The Echo Horizon Difference
Abeni Bias is in her second year as admissions director for Echo Horizon—a school that emphasizes character education in concert with academics in order to facilitate social and emotional growth, critical thinking, autonomy resilience and social responsibility. Abeni has dipped into every facet of education from the classroom to administration. Originally from the Bay Area, her passion found focus in admissions where she says her love for working with families inspires her day to day above everything else. Working with the K-12 demographic, Abeni emphasizes that her exposure to a huge range of ages and experiences in admissions at previous schools has given her a well-rounded background as an admissions director for Echo’s lower school, which houses Pre-K through the sixth grade.
We asked Abeni what she likes about working with the lower school and she answered with the enthusiasm of someone who really loves their job. “There is just something beautiful about the younger students and getting to know the parents of these younger kids—these are their babies and it’s really hard for them to find a place they feel is right for their kids. Being the person that lets them know that everything is going to be fine just puts me at ease.” Abeni says that parents of this age group really struggle with letting go. She recognizes that sending kids to school can be hard on parents and is often a really stressful experience. Abeni says that beyond helping parents find the right fit for their student, she likes the experience of guiding them through the whole process. “Parents come in really tense and one of the first things I tell them is that we’re going to have a good time here—it’s going to be fun. This is why I love Echo Horizon, it’s the whole attitude we have here.”
We hear what Abeni’s saying in regards to parent’s being stressed. It’s something our tutoring company deals with every day. We asked Abeni what she attributes the anxiety too. “I don’t think it’s us as Admissions Directors. I don’t think it’s the schools. I think everybody is talking—with all the talking among parents, rumors start coming up which I think leads to a lot of stress and anxiety and people start wondering if they are doing the ‘right’ thing.” Abeni points out how important it is for parents to realize that the schools they are seeking to get their kids into are being run by real people who are not scary at all, but ready and willing to help. She also cuts down one major misconception that parents have regarding waiting lists. She says that the myth of having to enroll your child in an independent school before they are even born is just that—a myth. Abeni suggests that parents start looking at schools and writing a list of potential candidates about a year before the admission process begins. She points out that most schools, including Echo Horizon, have tours available so parents can get a jump on the process the year before in August or early September. While Abeni says this is the biggest misconception she sees, there are others that seem to be prevalent among a lot of families. She says that rather than rely on labels like ‘progressive’ or ‘for the gifted’ that rule popular perceptions it’s really a better policy for parents just go visit the school.
Abeni says she loves Echo Horizon particularly because of how small it is. She is enthusiastic about how she gets to know each of the families personally and says, “You’re not just a number and you’re not just ‘John’. We know our families on a deeper level and they really appreciate that. The small community also means that we can all facilitate one of our greatest missions, which is the joy of learning. Our kids like to be here, they have a good time learning, they enjoy coming to school and they’re disappointed when we have days off!” Another thing that sets Echo Horizon apart is that about 10% of the student population is deaf or hard of hearing. Abeni says that Echo is one of the few schools that has a program to facilitate mainstreaming deaf students with hearing students. She says that it has been incredible to see the positive role this integration and inclusiveness has played in the student’s lives. She goes on to point out that it’s not just positive for the deaf students, but for the hearings students as well. Abeni says that the hearing students have cultivated a better awareness of people with differences and how to be appreciative and accepting. “Nobody feels excluded and I think that really works with what we try to instill in our students which is being empathetic, respectful and caring.” Abeni shares that when people come to visit they usually find it difficult to distinguish the hearing students from the deaf and hard-of-hearing. She says “Everyone is just a part of the school community, they are part of the classroom and they are learning just like everybody else. It’s awesome.”
We wanted to know more about the school stats, so we asked Abeni for the nuts and bolts. She told us that the school has about 180 students and while no-one likes to talk about turning students away, Abeni acknowledged that not every applicant is the right fit for the school. She told us that the largest amount of applicants is for the Pre-K and Kindergarten programs and that all the Pre-K students go onto Kindergarten. The kindergarten has 12 slots available every year, which is a really great class size. Abeni is also very comfortable with the knowledge that students apply to several schools and she says that the knowledge doesn’t impact their decision one way or the other.
When we asked Abeni about the interview process, she emphasized how important it is in younger grades for the school to get to know the parents as well as the child really well. She says it is absolutely crucial to get to know the parents because they become so involved in the community. “This isn’t just about dropping your child off and that’s it. I want to see parents volunteering for things, coming in and meeting other parents–who will hopefully become longtime friends.” Abeni says that she tells co-workers that the admissions process can feel a whole lot like courting. You’re getting to know a person, dating, following up and leaving messages. You’re inviting people back and ultimately falling in love with this family. She admits that the whole process can be really emotional, but also enjoyable. “All kinds of emotions come out of the process, but we just remain really welcoming. We incorporate the school’s parents into the welcoming community so that prospective parents have the opportunity to ask questions. I want to make sure it’s not just me that they are getting to know, but the parents who have direct experience with our school.”
We asked Abeni if her admissions team does on-site visits and she informed us that they sometimes do. Abeni pointed out that because the school is so small and every interview is so tailored, that they make decisions on a case by case basis. “What I do is if I need to see another student again because an assessment didn’t go as well as we thought it was going to, I usually go visit them at their school.”
Abeni wrapped the conversation up by reassuring parents that they don’t need to be nervous about this process. “We do this process because we want to make sure that we are the best fit for your child, but also for your whole family. We know it’s an investment and we understand how important children are to their families. We want to make sure that families are making the right decision—that’s why we have these events and why we have parents come over and over. We aren’t scary people—we’re just regular folks who want to get it right.”