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Re: Anybody else struggling to keep incoming freshmen?
Focus less on the "relationship" and more about the program. We like to think the director matters but their peers and the program matter more than who stands in front of it. I'm sure they aren't leaving because of you. They are leaving because the perception based on what you said is that it's more work that it is worth. They are scared. Most freshman are. Work on how to sell the program. Sell that while it is work it is manageable. Highlight the kids who ARE in HS band that are the top of their class, in athletics, etc. For my 8th grade recruiting night I had my kids wear any club/sport shirt EXCEPT band. I wanted the parents to see the valedictorian was in band so it must not have been too time consuming. I had the top 10% stand up so they could see 20 kids making it work. I also used that for those reluctant students and parents to show they had a built in tutoring program in the band hall! I wanted them to see the softball jerseys and soccer and FFA and Cheer, and Dance, and absolutely every activity in the school represented in that Varsity ensemble worn by Juniors and Seniors!
Make your recruiting about what they get out of it, (not scholarships as a focus because that's a hard sell, possibly a blatant lie and doesn't apply to the kids NOT going to college). Make it about the performances, the skills which translate to both college AND the workforce. Make it about their peers and experiences that they won't get in other places. Make it about the time they've already given. And on the reluctant ones get them to try it for 1 year. That was my other sell besides all the shirts in the ensemble was to give it 1 year. If they got past year 1 they stayed.
While going to the schools weekly is nice and teaching them scales is nice they must see the high school program as something they can do and not some monster that is beyond them. The best recruiter in the room isn't you. It's their peers. The freshman that made it past that first year and is only one year removed from being a middle school kid and the Juniors that will be their leadership in year 1. Talk less, smile more, (Hamilton), and let the kids do the recruiting for you!