Postcards Galore

An Overview of Virtual Grandparents and Special Friends Day

Lower School Grandparents and Special Friends Day creates the opportunity for students to collaborate, have conversations, and display the projects and passions they have focused on throughout the year. However, the pandemic has made it more challenging for students to present their work to the greater Parker community. 

On March 5th, an email went out to the Parker community in the “This Week @ Parker” weekly newsletter. The email featured a story titled, “Thanks from the Development and Alumni Office,” that described the Lower School Grandparents and Special Friends Day that took place in February. Like many Parker traditions in the 2020-2021 school year, the event was moved to an online platform due to the coronavirus. However, according to the newsletter, the event hosted “six international family members and nearly 70 living in 26 other states.” Despite the challenges of the pandmeic, traditions like the Lower School Grandparents and Special Friends Day are still able to happen. 

Connie Molzberger, Parker’s Director of Annual Giving and Engagement, along with Katlyn Jervey, Development Coordinator, planned the Grandparents and Special Friends day event that took place in February. 

In 2020, Grandparents and Special Friends day did not take place as it was scheduled near the time school closed due to the beginning of the widespread of COVID-19. 

“Last year it was cancelled completely, and we didn’t want to do that again,” Jervey said. 

Grandparents and Special Friends Day would usually take place on a given school day where children are present in the building, however, this year it took place on a conference day which meant teacher involvement was not part of the planning of the event. 

“The teachers already have so much on their plates with teaching remotely, teaching in person, teaching a hybrid model, and having all of the different students in the different pods especially in the lower grades, we did not want to burden them, so we had it on a conference day which is not typical,” Molzberger said. 

Junior Kindergarten teacher Tisha Johnson, who is also a second grade parent and a participant of Grandparents and Special Friends Day at Parker, experienced both sides of Grandparents and Special Friends Day. 

“Unfortunately this year, we didn’t get to plan a part of that, which made me sad because I really do enjoy having grandparents in and seeing their relationships between the kids and their grandparents,”  Johnson said. As a parent however, Johnson did get to experience it. 

“I thought it was a great idea for the school to host a Zoom Lower School Grandparents and Special Friends Day. One reason is because my dad lives in Portland, Oregon, and he has never been able to make any of the grandparent days for my own children, but this year, he actually got to participate in it virtually,” Johnson said. 

Jervey described the process of in-person Grandparents and Special Friends Day; “In-person grandparents day is involving I mean the entire Lower School staff,” Jervey said. 

Molzberger then described the planning process of the virtual event. 

“We tried to think of what different elements that would normally be able to happen in person, but we tried to make them virtually or remote instead,” Molzberger said. Molzberger described how creating different projects and collaborating with a grandparent or a special friend was an important part of the three-hour long event. 

“Our goal was to recreate the day which is typically a combination of spending time with their grandchild/special friend and learning about Parker.  We created a website with information about Parker, to recreate the experience of learning about our school, and used this virtual component to recreate that connection with one another,” Molzberger said over email. 

To fulfill this goal, they provided activity kits with instructions to both the grandparent or special friend, and the student, as well as provided Zoom links via email. A product of the crafts was a Parker keychain, a magnet, and postcards.

Jervey also highlighted some challenges observed throughout the process. “The challenges were definitely figuring out how to make it interactive,” Jervey said. “The basic format was we sent every participant a packet of crafting type things, and I think the one that had a longer lasting effect was the postcards. We sent them all blank postcards with a little drawing activity, and then they got to send the postcards to their grandparent or grandchild. So the morning happened, and they’re drawing and interacting with each other, and then the idea was a few days later everyone would get a postcard in the mail from their family members,” Jervey said. 

Many of the products of Grandparents and Special Friends day are connected, such as mailing the postcard that was created and using the magnet for the postcard. Jervey mentioned the connection as well. “It was a cute way to extend the day if you will,” Jervey said.  

Jervey described how providing a time for people to connect was important. “I think offering, even just a virtual space, virtual zoom links, for people who are international or just not in the Chicago area and can’t travel to come to this, would be a really great addition to grandparents day,” Jervey said. Jervey described how in future years, maybe a virtual component can be included in the program as well. 

Jervey also expressed what one of the main focuses was throughout the planning. “Our message to everybody this year was a whole lot of fingers crossed we can do this in-person next year, thanks for being flexible, and so many people were just so appreciative that we were able to do something for them,” Jervey said. 

There were different formats considered as a way to approach the event. “We were going to do a 10 a.m. session too, with Kids Science Labs to do a project,” said Molzberger. “We decided not to do the science lab because it one, wasn’t displaying Parker, and two, it was not consistent with what Parker was doing for remote days. We wanted to take into consideration what students in lower grades could manage and not overburden parents. Students in the lower grades do better with shorter time on screens and more breaks.  If we had held a session with Kids Science Labs it would have meant three straight hours on Zoom,” Molzberger said via Email.  

Since the event took place in a virtual format, it ensured more space and flexibility for grandparents and special friends to join. 

Some people participating in the Zoom event even made connections. “But sometimes we had a couple of people meet before the breakout rooms and they knew each other,” Molzberger said. 

The pandemic has compromised the ability to communicate in-person and technology has helped connect and bridge different aspects of life such as communication with a family member or a friend. 

“Another silver lining is that several grandparents logged in and said they hadn’t seen their grandkid since the pandemic started.” Molzberger described the challenges of multigenerational connection especially in a pandemic.

 “I think it’s so hard for grandparents and grandchildren at those ages to connect and have something to talk about. Younger kids just aren’t as articulate or know how to keep the conversation going, so I think having the crafts projects also give you an activity or way for them to bond via Zoom,” Molzberger said.  

Similarly to the development office, Johnson believes that including more people through a virtual format was successful and a positive experience. “It was great for grandparents who live far away, aren’t very mobile, wouldn’t feel safe coming into an environment that they can’t get around in easily, or if a grandparent is sick, they could still attend the virtual event, and they wouldn’t have to miss out on this special opportunity with their grandchild,” Johnson said. 

As Grandparents and Special Friends Dayday also serves as an opportunity to share classwork and projects that students have been focusing on throughout the year, teachers have helped fill that void of communication the pandemic has created through many different platforms. Some means of communication include, blogs, newsletters, and padlet, all expressing classroom activities.

“The teachers have various ways of sharing the growth and learning that takes place in the classroom.  We send out a weekly newsletter,” Johnson said. 

Johnson further explained the importance of communication during the pandemic. 

“The communications are even more important since parents can’t come into the school this year.  We want them to have a glimpse into the classrooms, and we can do this through photos and stories.  Another form of communication is the weekly email “This Week @ Parker.”  The JK team has shared a few grade wide projects through this format.” Johnson said. 

  “I was grateful for the virtual Grandparents and Special Friends Day both as a parent and a teacher because it truly is a special time for grandparents and their grandchildren,” Johnson said. 

As grandparents and special friends day was widely appreciated, the development office is looking to have another interactive event. “Possibly another event we usually do with grandparents in the spring time is dinner and a movie,” Jervey said. Another possibility that was discussed was also a drive-in movie theatre type-event. 

“I would love to see the Development office host both a virtual and an in-person event for the grandparents and special friends and their grandchildren every year,” Johnson said.