Connecting With Parents and Caregivers During the Pandemic

May 15, 2021

One of the challenges for Healthy Schools Campaign’s school and community programming during the past year has been finding effective new ways to stay connected with parents and caregivers. One year in, we wanted to share one of our success stories. 

Last spring, Healthy Schools Campaign teamed up with our partners at Big Green Chicago to offer a new way for parents and caregivers to connect and build relationships. Jovita Flores, HSC’s manager of Parents United for Healthy Schools, and IIana Marder-Eppstein, then-garden educator at Big Green Chicago (Ilana recently moved into a new role at Chicago Public Schools), created a bilingual virtual garden chat series for parents we work with to connect, learn and share — highlighting their school gardens as a shared interest. 

The bilingual virtual garden chats were originally designed to last a few weeks, but the enthusiasm from this virtual community encouraged the organizers to keep growing and expanding the conversation. The chats, which initially attracted a handful of parents, eventually grew to bi-weekly events, hosting anywhere from 10 to 30 parents from 17 different schools where Healthy Schools Campaign and Big Green Chicago provide support, including Greene, Brighton Park, Nathan Davis, Hernandez, Corkery, Sandoval, and Walsh. 

The garden chats cover topics from how to grow and harvest healthy, organic foods in at-home or school gardens, to learning what and when to plant, and how to prepare for a new season. Expert presenters have also joined to help parents with more advanced gardening questions, such as how to cultivate compost with household food scraps. The garden chat organizers love hearing that parents and students enjoy tending their at-home gardens and harvesting vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers for healthy meals at home. 

For Jovita, whose planned in-person cooking classes were put on hold due to COVID-19, the garden chats have provided an opportunity to connect and share Mexican and South American recipes with parents, featuring items that may be grown in their school gardens. It also allowed her to check in with school wellness team ambassadors and create a platform to keep parents and caregivers engaged in their wellness activities.

“In the beginning, we just wanted to share gardening tips,” Jovita said, ”but now the chats are a place for parents to keep communicating about other important topics” — including talking about school reopening and COVID-19 concerns. 

Even as schools reopen, we are excited to continue, expand and adapt some of the innovative new programs that we developed during the pandemic to support the health and wellness of school communities throughout Chicago — in-person or virtually!