Rachel Arnold’s homework packets and faculty book clubs keep her studio business healthy during COVID-19 by focusing on community and commitment.
Rachel Arnold is a studio owner who knows how to transform lemons into lemonade. Rather than viewing stay-at-home orders as something to just power through at her Greenville, TX–based school, Dance Prodigy Studio, she’s turned online education into a chance to offer students and staff alike enrichment activities and community-building content. “I wanted great ideas that would help bring the parents and kids back each week—an add-on, versus ‘OK, I have to Zoom again,’” says Arnold, whose 10-year-old studio enrolls 100 students in 49 classes a week.
Her investment has paid off. Arnold reports a 97 percent enrollment retention rate since COVID-19 came into the picture, with 101.5 percent revenue retention, since a few students have even added classes. She doesn’t have any plans to slow down, either, because she knows the offerings she sets up today will have a big effect on her business’ health, particularly if online classes are a mainstay for studios for the next few months. “This next year, people will be looking for extracurricular activities that will step up and create interactions that are worthwhile for their children,” she says.
Assigning Homework—the Good Kind
One of Arnold’s biggest successes has been organizing and sending homework packets to her students, each meant to last through a month’s worth of classes. For her younger students, for example, she created a Frozen-themed packet, complete with coloring pages and stickers, while older kids got bingo sheets, word searches and anatomy sheets. (Parents could give out the Frozen and studio-logo stickers after dancers completed class on Zoom, mimicking an in-studio practice of Arnold’s.) Arnold also hired an Elsa character for a story-time session and dance party as a complementary offering to that month’s homework packet. “We’ve had some really good feedback—parents have taken pictures with their homework packets,” she says. “They’ve been really grateful.”
Despite how involved the packets sound, Arnold says they were a cinch. “Honestly, the thing that took the most work, after I got all of the packets printed, was stamping and mailing them,” she says. “Because this happened before we went into full-blown quarantine, some parents came and picked them up from the studio.”
Keeping Her Faculty Informed and Invested
To support her eight faculty members, Arnold initiated a weekly Zoom book club (with a suggested wine and cheese pairing). The group’s first book, which they’ve been reading and discussing chapter by chapter, feels especially relevant during COVID-19: Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies From a Life at Disney, by Lee Cockerell. “It’s about creating magical moments with your staff so they enjoy their job even more, which helps create student retention,” explains Arnold. “Then your staff will want to invest in your business, because you made them feel special and worthwhile.” She makes sure that her faculty finds ways to make the book’s lessons applicable to the niche field of studio dance education. “We’ve been talking about how they’re going to incorporate these ideas into their classes,” she says.
A big part of supporting her faculty has also been troubleshooting the potential minefield of online classes with them. “Make sure you’re really communicating with your staff,” says Arnold. “Zoom classes are a lot more work, in terms of preparation, to fill the entire time. You can go through an hour-and-a-half class in 30 minutes.” She reminds her staff, too, that moments of community and connection for the students can make a big difference in their newly isolated lifestyles. “I tell my faculty: ‘It’s OK to have a moment to stop and just have kids talk to each other,’” she says. “You can make it about community, not just dance lessons.”
Rachel Rizzuto reports on studio business for Dance Teacher and is a third-year MFA student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.