It’s that time of year again! Franchisees and Center Directors throughout the Mathnasium system are currently busy planning their summer program and working hard to draw in summer students. Over the next few weeks, we’ll spotlight three franchisees, sharing their experiences and lessons learned from previous summers here on Mathnasium Matters. We’ve already seen how consistently communicating with current and prospective customers through marketing or otherwise helped boost center owner Mark Minson‘s summertime enrollment. Now, Mark gives us insight into what summer is like at his center and how he primes his summer families to see Mathnasium as a long-term solution to their math woes.

Minson_MarkWith students flocking to his center to partake in his summer program, Mathnasium of Draper, UT‘s Mark Minson found that he had to set expectations with parents for what could be accomplished over the summer. When going over the learning plan, “I told parents that we will get as much done as we can during the summer, but time is limited,” he tells us. “I do emphasize that the more the kids come, the more progress they’ll make.

“We tried to get all the assessments done for the new summer kids prior to the end of the school year so we could pre-build the binders before the summer sessions started,” he continues. “The last day of school was on Tuesday, June 7, so we were closed the rest of the week and through the whole weekend to build binders. We reopened on Monday, the 11th, with our summer hours. We definitely tried to make the transition as seamless as possible.”

draper int 2Throughout the summer, Mark makes it a point to alter his center’s atmosphere to suit the time of year. “It’s a little more light, for sure,” he says. “Of course we’re fairly serious about our students’ work and progress but we try to play more games and make it a little more fun in general. I could never pull this off without the Instructors that I have. I have two that have been with me here since I started and a couple of others that have been here for three years or more. They love what they do and obviously that attitude has a positive effect on the kids, and they want more and more to come to Mathnasium.

“From the start, [my staff and I] work with [students] with an eye toward retention,” Mark continues. In addition to setting parent and student expectations for progress and creating a learning environment that’s effective yet lighthearted, he’ll prioritize the work on the learning plan to ensure the student demonstrates as much progress as possible and gets the most out of his or her time at Mathnasium. “A lot of times we’ll take the lowest scoring items on the learning plan and address those first.”

Mark makes a strong effort to communicate with parents frequently to keep them engaged in and enthusiastic about their child’s progress at Mathnasium. “Usually it’s a conversation in the center or out in the car. I find that during the summer, parents have a little more time to sit and wait, and they’ll be outside reading a book with the windows down or they’ll be sitting in the waiting area. I have a better chance during the summer of catching them for [an informal update]. I always try to think of something positive I can say to show that we’re progressing and show how excited the kids are about coming to Mathnasium. A lot of times it’s something like ‘Oh, he was really happy today and he asked if he could come more often.’

“We do a full assessment at the end of the summer and have a sit-down with the student and parent to show what the student’s accomplished throughout the summer. This is where we started, this is how far we came, this is where we’re at, and this is where we still need to go,” Mark continues. “We’ll show the areas of concern… anything we can do to show parents that there’s so much more work that needs to be done. Of course, if the student is really behind, we’ll manage the parent’s expectations [and let them understand] that while it can take some time to fill in all the gaps, we’ll work with the student on the concepts they’re learning in school as they build up their missing skills. And we’ll say things like, ‘If this is what we can accomplish in such a short while, imagine what we can do with them during the school year.’ We also try to emphasize how flexible we are so kids and parents can see that it’s possible to fit Mathnasium around sports and other activities.”

Mark also throws in a few incentives for summer families that opt to continue into the school year. In the past, he’s allowed students to continue at the lowest monthly rate regardless of contract duration. “I’m probably going to do something different this year,” he says, “perhaps a dollar amount off the first month into the school year, or a gift card. [Either way,] we always offer an incentive.”

As summer winds to a close, Mark uses this transition period to touch base and reconnect with families who took time off during the summer, both by phone and by email, encouraging them to return to Mathnasium. “We spend a lot of time on this to make sure people continue their enrollment,” he explains. “We have a list of parents who took time off and we want to get them on the phone before the school year starts. Then, we’ll send a general email to everyone saying that school is starting and that we have all these back-to-school specials to help them start the year right. A lot of people really do like the phone call,” he emphasizes. “Parents do say, ‘Thanks for the reminder—we had such a good time last [school] year.’ That personal touch is really well received.”

In terms of retention, Mark estimates that about 25% of his summer students continue into the fall. “Most of the kids that sign up for the summer program only stay for the summer. [However] every summer, the number of kids that continue into the school year increases slightly.” Also, many of his summer-only students return year after year.

draper int 1Overall, Mark feels that the success of his summer program is largely due to adhering to what Mathnasium does best and communicating and executing this in a way that addresses the needs of his summer market. “I don’t believe that your summer program needs to be hugely different from the regular program,” he advises. “The most important thing is that parents know that you’re there for the summer to ensure that kids don’t suffer from the summer slide, and that you have a plan for those kids that don’t attend Mathnasium during the regular school year.”

Then, as the summer progresses, “it’s so important to communicate face to face with parents about how their child is doing,” Mark concludes. “We consistently reinforce [the fact that] the Mathnasium program [works best over an extended period of time] and that while progress can be made during the summer, we view summer as a short-term leap into a long-term program.”

Lastly, for kids, summer means a break from school, so do what you can to make the experience fun for them. “Kids love the relaxed atmosphere and that they don’t have to struggle with homework or test prep. They feel that they can just focus on catching up or getting ahead. During this time of year, we’re little more relaxed, there’s a little less pressure, and the kids tend to have more fun,” Mark concludes. “For a lot of our summer kids that continue to return every year, that’s what they look forward to—coming to Mathnasium.”