Grandparents and Special Friends Day at Allendale Columbia School
“Carol it’s so good to see you!”
“Becky is that you? Oh my! I haven’t seen you in years!”
“Isn’t this amazing?”
These are just a few of the comments that made our hearts glow as we let a practice session for our virtual Grandparents and Special Friends Day last week.
Late in September our leadership team discussed what we would do about one of the biggest annual traditions of the year. We tried to figure out how to make it happen during one of the most unpredictable times we have ever known. Grandparents and Special Friends day is a favorite and also a long-standing tradition at Allendale Columbia. We knew we had to do something this year… but how?
We certainly couldn’t have an event in person in light of the pandemic. Maybe we could mail out letters from our kids? Maybe we could post a special message on social media?
The brainstorming went on and on for a few days.
We finally decided to take a risk, which is very familiar territory for us at Allendale Columbia. It’s what we do. We were going virtual!
Julie Barrett, who greets everyone with a contagious smile each day as our Welcome Desk Associate and as my assistant in the Lower School, was so excited when I told her that we were going ahead with our annual Grandparents and Special Friends Day. I actually think I saw a few tears. We would have never been able to make this event happen without her energy, creativity and support. I knew that once she was on the team it was going to be an amazing success! We were on our way!
Who Wants to Zoom?
First we decided to send out an RSVP to a Virtual Grandparents and Special Friends Day celebration. We were curious to see how many grandparents or special friends would actually be interested in such an event. The response was beyond our expectations. Now that it was virtual we had three times the number of replies we normally receive each year. Guests were able to sign up from anywhere in the world! We had families reaching out to us to see if we could include aunts, uncles, cousins…and so many special friends. This was quickly becoming the event of the year!
Buttons, Letters and Cookies
We decided that we would send out a carefully crafted package to each grandparent and special friend a couple of weeks prior to the big day. Each year our students design buttons for their guests and they are distributed the day of the event. This year our amazing coordinator, Mrs. Barrett, facilitated the creation of hundreds of buttons all carefully designed weeks in advance.
Food is another BIG part of the day each year. Usually we enjoy lunch with our guests in the dining commons. We didn’t want to lose that feeling of sharing a meal together. So, our fabulous kitchen team and our Food Service Director, Laura Reynolds-Gorsuch, enthusiastically offered to bake pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies for the event. We also included recipe cards in the packet that was mailed out so that our Grandparents and Special Friends could bake the treats at home and share snack time with our students at the event.
In addition, each child in Kindergarten through 5th Grade wrote a letter to each guest that was also included in the packet. They wrote lovely messages letting them know how much they were missed, but also how excited we were to see them on the big day!
Mrs. Barrett stuffed the envelopes with buttons, letters, recipes and a little love from AC and off they went to places as far as India and as close as next door. We were on our way!
Don’t Forget Wolfie!
Each year we start our celebration with a visit from Wolfie, our school mascot, and we like to keep his real identity hush-hush…but Wolfie, we know who you are! :). He is always full of wit and I have the wonderful opportunity to play along with his humor and spontaneous shenanigans! I’m never sure of what he might say, but he makes the event incredibly special and fun! This year we couldn’t leave him out so we pre-recorded a chat and a story to be shared at the live event.
We usually send students and guests off to their classrooms for an activity that Wolfie assigns, but this year we were puzzled as to how to capture this part of the tradition. Could our guests navigate ‘breakout rooms’ or what if they had several grandchildren in different classes? We decided that we would let Wolfie coordinate this for us.
Each class also pre-recorded their presentations. Wolfie also introduced each grade level and their messages to our guests which brought so many smiles. We had poems, songs and stories that described how much we love our Grandparents’ and Special Friends. Wolfie also taught us a lesson through his story, which was that we can all ‘plant the seed of kindness and love’ no matter how far apart we are or who we might be.
Practice Makes Perfect
On Thursday, November 19th we invited our guests to an optional practice session on Zoom. Thankfully, we have a tech guru on our team, Rob Doran, assisting us throughout this process. A link was sent out so that they could join us live and work out any potential tech glitches before the big day. Well, it turned out to be a reunion and party! It was absolutely the BEST day of the year! Old friends and alum seeing one another, laughing together, sharing stories…who knew? Many of our guests have not seen anyone in months and the glee that filled the virtual Zoom room was pure joy.
We did work out the glitches too, but what a hoot! Julie, Rob and I had the best morning ever by simply being in the presence (albeit virtually) of our special guests. We were ready for the big day!
The Big Day!
On Friday, November 20th at 9 am we invited 198 guests into a virtual space that didn’t feel remote or distanced…it felt warm, connected and full of happy energy. We were together. Grandparents shared handmade signs with greetings of love to their grandchildren. Aunts and uncles were unmuting themselves to say ‘Hello’ and ‘I love you!’. Special friends were sharing comments in the chat box that read ‘Great job today! We miss you so much!’. The messages of love went on and on throughout the entire event.
In my career over the past 25 years as an educator I’ve experienced many moments of joy, exuberance and celebration, but I can honestly say that this was one of the MOST meaningful events in which I’ve been lucky to call myself a participant. It was pure love in such a difficult and challenging time. It was beautiful and I am so very thankful to have been a part of it. It is with great thanks to my team at AC who worked so hard to make this happen, our gorgeous children, our dedicated teachers and, of course, to our Grandparents and Special Friends.
Head of Lower School at Allendale Columbia
Director of AC’s Little School