Introducing New Staff Members:
by Daphne Hall
Dr. Cassie Leymarie, Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator
Cassie’s major responsibilities are coordinating assessment activities and documenting the unique curriculum at GVP. Cassie further explains that, since our learners are unique, our curriculum must reflect their needs. “There isn’t necessarily one way to teach our students or assess their growth and development. My job is to help figure out what is best for our community of learners. Additionally, I help Dr. Amy with collecting and analyzing data about our students and their learning process and supporting the teachers with their needs.” With a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics, a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), experience teaching ESL in academic and community settings, and curriculum development experience for Somali newcomers, she is well-suited to support GVP in educating its students. While at Georgia State, she also worked with grant programs related to projects in Iraq and China. Her inspiration and motivation come from the girls themselves: “Being a part of the students’ learning journey is one of the best parts of being here. The girls make so many educational strides at GVP and it’s amazing to watch them grow.”
Kimberli Render, Arts Coordinator
Kimberli is responsible for managing GVP’s many partnerships with arts organizations around the city as well as helping to build an integrated arts curriculum for the school. With a Master of Music degree, years of teaching, seasons of performing, and experience working in the non-profit world, Kimberli is a natural fit for GVP. And what is her reward? “The girls—the light in their eyes when something clicks. That’s what I like best about GVP.” She is also inspired by the faculty and staff. “I love the commitment everyone makes to ensure a safe, nurturing, and engaging learning environment for the girls. I’m so happy to be here.”
by Marcia Partin (Soe’s mentor and interviewer)
& Daphne Hall
Catching up with Soe Meh
Catching up with Soe Meh isn’t that easy, as her mentor Marcia Partin learned when she interviewed her by phone. Soe works full time, participates regularly in a women’s group, and supports her family at home. In order to complete her interview, Marcia had to wait for Soe to finish packing meals for her parents to take with them to their night shift jobs. In 2009, when Soe was 13 years old, her family came to the United States from the Thai refugee camp Ban Mai Nai Soi. Soe’s parents are Karenni people from the Kayah state in Myanmar/Burma. While in the camp, Soe learned to read and write in her second language, Burmese.
The camp was Soe’s home, the only life she knew, before resettling in Clarkston. Remembering the process of moving to Clarkston, she says, “To come to the USA is not easy. We have to pass all the interview[s] and health examination, which take about six months to five years. For others, [it] might be quick and [for some] it might be long waiting.” About her parents, who have now lived in the U.S. for eight years, she says, “My parents both are working hard and are both on the same night shift at a local plant – they feel comfortable there and also have their days free if they need to make appointments.” Her younger brother is doing well in high school, with plans to go to college, and her older sister Bae Meh lives with her husband and child in Stone Mountain. In addition, “My family is buying our first home and we will be moving to Comer in January.”
Soe attended GVP from February, 2010 until May, 2012. She attended high schools in Stone Mountain and Clarkston and graduated from Elizabeth Andrews High School in 2015. Then her family moved to Athens, where Soe is currently employed as a paraprofessional working with refugee children at Madison County Middle School and Comer Elementary. She explains, “I love working with children, and these children are from different countries, which I also enjoy.” She “would love to become a lead teacher,” and is exploring teacher-training programs at nearby post-secondary schools. “I hope to have my teacher degree in 4-5 years, and I would like to be a teacher in a middle school with 6-8th graders!”
In addition to her work as a paraprofessional, Soe is in a women’s group organized in Comer. Members are from different countries and get together twice a month to sell their woven cotton bags and scarves at the Athens Farmer’s Market. The photo with this article shows Soe at the Market with her loom. “We help each other with problems, have fun together, and sometimes have lunch together.”
Soe has clear memories of the challenges of being a refugee and of how attending GVP helped her and her family navigate those challenges. “There were many challenges to face in the new schools in America, and many things to learn—having to learn a new culture, and to learn to read, write, and speak a new language.” Especially difficult was learning about transportation: “As a family, you don’t know how to use buses and how to get around to doctor and other appointments.” However, surmounting those and similar obstacles was not enough for Soe Meh. “I am proud and happy to help people in need, to help them to understand appointments at the Health Department and how they can get aid.” She has also helped parents understand that it can be important—and even expected—for families to visit their children’s schools and attend parent-teacher meetings there.
In terms of her own schooling, Soe explained, “I liked many things about GVP: I got to meet people from different cultures, there were nice teachers and volunteers, it is in a good location close to our homes and not in a busy place, the classes are smaller, and it is easier for students to feel comfortable. Public school classrooms are large, and it is hard when you speak another language.”
Soe Meh knows that graduation, jobs, and new houses don’t come to a person just by wishing for them. For girls who want to continue their schooling or get jobs, she has this advice: “Work hard; keep asking questions. Don’t be afraid to ask – there is always an answer to any question. When you are in high school, you can get into an after-school program and I recommend that you also get into activities you are interested in, perhaps sports – these activities will help you in the future when you apply for college or a job and they ask what you are interested in and what activities you participated in.” Acknowledging the challenges of obtaining financial aid for college, she says, “I also recommend that you apply for college while you are in high school, while you have counselors to help you and to advise you about financial aid.”
Nonetheless, even while talking about how to get help and support for oneself, Soe reinforces her strongly held belief in helping others through the hard times of being new. “It is very important to help your family, friends, and neighbors who are learning all the new things that you have faced. Even little things will help them.”
Welcome our AmeriCorps Members:
by Daphne Hall
Americorps is a federally-funded program which places members in nonprofit, faith-based, and community organizations in underserved communities across the United States. Americorps service members work in education, disaster relief, public health, and other fields. In partnership with Notre Dame Mission Volunteers-AmeriCorps (NDMVA)
, GVP has become a NDMVA service site for AmeriCorps members. Starting this school-year, we have taken on two GVP School Support AmeriCorps Members.
Ani Hildebrandt, School Support AmeriCorps Members
While in her previous position with a non-profit in Clarkston, Ani was excited to learn that there was an organization specifically focused on working with refugee girls. She says, “I love the community at GVP and how the girls come together despite their language and cultural differences to build strong friendships. I also love all the individual help the girls are each getting.” Ani is an important part of the individual help because her work at GVP is primarily in classrooms working with students and supporting the teachers. She is well-qualified in this regard because of her focus on teaching and intercultural education while she was in college. She also brings the perspectives of an outdoor adventure counselor and coordinator of a farm to school program for middle schoolers. Who knows what we will see Ani doing with the girls throughout the year!
Kate Mull, School Support AmeriCorps Members
Kate grew up with a multicultural community at church and a diverse student body at school and then studied World Languages with a minor in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages as an undergraduate. During that time, she studied on 5 continents and taught English as a Foreign Language. Her workday includes academic support for students in study hall and classrooms—especially with reading—as well as “cultivating consistency with our lunch procedures.” Kate is very pleased to be at GVP: “GVP is unlike any other school and has its own challenges and rewards. I really enjoy the challenge of an environment that calls for such flexibility and energy. Working with girls from so many different backgrounds and seeing them learn and succeed is worth all the effort. I go home every day exhausted but satisfied, and there is not much more you can ask for when it comes to a job!”
We are excited to start this partnership with NDMVA and AmeriCorps Network to host members at GVP. When you see Ani and Kate, welcome them to GVP and send them well wishes on their 11-month service!