Today’s more than 9,600 international K-12 schools worldwide serve 5 million students. With an often transient student base and alumni spread across the globe, international schools work to capture students’ hearts and maintain those ties over years and, in many cases, continents.
Our School Ties blog series builds on our January/February Currents cover story on international schools, highlighting a specific school and the unique ways each is engaging students, families and alumni.
School Ties: Hong Kong Academy
By Julie Bourbon
Founded in 2000 as a primary school, Hong Kong Academy in Sai Kung, Hong Kong, has added one grade level each year and graduated its first class of seven students in 2012. With more than 600 students today, 40 will graduate in 2019.
It’s an International Baccalaureate program; about one-quarter of the student body comes from the U.S., another quarter from the U.K., 10 percent are local, and the rest come primarily from English-speaking countries around the world. Most of the families are there working in international business, law, or for a multinational corporation.
“Our alumni engagement efforts are in their infancy, but they’re fun,” says Laura Mitchell, director of institutional advancement. Her office makes great use of a LinkedIn page with more than 700 members, even though the school has only 200 alums; the rest are parents, whom HKA works hard to cultivate. The content her staff posts ranges from professional development pieces to features about raising digitally healthy kids.
For events like the annual Moon Festival in autumn and Lunar New Year in late January/early February, Mitchell makes use of their Facebook page to document the dragon dance, students and staff in traditional Chinese dress, special performances from children in the primary school, and a traditional market fair with food, arts and crafts.
No Snail Mail
The school is completely paperless as far as outreach to students and alumni, including a quarterly e-newsletter. “We do not even attempt to track snail mail addresses. Our Holy Grail is an email that is likely to stay with them their whole lives or at least a long time,” Mitchell says. “Cities? Useless. They move too much.”
For example, for a London alumni event she’ll send out 1,000 email invitations, to anyone living there or passing through. She’ll usually get a least a few replies saying they’re based elsewhere but will be in London then and will try to come. “This is the new normal,” she says. “Nobody treats it as spam.”
Her office recently hired an alumni videographer who has been working on video marketing materials. Their next step will be to establish a formal alumni committee. The school focuses on service learning and is considering a senior gifts program, but the goal, Mitchell says, is engagement, not donations.
“Our oldest alum is 25,” Mitchell notes. “It’s not like there’s a lot of money there yet, but there is a lot of good will to be tapped, both among graduates and families.”
Trying New Ideas
HKA depends on that goodwill to result in recommendations for enrollment, what she calls “authentic word of mouth” from families who have had positive experiences with the school.
After six years in her role, having started the department from scratch, Mitchell has encouraging words for others in similar positions, who she thinks sometimes abandon their alumni programs too soon. “Don’t give up. It’s slow and steady wins the race,” she says. “It’s try, try, evaluate. Try, try, evaluate. If it doesn’t work, don’t worry about it. Just keep going.”
Julie Bourbon is a former CASE senior content creator.
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