5 Questions for Karen McCann McClelland: All the Extras

5 Questions for Karen McCann McClelland: All the Extras
5 Questions for Karen McCann McClelland: All the Extras
By Sacha Zimmerman

Auxiliary Programs at Sidwell Friends encompasses a dizzying array of activities, educational opportunities, and revenue-generating initiatives ranging from Extended Day, to early morning care, from the Special Programs After Regular Classes (SPARC) enrichment program to the Fox Den store and café. And, of course, it includes a wide range of summer camp offerings. For Karen McCann McClelland, the director of Auxiliary Programs at Sidwell Friends, it has also been a part of the last 25 years of her life—each day of which she has approached with joy and creativity.

1. What role does Auxiliary Programs play in the School’s operations?

We have a three-prong mission. One, we want to extend the School’s academic mission and provide excellent, enriching opportunities for kids to take risks and grow. That’s first and foremost—extend the School outside of the classroom. Two, another piece of our mission is to provide employment. That has shifted over the 25 years I’ve been here. We want to employ our coaches, our teachers, our current students, and our young alums as much as possible—and we do that through camp and other activities. Three, we provide non-tuition revenue to the School, which is very important here, as it is for other schools, which are looking to create new revenue streams beyond tuition and fundraising. Pre-pandemic, our net contribution accounted for as much as 5 or 6 percent of the operating budget. The School relies on that; it relies on us bringing in a nice piece of revenue that we can use however we need to—whether that’s for faculty and staff compensation or keeping tuition down. We provide great programs, we provide employment opportunities, and we contribute to the operating budget.

2. How did COVID impact your group’s work?

COVID emerged in March 2020, and so our activities that summer were greatly impacted. Whatever we could do online we did. But you can’t hold a tennis camp online. And the Fox Den was mostly closed, so that affected us as well. By the summer of 2021, we were able to plan for some in-person activities, but there was masking and social-distancing and the groups were smaller. It was only last summer that it felt like a return to normal, or at least semi-normal. This summer it seems like we’re fully back to normal. This academic school year looked pretty much like a typical school year. We had Extended Day as normal. Full SPARC enrichment workshops as normal. Just to have the regularly scheduled programming back was amazing. And parents were ready for it. In particular, there’s a thirst and a hunger for Extended Day. Kids and parents love having opportunities to stay after school, to be able to socialize with friends, and play on the playground.

3. What are the long-term effects of COVID, even extending to online programming?

I don’t think people have an appetite at all for online. They really want social interaction. On the other hand, more parents have flexibility for work and are working at home, so we’re not seeing as many people saying they need camp for their childcare. But they do want enriching activities for their children, specialized activities like cooking, robotics, dance, and other fun things. It’s the same with Extended Day. Parents are enrolling because they want to see their children have that social time and the extra time on the playground and being able to spend time with classmates. We’re also seeing that work flexibility come into play when people are picking up their children. They don’t seem to need to wait until 6 o’clock to pick up every day like they used to. Our success is really finding ways to engage parent interest in social-emotional learning and the soft skills that kids learn in afterschool settings.

4. What is your favorite part of your job?

I love the diversity in everything I get to do and my team gets to do. We’ve got one of the biggest teams at any independent school, which is really fun. Each day, I never know if I’m coming in and doing program development, or
doing HR, or I have to put my marketing hat on, or I’m working on a social media campaign. I really love the diversity of what we do, and I have a strong passion for the fact that the programs we provide make a difference in our students’ lives and they make a difference in our parents’ lives. So, it’s fun to be able to go into the Fox Den and say hi to people there or just jump behind the counter to help with the Middle School rush. It’s not an ordinary office job at all. I love being at a school where it’s mission-driven all the time. Everything we do is in support of the children and the people in our community.

5. What is your all-time favorite camp offering?

Currently, I love the Summer Equity and Justice Institute, which emerged from our strategic plan
in 2019. The goal is to encourage more hands-on learning with a focus on social impact. We’ve been doing the institute for three years, with one-week summer workshops for high schoolers and middle schoolers—some of them run by current teachers. It builds on Quaker philosophy and experiential learning. But we’ve also got robotics and design and fabulous writing workshops and personal finance and sewing. So it’s impossible to pick just one!

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