For a while there, it seemed like you couldn’t pick up the sports section of the New York Times or check out ESPN without bumping into the saga of Robert M. Beren Academy’s basketball team. And while many people across the nation cheered when the Houston, Texas, b-ballers finally got their day on the court—and sighed when they failed to win their championship game—the overall story was a superb one for Beren, and for day schools in general. The Beren Stars showed the wider world that day schools produce kids who are hard-working, humble, talented, and faithful.
Given PEJE’s focus on day school sustainability, we couldn’t help but wonder how (or if) all the media attention had influenced Beren’s value proposition and marketing approach. So to find out, we played a little one-on-one with Samantha Steinberg, the school’s Director of Admission and Marketing.
It seems almost like Beren has become the poster school for Shabbat. (See, for instance, this piece.) How do and your community you feel about that?
We are so proud and inspired that we have been able to make a kiddush Hashem through the medium of a basketball tournament. More amazing is that many of us do this every week without the world noticing. Jews have been celebrating Shabbat for thousands of years and often not with the world cheering us on—often at the expense of career opportunities, travel opportunities and more. Yet, whatever the cost (or praise), we continue to hold this day and keep it sacred as a sign of our love and devotion to Hashem.
We feel like this event was an opportunity to inspire the world—to emphasize that there are still kids who care more about Shabbat and being Jewish than basketball. More importantly, we realized that the world respects you when you stand up for your beliefs.
What do you think will be the lasting impact of the Stars’ saga on marketing, development, and alumni?
We have had amazing national and international exposure. Everyone knows we are an Orthodox day school in Houston, Texas. That’s huge! Our goal now is to capitalize on this and bring it to the next level. Ironically, we are already in the middle of a major marketing campaign to bring new families to Houston. Through a fabulous community-planned financial incentive program, we give newcomers the opportunity to move and benefit from tuition and shul dues discounts. We’re talking 50% off tuition! We hope to dovetail the incredible PR we have received with the financial incentive program and turn that into many new families moving to our community.
Any early indicators?
We were just the feature (cover) story in AMI magazine. Both administrators and students were interviewed and the article is fantastic. I think the poise and articulate response of our boys is a true sign of the product of our students at Beren Academy. What more could you want than smart, articulate students who are able to stand up for their religious beliefs with great dignity and respect?
Just today the Director of Jewish Affairs for the White House visited our school and tweeted it out through the White House marketing department.
I was giving a tour to an incoming sixth grader and mentioned our basketball team. The boy stopped in his tracks and said, “I know about your basketball team, they are so cool!”
Have you thought about incorporating the extensive national media coverage into your marketing materials? If so, what do you have in mind?
Absolutely! We will create a glossy pamphlet with highlights of photos and news articles that we will include in all our packets. Our website, which has exploded with attention, already has links to dozens of articles and a page devoted to some of the fabulous photos which were taken.
How do you plan to use those 15-minute tours to engage current or possible major donors?
We created a letter summarizing the whole “story.” We attached copies of the more compelling news articles and hard mailed and emailed them out broadly. We created a link on our home page for supporting the Beren Stars.
In addition, we are creating a commemorative coffee-table book, which we hope will find a home in living rooms across the country for many years.