Crane: Unfold Your Story

Shady Hill School | Cambridge, MA

Because of our partnership with CRANE, we’re attracting more best-fit, mission-aligned families. I’m happy to report we’re over-enrolled across the board, even after experiencing a smaller-than-usual Grade 6 applicant pool because that pool was composed of all best-fit students. Both prospective and current families express feeling more in sync with our curriculum and more confident in understanding what we do for our students.

Mark Stanek, Head of School


In progressive-leaning Boston, Shady Hill represents a pinnacle of Beginner-Grade 8 education, and has for more than 100 years. Founded by Harvard professors and now known by many as “the gateway school to Harvard,” it’s safe to say Shady Hill enjoys a well-known name. And for good reason. But while on campus, our CRANE team wondered why we heard parents questioning the school’s academic rigor and emphasis on “soft skills.” And further, why a number of parents admitted to seeking after-school supplemental courses for math and science. Were current and prospective families true believers in the Shady Hill way of learning? Or was the appeal of the Shady Hill name outweighing the value of the education?



Our team discovered that Shady Hill School founder, Agnes Hocking, was no stranger to questions of academic rigor. In fact, she penned these words over a century ago in response to an anxious parent: “Information is not education. If we are to educate these children, it is life we must give them—not a few informing facts about life.” This ever-relevant quote informs the entirety of Shady Hill’s new messaging.


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By nature, Shady Hill’s signature Central Subject method exemplifies for teachers, parents, and students alike an imaginative, all-encompassing, and organically integrated way of learning—one that other schools have tried to emulate over the years. After visiting countless classrooms, our team realized that carefully designed learning at Shady Hill can often seem like play to the casual onlooker.

The school needed to articulate the difference between what parents observed and what was actually happening—students mastering far more than important content. Instead, Shady Hill students learn each lesson within a larger life context, eventually crafting deep meaning from knowledge. This stood as a fundamentally different approach that only Shady Hill could claim. So we asked: What if instead of parents learning about the Shady Hill way, they learned in the Shady Hill way?

  • Over-enrolled for 2016-17 school year
  • Noticeably attracted more mission-aligned parents and best-fit students
  • Completed successful campaign ahead of schedule to fund a brand new science center


Throughout Shady Hill’s new program, vignettes and ephemera showcasing each grade’s thematic study or Central Subject invite prospective families on an academic adventure, allowing parents to form connections and construct a framework of meaning that far exceeds discrete subjects—just as Shady Hill students do. As one parent remarked, “I’ve never seen such serious learning look so fun.”

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With playful, bright, and evocative language, sensory-attuned photography and videography, and materials awash with colors inspired by the school’s natural, open-air campus, each piece of the Shady Hill program seeks to evoke the experience of learning at Shady Hill. And in doing so, to consistently signal and reaffirm a values match with prospective and current families alike. Beyond shoring up numbers, the program sought to foster school-wide confidence and reunite the Shady Hill community once more behind this fundamentally different, immersive learning for incandescent young minds from Beginners through Grade 8.


Shady Hill’s faculty, staff, leadership, and parents embraced the CRANE program’s shared language to communicate the Shady Hill way, both externally and internally. With refreshed unity, the school also launched a campaign and opened a new science facility, introducing spaces that reflect and amplify this fundamentally different approach to learning for students and teachers alike.