Parents vs. The Pandemic

By Sacha Zimmerman

Cristina Faz (P ’20, ’24, ’28) and Robert Kang (P ’23, ’25,’27) became co-clerks of the Sidwell Friends Parents Association (PA) last spring amid the socially distant and wildly uncertain first wave of COVID-19. Now they’re pros at Zoom and sage about coming together—without being together.

1. What were the PA’s biggest challenges over the past year?

CF: For me, it was not being able to be physically together or have social interaction. So it became super valuable to work very closely with the vice clerks and division clerks. We tried to be intentional about keeping those connections. All the credit for the creativity that happened as a result goes to the incredible volunteers who made every event happen virtually. The potlucks and all the social gatherings in the fall went virtual. At the potlucks, the volunteers had us break into small Zoom meetings so we could feel like were around a table together. The 9th grade pie bake stayed alive; they baked over Zoom! I joined a virtual meditation session last week. It’s amazing what volunteers have done without sharing the same space. We're reinventing “building community” despite physical separation.

RK: The big challenge was navigating how best to utilize our time and volunteers given so much uncertainty. We’d hear from Kathi Webb ’76 (P ’10, ’11, ’14), the School’s director of parent relations, about what other schools were doing and about how much our parents were doing. Our mission was to figure out how to respect people’s time, be efficient, and support creativity. The other challenge was we—all of the clerks and divisions— really wanted to focus on appreciating the teachers and administrators, who were dealing with logistics, health, and so many challenges. The amount of overtime they had to put in, and what a fantastic job they do, is unquestionable. We wanted to acknowledge that, even in little ways, and all the volunteers got behind that. It’s part of the spirit and character of the community. We brought in treats and notes of appreciation. At Thanksgiving, we delivered boxes full of fresh veggies. We learned that carbonated waters are really popular at the Lower School. They weren’t huge events, but we wanted to send the message as often as possible that we're so appreciative of all they do.

2. Is there something surprisingly good you’ll take forward with you?

RK: Zoom has taught us something; we’re more present somehow, and we aren’t dealing with traveling and scheduling. It can be a really good thing. I hope we don’t just throw that away.

CF: Doing activities over Zoom has opened accessibility. Zoom removed barriers for participation: People aren’t worried about childcare; more events are in the evenings, when it’s easier to connect; long commutes are not a worry. One of the biggest discoveries is just how many things can occur over Zoom. And it brought us closer in a way, because we join from our personal space, not from one of 20 chairs around a conference table. We log in and bring our whole person and life with us—the dog barking, the kids running around—all of that brings a human aspect to this work.

3. What’s coming up next?

RK: Nomination season is now! I hope folks will get involved and get excited, because hopefully we’re heading toward a much better situation; people should enjoy getting back together and joining physically next year. Also, we’re always looking for new volunteers; you can be out front, in the back, leading, organizing—whatever you want. We’ve also learned a lot from the next leaders: The vice clerks, Kevin Bailey (’27, ’29) and Shannon Hill (’23, ’27), have been extraordinary. They have great ideas. Being a part of the PA, you get the opportunity to meet different people and really connect with them.

CF: Kevin and Shannon are invaluable. This was such a particular year with all the challenges of distance learning, and they’re already envisioning great things under this environment or in person. And in the PA, you can work with each of the division heads, who are amazing.

4. Will you miss the PA?

RK: I’ll miss the relationships.

CF: I’ve enjoyed meeting monthly with the executive committees, those moments where you stop and take time to review everything the committees are doing, and the deep, deep appreciation you feel. And I’ll miss Kathi Webb! We meet weekly with her and she’s a vital support for the PA.

5. Would you do it again?

RK: Definitely.
CF: I want to do it all over again now—but in person!

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Sidwell Friends Alumni Magazine is published three times a year for the community. It features School news, stories, profiles, and alumni Class Notes.

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