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Nurturing Connections During COVID Through Virtual Playdates By Kris Bumpus, Head of Counseling and Student Support & Candy Lee, Elementary Student Support Teacher American International School Hong Kong Playdate Requests by Grade Emma nurtures old and makes new connections through virtual playdates.

The start of the year is a critical time for young people to develop connections with both teachers and peers and doing this virtually would certainly pose yet another challenge for our students. While middle and high school students are highly adept at connecting online, our youngest community members need some additional support in navigating this virtual social world. To encourage student connections we launched the idea of supporting Zoom playdates in the Early Childhood and Elementary School divisions at the American International School Hong Kong. To launch this project, we used the Design Thinking Model to first identify the need. In our case, we had many new families joining our school as well as Early Childhood students who had not been in physical school since January 2020. As Hong Kong is fortunate to have a wonderful and extensive public transportation system, many of these families live in different neighborhoods that are not necessarily centered around school. Hence, their ability to connect outside of school is also limited by physical proximity. Second, we defined our objective and identified constraints. Our objective was to create opportunities for students and parents to develop connections. Major constraints or challenges were the need to maintain social distancing requirements, personal privacy of parents and students, and child protection. Finally, we needed to be realistic about our capacity to coordinate the initiative. Playdate Requests by Student’s Gender

Male 46. 2%

14 EARCOS Triannual Journal

Female 53.8%

G4 15.4%

EC2 7.7%

G3 15.4%

G1J 34.6%

G2 11.5%

G1 15.4%

Keeping our objective and constraints in mind, we brainstormed ideas and settled on prototyping and testing zoom playdates. Email requests came streaming in within hours of sharing a letter introducing the Zoom playdate initiative. 66 requests from 26 different families were received, with 46% from families with male children and 44% with female children. 58% of the requests came from our elementary families and 42% came from early childhood families. To date, a total of 50 virtual connections were made. Following the initial wave of requests at the start of the year, we saw a resurgence of requests following the parent teacher conferences in October. Elementary school teachers had a clear resource to share with families for whose children needed support in developing connections outside of the classroom. More importantly, these referrals led to action on the part of families. To review the effectiveness of the initiative we distributed a survey to participants. Of the families who have responded to our feedback survey, a majority agreed that having virtual playdates helped to connect their child to peers and foster friendships at school. It was also noted that in-person playdates were arranged among families who connected with each other through this initiative. The survey response rate was lower than hoped and we are currently seeking ways to review the effectiveness of virtual playdates in creating connections at school. With our recent return to the full online learning model, we will again reach out to our community to remind families of this resource in hopes that students will be able to maintain and nurture the connections they have made at AIS.

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The ET Journal Winter Issue 2020