Parent power: Parent community finding new ways to interact

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Despite the confining nature of quarantine, yoga classes, wellness workshops, sports business forums, and other online events have helped the school’s parents balance their home life with a virtual parent community. Parents have stayed engaged with the community by attending a number of webinars hosted by the school’s parents and students, as well as participating in food drives to help families in need.
During this challenging time, the parent body has been looking for more ways to connect with the school, Head of Upper Division (UD) Dr. Jessica Levenstein said. “It’s important to create moments where parents can be assured that the school is still here, that we are still taking care of their children, and, most of all, that we are still a community.”
In order to create more opportunities to engage with the community, certified yoga instructor Shari Brooks P’19 P’20 P’22 P’26 has hosted a number of Vinyasa Yoga classes online for parents, students and teachers alike. Vinyasa is a type of yoga that integrates breathing into a flow of poses.
“Yoga has incredible benefits and it is a wonderful healing tool,” Brooks said. “The meditation and the breathing are really beneficial tools to use in a time of crisis and trouble, but also for everyday wellness.”
The class combined a series of poses with breathing, making for a peaceful and meditative environment. It accommodated all skill levels while still offering a challenging workout. At the end, Brooks helped participants use a wall to decompress and stretch after the workout, in a handstand-like pose.
English teacher Rebecca Bahr attended the workshop and found that it connected her to the community, she said. “It was very nurturing for me to do it and it helped me remember that we are all one community,” Bahr said. “We can support each other and rely on each other in these very difficult times and that is very reaffirming.”
On Wednesday, the founder of MindScience, Cathy Trentalancia P’23, hosted a mindfulness workshop for the parents at the school. MindScience introduces methods to increase self awareness, peace of mind, focus and connection. The workshop integrated three main practices— concentration, mindfulness, and loving kindness—to help parents lower stress and anxiety. “We can’t change the situation right now, but we can learn to recognize the negative thoughts and emotions it brings up and change our relationship to them in order to cultivate presence,” Trentalancia said.
Trentalancia taught parents that one silver lining of COVID-19 is that suffering increases compassion. “Our hearts are expanding as wide as the world,” she said.

Furthermore, The Horace Mann Parents Association (HMPA) has been hosting a monthly book club to keep parents involved, Co-Chair of the Lower Division HMPA and Book Club Kiara Jones Austin P’30 said. “It’s one of the spaces where parents from all the different grades come together to not talk about school,” she said. “Even when parents weren’t able to attend, it still gave them a reason to reach out and reconnect.”

Nancy Pretsfelder P’13 P’18 P’23 and Amy Federman P’21 have also started a new initiative called “HM Has a Heart” as another way for parents to stay involved in the community, Head of the HMPA Andrea Madaio P’23 said. The initiative calls for parents to underwrite grocery bags for families in need.
Their goal is to supply 75 bags of groceries each week to families in need, Federman said. “We launched this initiative on April 21 and have already raised over $20,000 worth of grocery bags,” she said. “Parents are thanking us for launching this initiative and for giving them a way to help out and make a meaningful difference, especially in a world right now, in which everyone feels so helpless.”
Madaio said that she hopes parents take these opportunities to connect so that they know they’re not alone and that the school’s community is here for them.
“These additional offerings are a wonderful opportunity to double down on strengthening the relationships that we value greatly,” Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly wrote in an email. Events for parents are a relief because they give parents a way to stay engaged while their children are working, he wrote.
There have been some benefits to switching the parent programs to an online format, Levenstein said. “People can fit them into their schedules much more easily so going online means that there can be more points of contact,” she said. The administration is still planning more opportunities this school year for parents, faculty, and students to get together in various forms.
Federman said that she would like to have a Facebook page to bolster the online parent community and share information. “I have always found [Facebook pages] a great community building tool,” she said.
Brooks said that she is impressed by all of the programming for the community. “We’re limited on what we can do right now so we’re being very creative,” she said. “There’s a learning curve and it’s really taken off.”