Pali High Ambassador Kimiya Natan Launches Virtual Siblings Program
By KARINA EID | Intern
Designed to inspire “friendships and memories” while uniting people from all walks of life under the common goal of supporting each other, Palisades Charter High School sophomore Kimiya Natan launched the Virtual Siblings Program with help from fellow Palisades Ambassadors during a school year that was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program pairs elementary and middle school students with a Pali Ambassador who serves as their “Ambassador Sibling”—participants plan weekly virtual meetings to pursue a bonding activity, like playing games, talking, educating each other or sharing ideas.
The inspiration for the Virtual Siblings Program originated during the first couple months of the pandemic as Natan desired to aid the elderly. She recognized COVID-19’s disconsolate and isolating effect on seniors like her grandfather—especially those in rehabilitation centers and retirement homes.
The more she thought about her idea, however, she said she realized children and young adults were also negatively impacted by perpetual loneliness brought on by social distancing and safer-at-home orders.
Natan explained that childhood is a crucial period for “socialization and growth,” so the program is designed to provide a sense of normalcy for elementary and middle school students amid a secluded, remote time.
“Due to the pandemic, we understand that many students spend their days at home where every day feels the same,” according to the program’s website. “With childhood being such an important time for one’s development, socialization and growth, we want this program to be an outlet where children can enjoy their time during the pandemic with someone new.”
Eventually, she brought the idea to Pali High Principal Dr. Pamela Magee, as well as the other Ambassadors, where she said she received overwhelming support. The mentors are either Pali High Ambassadors or Dolphin Diplomats, which are freshmen striving for the chance to become an Ambassador someday.
The program is slated to relaunch in August under a new name: The Siblings Project.
“The Siblings Project will be an on-campus organization at Pali High that is separate but in association with the Palisades Ambassadors,” Natan explained. “We currently have applications, a website and more information under construction.”
Even with the program’s budding success, Natan expressed her desire to one day expand the program to other Los Angeles high schools. This way, more children would have the opportunity to engage in the program and form meaningful, educational relationships. In the meantime, the program has garnered positive feedback.
One mother to two Virtual Siblings Program participants communicated her support.
“For our family, our ‘siblings’ have become mentors, tutors, band members, gamers and big brothers,” she shared. “This has allowed them to engage in topics curious to them but assumed my husband and I would know nothing about.”
With the help of this program, children are able to expand their various interests. The matchmaking between older and younger “siblings” is designed to be incredibly systematic.
On the Palisades Ambassadors website, there is a survey that requires information about each child’s personal preferences. Personalized sections include the duration of the meeting, desired activities, preferred gender and appropriate scheduling.
“[The program] would tailor completely to the needs of the child,” Natan shared.
At first, the leaders performed a “test run” with four students and four Ambassadors to work out any issues before the program’s debut. According to Natan, it went smoothly, and their goals to educate, entertain and assist the children were accomplished.
For example, one student conveyed their inclination to learn the guitar, so he was paired with a musically knowledgeable Ambassador. They coordinated a time to meet, and in a one-on-one Zoom meeting, the Ambassador virtually taught his mentee how to play the guitar.
While “Zoom fatigue” is undoubtedly real, the Virtual Siblings Program allows for an engaging opportunity to socialize with others who share the same interests—an obvious reward for the additional screen time.
Although the older siblings are limited to Pali High Ambassadors, there are no restrictions on the younger siblings who can participate.
“We cater to a lot of different communities,” Natan shared, expressing the program’s inclusivity.
Since the pandemic impacted the simplicity of socialization, this program is designed to provide a solution to COVID-19’s seemingly never-ending list of difficulties. With help from Pali High staff and Ambassadors, the program was fully operating as of March 8, and the first session ran through May.
Natan shared the inaugural session reached “maximum capacity, which is very exciting.” As far as future sessions, Natan said there are preliminary plans to hold an additional two sessions, each during one of the two semesters in the 2021-22 school year.
“Everything is still very fresh, but I hope to continue with the Siblings program and further expand after our first session,” Natan shared. “The positive feedback we have received from members of the community is one of the main driving forces behind this decision. Moreover, the Siblings program has been everything I wanted it to be and more, so for that reason I think that is it definitely something I would like to continue working on.”
Natan expressed that anyone with questions or who would like to be added to The Siblings Project contact list for updates on future sessions can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit paliambassadors.org/virtual-siblings-program.
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