be able to attend our concerts for free, and also fill out audition forms.

These audition forms are crucial, as they capture the student’s current school, and current Music teacher. This helps us keep our contact information up to date, as well as be able to send personalized notes to colleagues in the field.

We have an extensive mailing list of Music educators, administrators, Pastors, and Music Ministers who receive announcements about our concerts that include brochures and concert vouchers. We also utilize SchoolReach (school-wide email) to advertise concerts, as well as post events on Facebook, advertise on a local radio station, and have web banners on our school’s homepage. We have also been posting on the local news channel’s community calendar. Being a Catholic school, we also make sure to meet with local priests when they are here for penance services, and present them with materials for their schools and parishes in person. We send press releases for all our major events.

We have begun recognizing local Music teachers with an “Outstanding Music Educator Award” at our final concert. We have forged a relationship with Queens College that has opened our doors to their community. We now host the Paul Effman NY Honor Band each year, which is made up of hundreds of students, grade 5-8 from over 50 schools, who perform in our auditorium, and use our facilities. We also have guest performers at our concerts from local schools and parishes. This enables them to perform with our students, and see our facilities.

But the unique element for us is to attract student at the 8th grade level and current freshmen not enrolled in Music to consider taking one of our beginner classes. This is done for the freshmen via classroom visits from specialists, and instrument demonstrations from teachers and students alike. Our articulated program includes beginner classes, entry level ensembles, intermediate ensembles, and our elite ensembles, in band, orchestra, and percussion.

Target Audience

We have a multiple levels we target. Each has their own unique approach.

We target potential students new to the school. This is two-fold, whether they are students who already play and sing, or students with little to no experience who wish to learn.

We target current students who are taking beginner classes who can continue through our program. An example of “running the table,” would be a freshman who is in a beginner string class, who then takes our beginner orchestra sophomore year, our intermediate orchestra junior year, and our Chamber Orchestra senior year.

Then we have students already in ensembles who we wish to retain. This is also two-fold. The first is for students to continue through their ensemble track. The second is for rising sophomores and juniors to consider taking our “knowledge classes.” The include two levels of theory, Music history, technology (Logic), and Orchestration (Finale).

We also speak with parents and our guidance department as necessary, and even had a department meeting with guidance to detail our curriculum and various paths and opportunities.

Overview of planning and execution process for this project

Each year, we update numerous materials, including our article in the Open House edition of our school newspaper. We update our department brochure and concert voucher. If we are producing a new video, this is updated as well. The video is a professionally produced record of the program, recent standout accomplishments, and history of who we are. These are all done sometime in August or September.

Then, we stage our first mailing for our Open House, utilizing mailing lists that include Music educators, administrators, Pastors, Music Ministers. This includes brochures, concerts vouchers, audition forms, and a cover letter. We utilize Tri-M students who need service hours to assemble the mailing. This is done in late-September or early-October.

The same process is used in late-November for our Christmas concerts; late-February-early-March for our Jazz/Pop concert; and early-mid-April for our Spring concerts.

For each concert, we also post web banners via our school webmaster who designs them. We send Facebook posts via our Associate Director of Development. We encourage faculty and alumni to share these. We also send SchoolReach emails to the school community prior to each concert. We submit to the NY1 community calendar (the local tv news station), and we utilize a local radio station, all within the above time frames.

In December and prior to easter, we meet with visiting priests who are at the school for penance services, and present them with brochures and vouchers.

For each concert we invite local schools, who perform in side-by-sides with our students. The timeline for these vary, but generally begin with each school year, confirming concert dates, rehearsal logistics, and repertoire.

The major invited event is our “Hallelujah Project,” where we invite school (potential students) and parish (potential parents and grandparents) choirs to sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” with us. This process includes inviting choirs, supplying music and mp3’s for voice parts, and establishing rehearsals. This is best done prior to the end of the previous school year.

We also present an “Outstanding Music Educator Award” each year. This person is selected via department discussion, and advised in the winter for our final Spring concert.

Our in-class recruiting begins in earnest (it is a really a year-long process) prior to our Christmas concerts. For our beginner students, this is done to ensure these students receive concert vouchers, so they and their parents can see what can be in store for them if they continue in an ensemble. Then in January, we present our beginner concert, which enables these students to have a performance experience prior to our registration period, which begins in late-January-early February. The hope is they, “catch the bug.”

Again, through this time, teachers are speaking at length about potential course selection in class. This includes continuing in ensemble programs, auditioning for higher groups, and taking electives in Theory, History, Technology, and Orchestration.

Community Impact

This has obviously impacted our Music department greatly. We have been able to enjoy new construction, given the significant growth and quality of the program. We have been given $200,000 from our Board to replace and grow our band and orchestra inventory.

We have enjoyed being an integral part of the fabric of our school life, as our ensembles have performed +/-80 times yearly at not only our concerts, but Honor Society Inductions, our Open House, at the local soup kitchen, at a Christmas Part for people with special needs, and even this year, at a special assembly for visitors from our sister school in Kenya. In short, we bring Music to both the school community, as well as those in our local community, regardless of their place in society.

Music has been able to bring a significant amount of publicity to the school thanks to various standout performances, as well as the recognitions we have earned. This year alone, we have been recognized by the NAMM Foundation, Music for All’s Advocacy in Action, The Assembly of the State of New York, and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.

This has all been done as our overall school enrollment has dipped from 2660 in 2009 to a projected 2470 this upcoming year. It is safe to say that in a time when Catholic education faces its own struggles, Music is now a pillar of St. Francis Prep as we enter our 161st year.

Overall budget


Specific Budget Breakdown

1000 goes to our video (even years). 250 is what we contribute to the printing of our brochures.

We are grateful that the school supplies envelopes and labels, and covers mailing expenses.

What was your total program enrollment during the prior school year?


What is your projected program enrollment for the current school year?


New or recurring project?


How did you update/change this project from its previous occurrence?

Each year, we update our mailing lists, gather new contacts, and build relationships with our partners in education, old and new. This latter step takes the form of casual meetings over the summer, and assessing needs and goals that benefit all involved.

We now survey our students (via SurveyMonkey) at the beginning of each year (all at once in our auditorium), and ask what school they came from, who their music teacher was (if applicable), as well as ask if they came from the Paul Effman Music Service Honor Bands that performed at Prep. This enables us to refine our targets, and relationships, and ensure the educators who “feed” us are thanked, as well as let them know how certain former students are doing.

Utilizing Tri-M students greatly eased the burden we have with mailings, and utilizing our parent coordinator to contact schools, given her former standing as a principal has helped immensely.

Again, having parent help is invaluable, and we see having a parent handle the “Hallelujah Project,” as being of significant assistance.

Challenges/obstacles that were encountered

One challenge was finding time to stuff envelopes with all our materials. With the inception of our Tr-M Society, we now utilize students to assemble packages, as they need service hours.

Another hurdle was making initial contact with teachers and Music Ministers for the “Hallelujah Project.” This was handled by giving the project over to the head of our parent association, who is also a retired school principal. Given her contacts and relationships, we anticipate the project being much more expedient. This also allows teachers to focus on teaching.

Each year, recruiting from current classes is a challenge, given the rigors of a college preparatory education. Therefore, we strive to maintain a strong relationship with the head our guidance department and college counseling. For us, it is crucial that our students understand that aside from being a legitimate academic subject, Music can be a life-long avocation, and something that provides significant savings given potential college scholarships.

We also strive to maintain a strong relationship with our admissions office, ensuring that admission counselors are up-to-date on our efforts, and the opportunities we afford our students.

The biggest obstacle we have yet to overcome is recruiting from our Introduction to Music classes (General Music). We still only attract +/-15% of these students to our specialty classes.

Measurement of the success/effectiveness of this project?

The first measurable result is the significant increase in students in the overall program, 52. Another is the fact that we have been maintaining a very high percentage of the overall student body being taught, 62% anticipated for the impending year. Since our lowest year, 2011, where we saw 634 students in our specialty classes (excluding Music Lessons and Introduction to Music (Music Appreciation), we have seen an appreciable increase to 876, a difference of 242.

Another example would be our retention rates. Two examples from our orchestra program would be our retention in our upper two orchestras, where our Chamber Orchestra regularly enjoys 100% retention. This year, our intermediate orchestra had all but 2 students return.

Both our Department Chairperson and our Internal Coordinator for our Middle States Association accreditation keep careful records and these numbers help guide the method of our efforts and identify which teacher(s) might need help.

Advice for someone looking to replicate this project in their own community?

The most important thing is to approach everything you do with joy, and an appreciation of what has been accomplished. The most important part of that is understanding the context of your program, (who, what, when, where, and why). Though it is important to have and end goal or dream, never lose sight of where you were, where you now are, and what your environment enables your students to achieve and enjoy.

Be diligent, be self-aware, and understand your place in the whole.

Celebrate even the smallest successes.

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