By Lisa Kamins, Assistant Development Director
Grandfriend’s Day is one of my favorite Inly traditions because it brings together our students with people who hold a special place in their lives. Anyone can be a grandfriend, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or older siblings. It’s a busy day, full of people, motion, and lots of excitement. Grandfriend’s Day takes place on the half-day before Thanksgiving so that people who are visiting from outside Boston for the holiday are able to attend. Guests come to school to share the Inly experience for a morning.
This year our visitors filled the Meehan Family Artsbarn to overflowing by 8:45 a.m. as we began the morning with a welcome from Donna Milani Luther, Inly’s Head of School. Our Middle School students then wowed the crowd with excerpts from their recent musical production, Fiddler on the Roof. From the poignancy of “Sunrise, Sunset,” to the anticipation of the crowd during the “bottle” dance onstage (they cheered when it was done!)—this performance was about more than entertainment. It was a way to help explain an Inly education to our visitors—to demonstrate first-hand, the meaning and value behind our focus on creativity and performance arts. As Donna explained, learning to perform teaches students how to “confidently present themselves to the world…very few of our students will actually go on to careers in the theater, but every single one will go on a job interview.”
Afterward, the great migration to various classrooms began. Our youngest students do best when visitors come to them, so Toddler and Bridging grandfriends went to explore those classrooms, make turkey centerpieces, and sing songs. The rest of the students divided their time between the classrooms and performances in the Artsbarn. This year, the very welcome addition of several Middle School student escorts helped the day run more smoothly.
Many of our grandfriends come to visit students in different levels and have developed strategies to be “everywhere” at once. Some families employ a “person-to-person” strategy and bring one grandfriend per student and split up. Others approach the day with a “zone” mentality and stay put in the Artsbarn, visiting classrooms later. And still others ramp up for a big holiday meal by sprinting back and forth between the Artsbarn and the classrooms with each child. We try to help families with multiple students organize their visit, recognizing that there is no “one size fits all” schedule for the day. So, just as we do in the classroom, we adapt, individualize, and respond to the needs of those we are serving.
Teachers plan their classroom time individually. Students love to show off the work they do each day and Montessori materials are new to many of our guests. This year, one Children’s House classroom made centerpieces with dried flowers and leaves brought in by a parent. Lower Elementary classes discussed what their grandfriend’s childhood Thanksgivings were like (a fun tie-in to the US history humanities theme!).
Many grandfriends have told me that the highlight to the day is the chance to see the students perform. For me, one of the best parts of the day is greeting the grandfriends as they arrive. Everyone is so happy and excited to be here. The beaming smiles of our grandfriends are contagious. By the time the day rolls around, I’ve also spoken to most of our visitors on the phone and can connect names and faces. This makes the whole day feel more personal. I was thrilled to meet one grandmother who couldn’t make it last year and made sure she could be here this year. It’s also wonderful to see our grandfriend “veterans,” who have been part of this event for several years.
At the end of the morning, after all the excitement, I’m sure that everyone is ready to go home and get ready for the next day of festivities. Before I leave, I make notes for the next year and think about the numbers to the day (168 guests, 212 cups of coffee, 150 mini pumpkin muffins, 7 performances, etc.), but when I go through the photos in the quiet of the afternoon, I am reminded that there really is no way to measure the connections between our grandfriends and our students!