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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Norwich Free Academy recruiting out-of-town students

    If you live in Stonington, Mystic, Groton or Colchester, bright red and white billboards, digital social media ads and postcards are coming your way.

    “Close the book on basic education,” one postcard will read. “Live in any town and learn at NFA.”

    Another ad will say: “Think NFA isn’t an option? Think again.”

    All the ads will include a QR code a reader can scan with a cellphone for information about how to apply to become a private tuition-paying student at the Norwich Free Academy.

    For the first time, NFA officials will direct a student recruitment campaign toward families in towns on the outskirts of the academy’s eight-town partner district, where towns have designated NFA as their primary high school.

    Those communities are Bozrah, Canterbury, Franklin, Lisbon, Norwich, Preston, Sprague and Voluntown.

    The ads will stress that NFA is a private, paid-tuition option for students considering various high schools.

    The effort comes as NFA, like other schools, faces a declining high school population in the region and across the state.

    NFA is hoping to keep enrollment above 2,000 and increase tuition-paying foreign students and now eastern Connecticut tuition-paying students.

    “Wherever you are in eastern Connecticut, explore endless choices and opportunities at NFA,” the postcard headed to homes in Stonington, Colchester, Groton and Mystic. “From AP courses to hands-on job training, sports to fine arts, or world languages to local outreach, discover what’s next at NFA.”

    Unlike students in the designated partner districts, families of students in outside towns would have to pay the private per student tuition and provide transportation. Private tuition students will pay $15,806 next school year.

    NFA officials will stress that the academy’s tuition is comparable to, or lower than, other private schools in the region. The academy has some donor-funded scholarships and hopes to boost that effort, with enticements for students seeking a specific education path, such as art, NFA Director of Communications Michael O’Farrell said.

    O’Farrell gave a presentation to the NFA Board of Trustees on the marketing campaign Tuesday. The campaign was launched Monday and will include digital ads on social media accounts, billboards and radio spots on several FM stations that feature different music genres. Newspaper ads and postcards mailed directly to homes in the targeted towns are coming.

    “The goal is to increase the private paying market,” O’Farrell told the board. “And how we’re going to do that is with a message that says, ‘NFA is an option.’ … This is the first time we’re making a concerted effort to the non-sending towns to say, ‘Hey, you can come here.’”

    NFA now has 24 private tuition-paying students, not including the mostly Canadian hockey players on the elite Norwich Hockey Club.

    While most of the ads will be seen outside the core region, O’Farrell said banners and sandwich-board signs will be erected on campus as well, aimed at the many visitors to campus for sports and other events.

    NFA at the same time will increase its recruitment in the partner district towns to try to draw students who now have broad high school choices. NFA now sends acceptance letters to families of students both within the partner districts and outside that highlight the academy’s broad offerings and career paths.

    On Tuesday, NFA sent out 373 acceptance letters to eighth-grade applicants, the figure already higher than a year ago in March, O’Farrell said.

    NFA Head of School Nathan Quesnel recorded video pitches for NFA that will be shown in specific partner district towns. He also is making presentations at boards of education in the partner districts, with his visit to the Norwich Board of Education March 12.

    O’Farrell told board members they will not see most of the ads, unless they are driving on Route 85 in Waterford, where one billboard will be placed, or see the banners on campus. But board members will be part of the campaign, O’Farrell said, because they might interact with parents of students considering NFA.

    “What we need you to do is reinforce the message,” O’Farrell said to board members. “This will generate questions to you. ‘What do you mean I can go to NFA?’ Yes, you can go to NFA.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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