Summer school markets as alternative to summer camp

he summer school program hopes to cope with the economic crisis by promoting itself as an affordable alternative to sleep-away camps, said program director and upper school dean Jim Patterson.

The administration is working to adjust the program to suit the current economic crisis.

Last year, the summer program enjoyed a 14 percent enrollment increase after Patterson experimented with several different forms of advertising. This year, the summer school administration hired an advertising consultant to help streamline the program. Meetings will be held throughout the year, but several forms of advertising have already been decided upon.

Advertisements will be published in small community newspapers that target a localized group of readers, as opposed to papers like The Los Angeles Times, which are impractical means of promotion in terms of the program’s budget.

“We are going to try to put out a number of press releases this year to all the local newspapers, like the Santa Monica Mirror, advertising changes to our programs as well as program successes,” Patterson said. “We are hoping that will generate traffic to our website where parents can learn about all our programs this year.”

The socio-economic range of the children who attend the summer program has traditionally been similar to that of the students who are actual Harvard-Westlake students, as the program is unable to offer financial assistance to non-Harvard-Westlake students, with the exception of the Summer Enrichment Program run by middle school attendance coordinator Brenda Simon.

However, that may change this year, as less and less people can afford to send their children to stay-away camps.

“I am hoping that, given the economy, we may benefit as it is less expensive for parents to send their kids to a day program locally when compared to a sleep-away camp,” Patterson said. “We are hoping that we will be able to continue to increase our enrollment even as the economy recovers.”

Of course, the flip side to the economic crisis is that fewer people can afford to allow their child to pursue a hobby in one of the myriad performing arts classes or practice a sport in one of the Gold Medal Sports Camps, which are taught by Harvard-Westlake team coaches, Patterson said.

Although the school is widely recognized for its $25,000 tuition, which may intimidate prospective summer school attendees’ families, other expensive private schools in Los Angeles are able to fill up extensive summer programs. Also, mailed brochures assure families that the cost of sending their child to a Harvard-Westlake summer program is significantly less than that of the regular academic year.

“So, I imagine that with appropriate marketing and advertising we could bring in a wider socio-economic range,” Patterson said. “I just don’t think we have tapped into this market to the extent that we would like. That’s part of the reason why we are continuing to expand our advertising and marketing.”

The economic crisis, though it may affect the greater Los Angeles community and its reception of the summer program, has not yet pervaded the school administration itself.

“Harvard-Westlake is a wonderfully stable place financially, and our budget was set last spring for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. I know of no plans to change those budget amounts at this point even with the economic woes,” Patterson said.

Still, the administration must deal with the outside community to draw more children into the Harvard-Westlake community.

“Of course, the summer programs still have financial goals, and the program has to be able to support itself,” Patterson said.

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