Two Tandem Alums Working Together for Admissions during COVID

Grace Boyle (TFS '03)
Something you always have in school admissions is a visit day. In the time before the pandemic, prospective Tandem students would spend a full day on campus, sitting in on classes, meeting teachers and staff, and socializing with current students. You’d get a real sense of the community that Tandem is renowned for – plus it was fun and exciting!

But COVID put an end to all that. Once campus tours abruptly ended in March 2020, Tandem Admissions Director and alum Mary Lyman Bias (TFS ‘02) quickly realized she needed a new strategy for showcasing Tandem Friends School to prospective families. “We needed a way to communicate the warmth and depth of our community to prospective students who couldn't visit campus,” Mary explained. And this wasn’t an entirely new problem – over the past few years, more families have relocated to the Charlottesville area for work and wanted to send their children to Tandem but weren’t able to come for an in-person tour before the school year began. 

Tandem decided to live stream their 2020 high school graduation for the friends and family who couldn’t attend, and that virtual pivot sparked a solution: High-quality, cinematic videos that give prospective families a feel for the home-like quality of Tandem’s campus and community – and a true sense of what it could feel like to attend.

“One of the first things I did when I started working at Tandem was sit down with our Head of School, Whitney Thompson, and share my goal of working with more alumni. We have so many amazingly talented graduates whose skills tie right back into the school. Once we decided to produce virtual tour videos, we knew we wanted to work with Nite4Nite and fellow alum Eric Stumpf (TFS '08),” Mary explained.

Nite4Nite is a Charlottesville-based film production company owned and operated by Tandem alumni Eric Stumpf (TFS ‘08) and his production partner Marcus Goldbas. Mary, a professional photographer herself, worked directly with Eric and Marcus to produce three multi-dynamic videos that showcase Tandem’s values, student life, and community. “It was a great experience. Tandem is a place that values creativity and it’s easy to make Tandem look beautiful,” said filmmaker Eric Stumpf.

“So far we’ve made two videos for Tandem," Eric shared. "One video is an overview with a little about Tandem's vision, mission, and goals. Another is a cinematic walk through the spaces at Tandem – you see what it's like to walk through the math/science building, the gym, the meditation garden. A third video will focus on student life – following students around from one activity to another, spanning 5th to 12th grade. You get to see the connection between upper and middle school – it’s more nuanced.”

Of course the video production had its own challenges. “It’s hard to visually show community with social distance and masks" Eric added. "Even though you can see it in person, it’s tough to show that connection on film because you can’t see anyone talking or touching. We’re adding warmth with music and voiceover. Showing emotion through a mask is challenging. I’m a photographer myself, and a lot of the time when you look at photos, your eyes immediately go to someone's face. Now with the pandemic, we’ve learned to read each other in new ways. How we look at other people, their environment, their eyes – it’s changed. Now when we are taking photos, we tend towards wider angles – capturing more body language and natural environment.”

“Even with the challenges of COVID, working with Eric and Marcus was so easy and fun,” Mary added, “because they already understood what’s special about Tandem and had great ideas about how to communicate that on film. Especially the drone shots from Carter Mountain, showing Tandem Friends School in the context of the greater Charlottesville community. First you see this tiny, sweet campus, and then you zoom out and you see how close everything else is to us. I know for high schoolers that it's important to see what’s actually around the school. And for families relocating from out of state, it shows them how beautiful Charlottesville is.”

At the end of the day, what these virtual tours really do is help students who will thrive at Tandem, connect with Tandem. “What I’ve experienced as a student at Tandem, a parent at Tandem, and now working at Tandem, is that the kids who thrive at Tandem are the ones who want to be their authentic selves,” said Mary.

The Student Life video is in final production but you can check out the other two videos below:
Learn more about Eric's Nite4Nite business here and Mary’s photography business here. 

Bonus Alumni Fact
Eric also shared, “Tandem has played a bigger part in my life than I ever expected…I had a crush on a girl when I was in 6th grade, all the way through 12th grade (Courtney Newman, TFS '07); she was a grade ahead of me, and she is now my wife – we reconnected at a Tandem alumni event.” Eric and Courtney worked together on campus recently to film the Class of 2022's graduation.