Category: Aug 2020 Newsletter

Creative Advocacy and The Power of Our Voices

Advocacy [n.]: any action that argues or speaks in favor of, in support of, or in defense of a cause, person, or group of people.

I have always been a believer in creative advocacy. Advocacy executed through creativity allows for an innovative brand of empathy to emerge, which is capable of functioning not only as a source for inspiration, but also as a tool for social good, a means for actual work and change. In other words, the application of creativity has the potential to motivate a deeper level of awareness and understanding, and from these emanate commitment and, ultimately, action. 

Over the past months, in our bimonthly newsletter installments, we have discussed much about the work, policies, programs and practices that continue to be built at Global Village Project in order to intentionally create our DEI community. Today, I offer this original poem as an act of creative advocacy. I hope it serves as a catalyst for both hopeful inspiration and deeper understanding of what it means to use one’s Voice - what it means to be heard, and to find in this relatedness, the essence of true connection.

Yesterday I Found My Voice

Yesterday
I found my voice
Today I live to tell about it
I didn’t shout from the rooftops
Didn’t whisper or scream
But I spoke, and the words that I heard
Were my own

Yesterday, I found my voice
Today I live to tell about it
And I sing a hallelujah chorus
In a key I’ve never tried before
Tell about it. Tell about it

I am a warrior woman
I won’t roll over or die
Give u, dry up
Or be sucked up

Yesterday I found my voice
And it’s here to stay
Cause I can’t let it go
I chant over and over
Write on all my pages
Say it again and again in my head
And then I open my mouth and cry out loud

Yesterday I found my voice
Today I’m here to shout about it
And this one’s for you
All those who know exactly what
I’m talking about . . . 

[Excerpt from And How My Spirit Soars: Learning to Pack for an Extraordinary Journey by S. Jai Simpson-Joseph]

Remote Work Brings New Opportunities for Innovation and Connection at GVP

Since the pandemic began, many employees across the country have found themselves on their couches on Zoom, attending the meetings they once had in conference rooms. Pre-pandemic, only about 3% of American employees worked from home more than half the time. Now, recent polls suggest that up to nearly two-thirds of Americans have transitioned to working remotely in the last several months.

The team at Global Village Project is no exception. After sending our students home from their last full school day on-site on March 17th, GVP staff also switched to a fully remote work model. For an organization that runs on constant collaboration and teamwork, with a highly-integrated internal structure, adapting to a fully distributed workplace has required ingenuity, flexibility, and a deep commitment to the relationships that lie at the core of our school community and culture.

Like many employees newly working from home during the pandemic, GVP team members have faced challenges from being physically isolated from peers since our transition, including the lack of face-to-face interaction and loss of the close, energizing atmosphere that comes from being at GVP with our students and volunteers. However, GVP staff have also used this period as an opportunity to build new structures, experiment, and innovate. Just as the teaching staff at GVP has adopted new tools for remote learning, the administrative staff dove into new tools and practices for communication and collaboration A key development to emerge from this period has been a new interdisciplinary working group model that transcends traditional team boundaries at GVP. Academic coordinators, development team members, and operations and management staff have joined to form new collaborative groups that target specific organizational priorities. The Engagement Initiative, for instance, was formed in late March to provide a designated space for our efforts to engage stakeholders across the GVP community during these remote times. 

One example of a major success that would not have been possible without changes to our team members’ flexibility and creativity was our May 1st Virtual Community Tea. In lieu of being able to host our last planned Authors’ Tea of the year, a gathering that ordinarily would have brought over a hundred people together on-site, the Engagement Initiative created a new virtual experience for our first-ever live stream on Facebook. Nearly 70 participants watched from their homes and over 600 users clicked in to view the video as we broadcast a live Q & A with Dr. Cassie, shared songs and monologues recorded by students, and enjoyed live music from Ms. Elise. Other remote experiences that have offered new ways of bringing our community together during this time include Elise Witt’s House Concert in May, the new ongoing DEI Book Club, the development of a virtual tour of GVP’s campus, and more. Plus, the 2020 Welcome Walk will be going virtual this year - more details to come soon!

All in all, the GVP team has worked hard to pivot creatively and effectively during this time so as not to lose the collaboration and connection that defines our work, impact, and community. We will continue working remotely until it is safe to return on site, and until then, we look forward to many more opportunities for virtual engagement from our homes - which may be attended, occasionally, in our pajamas.

GVP Alumna Gives Back through Summer Internship

Wise, soft-spoken, and determined, Niza Vang is actively working to better the world around her.

This summer, the 2014 graduate of Global Village Project returned to intern at her alma mater so she could help make an impact on a younger cohort of refugee students. From mid-May to early August, Niza supported a range of projects across GVP to help the school more smoothly navigate a period marked by challenge and adaptation: she helped load up food and supplies to be delivered to GVP families, packed books from the GVP library to send home to students, set up tablets for remote learning, and more. 

Niza’s summer internship at GVP is part of her ongoing commitment to community service as a Bonner Scholar at Berry College, where she is beginning her sophomore year this fall. The Bonner Scholars Program offers four-year community service scholarships to students who demonstrate financial need and take on a commitment to serving their community. 

This summer, six years after her GVP graduation and having persevered through high school and her first year of college, Niza decided to come back to GVP because she wanted to help her community. Niza knows what it’s like to be a newcomer to the country: at age 11, she arrived in the U.S. from Burma with her family and had to face the challenges of adjusting to a new educational system, learning a new language, and building a new life. Now, at twenty years old, Niza wants to support others through those same experiences. She hoped to use her summer internship at GVP as a chance to mentor younger students who are in the same place she was in nearly ten years ago. 

“I feel like if someone who had the same experiences as me came back years later,” says Niza, “after they had done whatever they could, to become the person who they are, then I feel like that would have encouraged me… because it would make me think that I could do that too.” Indeed, Niza is among the only 3% of refugees worldwide who enroll in college or university. She says she wanted to encourage younger students to see how they could be in a better place in a few years, and to look at her and other alumnae and think, “If they could do it, why can’t I?”

While the pandemic limited Niza’s opportunities to be able to engage directly with students this summer, she still made a tremendous impact on them through her service with GVP. Altogether, she completed an incredible 164 hours of service this summer! Niza’s selfless dedication and behind-the-scenes work have helped the school navigate the COVID-19 crisis and prepare for a new year.

Now, as she heads back to college for the fall semester, Niza will have plenty more opportunities for working with youth to look forward to. She is interested in volunteering with a nonprofit that serves children, such as Restoration Rome, for her next community service role. In addition, she will apply to the nursing program at Berry College this year in the hopes of becoming a pediatric nurse. Niza is excited at the opportunity to help others through healthcare, and she is especially passionate about working with kids. 

Eventually, Niza dreams of returning to Burma as a nurse so she can help address health inequities in poorer communities outside of Yangon, Burma, where her family is from. If she doesn’t end up practicing nursing, Niza still hopes to work in healthcare administration. Ultimately, she trusts that she will end up wherever she is supposed to be, in a role that allows her to make an impact and brings her inner peace. While it’s impossible to be “perfect”, Niza says, “it's not impossible to be someone who you want to be… you don't have to be a professional. I think sometimes you just have to be happy with who you are and what you're capable of.”

Jasmine Verreen, Newcomer Teacher, Jumps Into New Role at GVP

From left to right: Dr. Cassie Leymarie, Katelynn Villari, and Jasmine Verreen.

With her love for adventure and willingness to dare greatly, Jasmine Verreen could be bringing no better approach to life to her new role as Global Village Project’s Newcomer Teacher. This fall, she is embarking on her first school year teaching at GVP - during a global pandemic, no less. Teaching under a fully remote model will require a creative, adaptable, and determined approach to the classroom, but Jasmine is up for the challenge.

GVP is excited to welcome Jasmine to our faculty. Stepping into the Newcomer Teacher position following beloved Amy Pun’s departure, Jasmine brings a wealth of experience and a passion for working with English language learners. Her unique teaching background, which spans the globe, brims with the daring resolve that she says guides her career and life. 

Jasmine’s career in education began when she joined Teach for America after graduating from the College of Wooster in Ohio with degrees in Africana Studies and Theater. She says that while she enjoyed her Africana Studies major, she was eager to make a tangible impact in Black American communities after graduation, so she moved to Miami to teach science first at a predominantly Black American middle school and then at a middle school with a large Haitian American student population. It was there that Jasmine, admiring the courage and determination of her students from immigrant backgrounds, fell in love with teaching English language learners.

After four years of teaching in Miami, Jasmine’s next major adventure was teaching English in Korea. She taught middle schoolers in Busan, Korea for a year through the English Program in Korea (EPIK), and then completed a brief stint in Brighton, England before returning to Korea to teach in the small town of Cheongpyeong. These experiences helped Jasmine gain a more nuanced understanding of the cultural context of education: she says that while teaching abroad helped her understand that students navigate distinct educational environments in different countries, the students themselves have a lot in common: “There's so many things about them that are so similar...no matter what country I'm in, no matter what culture I'm teaching in.”

Now, having returned to the United States, Jasmine is thrilled to begin her first year as Newcomer Teacher at GVP, a role that she feels is where many of her interests and past experiences converge. She is grateful to be teaching in a school that is built around best practices in education, including project-based learning, restorative practices, and especially,  a strengths-based approach to education. While the refugee students at GVP all come from backgrounds with interrupted schooling, Jasmine emphasizes, “There's so much that they do know, there's so much that they can do, and there's so much that they've already been through. I really like how GVP promotes independence and acknowledges them as leaders.”  

This school year, which will be entirely remote after our on-site orientation is complete, will likely be one of Jasmine’s biggest challenges yet. “I'm most afraid of losing the human aspect of getting to know the girls,” she admits, but she’s determined to carry on the GVP experience: “Relationships are so much of what fuel GVP’s culture, and I'm really trying to think about how I can recreate that in an online platform.” She has been experimenting with and learning about various tools that can help create an engaging online experience, and she is excited to jump into the new school year.

The challenges that lie ahead don’t scare Jasmine - she knows the GVP team has her back, the planning is in place, and her fearlessness will help her face the rest. As she says, “Ever since I was a small girl, I always said, ‘Well, why not me?’ If something scares me, I have to try it...Why not me? I can teach even in this crazy time of COVID.” 

GVP Begins Twelfth School Year Amid Pandemic

On Monday, August 17th, Global Village Project began its twelfth school year, transformed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Like many schools across the country, Global Village Project decided to continue with a remote learning model this fall to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students, families, and staff. GVP’s staff has been working diligently all summer to continuously improve upon the robust remote learning model we first unrolled last March. This fall, all classes, from science to theatre, will continue to be held via Zoom.

There was one on-site activity planned for this semester: a two-week bridge orientation created specifically for families new to GVP. For the 19 students enrolling in GVP for the first time, we knew it would be necessary to bring students and families onsite to complete registration, intake assessments, and orientation. As we have always done for Enrollment Day, we provided transportation via the GVP bus (this year, while socially distancing), hired translators, and this year, also handed out masks for all families to make the school as accessible, safe, and welcoming as possible. Of course, enrollment activities looked very different this year - wholly reorganized to adhere to safety protocols for reducing the risk of COVID transmission. 

“It was quite the production,” says Program & Impact Manager Dr. Cassie Leymarie. “We had to make sure everyone was socially distanced, so we did it over four days, spread across the entire school, with one facilitator per classroom per family - but it was very well worth it.” These two weeks have allowed teachers to personally orient every student and family to GVP and the tools they will need for remote learning - hopefully setting them up for success for their first year.

Similarly, GVP staff undertook a monumental effort to touch base with each of our 27 returning students and their families before our first week back at remote learning. After “hundreds of calls and chats and at least five home visits,” Head of School Dr. Amy Pelissero is calling GVP’s welcoming week of remote learning a “huge success,” with 80% average attendance across all classes and 100% successful contact with every student and family. Moreover, for those who missed class, Dr. Amy notes that it was mostly due to internet connectivity and technology issues.

Each of the many steps taken to prepare for these two weeks of reopening has been designed with the needs of our students and families top of mind. We have asked ourselves again and again, “How are we ensuring all students have access to the tools they need to fully participate in remote learning? How are we supporting parents in their commitment to their daughters’ education?” Knowing full well that it is students like ours - refugees who are also English language learners, students of color, and students from low-income backgrounds - who are most at risk of falling behind during COVID, we have redoubled our efforts to make school fully accessible and engaging. We have distributed iPads to every family, supplied internet hotspot cards where needed, provided backpacks full of school supplies, actively engaged parents, and delivered food on a regular basis - all as part of our commitment to removing the barriers that make traditional educational systems inequitable for marginalized students.

Of course, our educational model is also continuing with the people-first approach that has always defined GVP. We put relationships at the core, and this manifests itself in everything we do, from our wholehearted, music-filled welcome to new families, to the care and love imbued in every teacher-student interaction. We know that the positive relationships are what really keep students coming back, and especially during this time, putting relationships first has never been more important.

This is the approach that will carry us to the other side, and it has already gotten GVP off to a strong start in this unusual year. As Dr. Amy says, “If we expect our students to come and learn how to use a stylus, Google Classroom, and Zoom raise-hand features, and if we want them to sing, move, learn and share while at home on computers, then we must be willing to put our relationships and connections first. And to put in the extra time and intentionality required to build and strengthen those. I know that this is why our students were in school this week.”