New Haven Public Schools Hosts Virtual School Choice Expo Using Zoom Events
Using Zoom Events, New Haven Public Schools hosted a virtual expo featuring 30 magnet schools for the district's educational community.
New Haven Public Schools Office of School Choice
Location: New Haven, Connecticut, United States
Industry: Education – K-12
Challenges: Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the NHPS Office of School Choice was unable to host the School Choice Expo, its largest family event, in person.
Solutions: Zoom Events
Benefits: NHPS used Zoom Events to create a streamlined virtual event experience that gave 800 attendees the opportunity to engage with schools in the district.
It puts everything at the fingertips of families. … Parents who are working on the weekends and would not be able to get to the expo in person to support their kids could listen in and get information.
Marquelle MiddletonDirector of School Choice & Enrollment
At New Haven Public Schools (NHPS), the second-largest public school district in Connecticut, students and parents have the opportunity to choose a school based on their child’s academic interests. NHPS’s Office of School Choice facilitates this process, hosting an annual School Choice Expo for magnet schools to showcase their programs and offerings before families submit their applications.
NHPS held its first virtual School Choice Expo in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, using Zoom Webinars. While the webinar sessions were effective, due to the scale of the event, the logistics left something to be desired — the Office of School Choice had to juggle about 30 different webinar links, one for each school.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise in 2022, NHPS stuck with the virtual platform, but switched to Zoom Events to manage the experience. “Last year, there were a lot of [webinar] links to keep track of — this year, there was one event link,” said Danielle Gregory-Williams, magnet recruitment specialist in the Office of School Choice.
Here’s a look at how NHPS hosted a successful School Choice Expo for 800 attendees using Zoom Events:
The attendee experience
On the day of the event, a snowstorm blew through New Haven — not uncommon for January. The weather may have prevented people from showing up to an in-person event, but thanks to the virtual platform, NHPS was still able to reach more than 800 families virtually.
“It snowed that day, but the fact that the event was virtual allowed parents to cozy up at home, log in from their laptop, and explore,” said Marquelle Middleton, director of school choice and enrollment at NHPS.
[The virtual event] put everything at the fingertips of families.
Marquelle MiddletonDirector of School Choice & Enrollment
The Office of School Choice kicked off the event with an intro video, awards to teachers and students, and a brief overview of the schools that were participating. Then, parents could break off and choose to join one of 30 sessions (one for each magnet or charter school that participated) to listen in on presentations. Sessions were live-streamed to the lobby so parents could have a preview before jumping into the session.
“From the parent perspective, it looked neat and clean. If we can put on a nice, clean virtual event, people will want to apply,” Gregory-Williams said.
NHPS staff members who attended also appreciated the experience. “Internal staff thought it was really cool that they could move seamlessly from the lobby to different sessions — it simulated a conference,” Middleton said. “And parents who are working on the weekends and would not be able to get to the expo in person to support their kids could listen in and get information.”
Streamlined event management
Migrating the multi-session event from Zoom Webinar to Zoom Events helped streamline the management process.
The organization of it all, on the back end, having everything centralized was key.
Danielle Gregory-WilliamsMagnet Recruitment Specialist
The day before the event, Gregory-Williams opened the Zoom Events Lobby so parents could view the agenda, see which schools were participating, and create their own schedule to attend their preferred schools’ sessions.
The process for creating the agenda in Zoom Events was easy, too. “We were able to upload an Excel sheet with the names of the hosts and it populated the fields for the agenda,” Gregory-Williams explained.
With Zoom Events providing centralized management for the different sessions, the office was able to measure analytics like attendance much better than the previous year. “This year we were able to see how many people attended the event as a whole,” Gregory-Williams said.
Benefits of virtual events vs. in-person
When comparing the 2022 virtual expo with in-person events of years past, Middleton said he much preferred the flexibility provided by Zoom Events. “In person, we’d be out there setting up in a field house or large gym at 6:30 a.m. We’d have vendors bringing in booths and tables — it’s a lot,” Middleton explained. “Here, we were at home, we logged in a half an hour before the event started. This way was seamless, a lot easier, and more cost-effective.”
Middleton also felt the virtual experience gave parents more time for in-depth engagement with their schools of interest.
“Before, we might have 2,000 people going from table to table, picking up information. Are they walking away with substantive information about each school?” Middleton asked. “Here, you’re getting to select what sessions you attend, so it makes parents more intentional about which schools they want to hear from. They get a comprehensive presentation about what the school offers and then get to ask questions.”
The Office of School Choice has even paved the way for other departments at NHPS to host their own virtual events. “Our student services department hosted a Day of Hope and Healing on Zoom Events with different sessions. Some were interactive, with activities like yoga and meditation, and there were discussions and panels,” Gregory-Williams said.
Looking to the future, Middleton said he hopes to continue leveraging Zoom Events, perhaps as part of a hybrid model that combines in-person and virtual experiences. “If given the choice, we would stick with virtual for our School Choice Expo. If there is a need for some level of in-person connection, we would host mini-fairs, and schools can also do their own open houses in person,” Middleton said. “We prefer the virtual platform.”