Category: HOS Blog

Literacies in Action

This morning in our team huddle, Ms. Danielle, our STEAM Coordinator, shared a story with us. It included chat messages between two students. She wanted us to see how one of our newest and youngest students, an 11-year old girl who arrived in the US in January 2019, had been exchanging chat messages with another newcomer student in order to help her join Friday’s Last Day of School Zoom Party. These two particular students are both in our Level 1-Newcomer Class and had been working on Google Classroom and using Google Hangouts over the last months, but were not familiar with Zoom yet. Ms. Danielle shared information with them earlier in the week in technology class about Zoom. She had given them passwords and pictures to show clearly where to look on the iPad screen and assist them in logging on later.  Ms. Danielle saw these two newcomer students messaging and chatting during the Zoom event and recognized how they had powerfully taken up newly learned literacy practices to support each other.

The 11-year old student who could not read or write in English before coming to our school in August 2019 was writing clear, concise, and coherent chat messages to her friend in order to help her get into the Zoom meeting. She encouraged her not to give up and gave her the password and instructions. Meanwhile, the student desperately trying to join the Zoom, took screenshots of her iPad to show what she was seeing and doing, as she struggled to get on. These two young women engaged in a full back and forth conversation using multiple types of literacy practices in order to take part in something that they were invested in doing. They wanted to be on the Zoom with their friends and teachers. They didn’t want to miss the last day of school celebration. Eventually, they both succeeded.

These two young women used English print literacy practices, writing messages and texts to each other. They took up digital literacy practices, using the iPad and online applications to communicate, and they took up other multimodal literacies as they took screen shots and used software tools to draw circles and point out what they saw. Once on the Zoom, these two chatted in the side chat section, typing words and using emojis to communicate their joy in joining the party. Then, they cheered and sang songs with the rest of our school. 

In one hour, these students engaged in multiple literacy practices using multiple modes for communication. They showed clearly how literacy is tied to empowerment, investment, agency, and action. They also showed how, given the opportunities, students can become teachers. Ms. Danielle modeled for them how to use screenshots and other tools for support in technology classes. Then, when the opportunity arose, they were ready to use the same tools to teach and support each other. As a literacy and language educator, I can’t think of anything more powerful than stories like these. Ultimately, this is what all educators want for students—enough understanding and social support to take up and use the knowledge, skills, and tools they have been taught to reach their goals and teach others.

There have been times at GVP when we have accepted students into our school who are already 18 years old. Typically, the students we meet at this age have been resettled into the US with limited English and print literacy proficiency, and the risk of them dropping out of a traditional high school is high. We have seen several students at GVP who came to the US believing that they would have a chance at the education they never had and then quickly realizing how challenging that was going to be. When these young women come to our school, they are often insecure and unsure. They realize how far they have to go. We recognize that, too, and try to explain that the journeys and destinations may be different for them. Research shows that older newcomers who do not have literacy in their first language often face real challenges in learning literacy for the first time in a foreign language. It often takes longer and requires years of practice that are not always available as they reach the cut-off ages for high school registration. It is a kind of race against time for these older newcomers. 

At GVP, these students are committed to learning and often see several grade levels of literacy growth in their first year. Their hard work during their time at GVP makes it possible for us to quickly move them on into high school, where we know that the challenges will remain, but hope that they will accomplish what they desire by moving on. Some of these students have remained in high school, some have graduated from our local alternative school, and some never graduated and went on to work to support themselves and their families. Whatever the outcome, I am deeply grateful that they were able to gather the literacy, support, and confidence in their time at GVP that they needed.  I know that when these students leave GVP, they can navigate everyday lives with the literacies they have learned. They no longer have to be afraid of riding on the bus or train for fear of not knowing the directions or stops; they no longer have to fear filling out an application online; and they have met other teachers and school sisters who can help support them with things that are too difficult to manage alone. They have learned how to use literacy brokers as resources and also become literacy brokers for others.

Literacy brokering, while defined in diverse ways, is generally understood as social practices in which one person facilitates meaning making (usually involving printed texts) for or with another party (such as a parent or neighbor), who has different linguistic and/or cultural backgrounds and needs assistance. Unlike formal interpreters and translators, brokers mediate, rather than merely transmit, information. They help negotiate meaning in a given social or cultural context. The students at GVP typically take up roles as literacy brokers very early on in their educational process. They help their parents with newsletters, permission forms, flyers, health forms, bill paying, applications, and so much more. While they are still emerging as English readers and writers, they are already practicing sophisticated mediation and negotiation to make sense of text and act on their worlds. This is why real-world authentic literacy tasks that are related to students’ lived experiences are so important to learning.

Bonnie Norton, a Canadian educator, researcher, and scholar, has highly influenced my own perspectives into learning. She argues that motivation is a concept often understood as intrinsic and unchanging; something a student either has or doesn’t. Motivation is typically removed from the social context and often doesn’t work as a concept when trying to make sense of students’ learning. Instead, Norton urges educators to think about the concept of investment--a a student’s investment in learning a language. Learners will be invested if they can see and understand the value and usefulness of the learning or practice in their everyday lives and futures. 

Learning should be related to students’ identities, desires, and hopes for the future. It is more likely that students will invest in learning when they see the material, cultural, and social value of it. It is critical that schools and teachers put students at the center of our work and seek to engage them fully as humans in learning, especially during this unprecedented pandemic. We must remember that our students are living and changing social beings with real needs and desires, and that those things influence and make a difference in their learning. For the two newcomer students in Ms. Danielle’s story, their desires to be part of the community and to support their friends made taking up and practicing new literacies valuable and useful. At GVP, we are focused on keeping our students at the center of our work and providing access to learning that is worth investing in. Our goal is to provide an education that matters and makes a difference in students’ everyday lives and futures. 

 

"Though we loved school, we hadn’t realized how important education was until the Taliban tried to stop us. Going to school, reading and doing our homework wasn’t just a way of passing time, it was our future." - Malala Yousafzai

"Acquiring literacy is an empowering process, enabling millions to enjoy access to knowledge and information which broadens horizons, increases opportunities and creates alternatives for building a better life." - Kofi Annan

"Literacy is not a luxury, it is a right and a responsibility. If our world is to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century we must harness the energy and creativity of all our citizens." - President Bill Clinton  

Better Together

Well, we made it. We did it. We hit a major milestone yesterday. With record speed and expert coordination and collaboration, we created a virtual learning program for GVP students and a remote working model for our staff. We ramped up our outreach and communications and our engagement with parents and families. We have taken our food and technology provisions to a whole new level, and now we end our semester and school year with typical GVP style.

At 4PM on Friday, our entire staff participated in an all-school Zoom with students, and we had more than fifty members of our GVP family together again online! Our School Counselor, Ms. Katelynn, recognized students for embodying and modeling Core Values, and we all cheered and shouted for each one. We shared time singing with Ms. Elise, thanking Ms. Amy, our departing Newcomer Teacher, for all her years of love and service, and dancing! Today, we will hold a GVP staff car parade for our students through Clarkston, riding through each one of the apartment complexes where they live. We will decorate our cars and hold out signs, as we congratulate and honor our graduating Form 3 students and say goodbye to our returning students--for now.

I shared with staff in our morning Huddle on Thursday how hard it has been for my own daughters to see school end so abruptly. There have been no real send-offs of any kind for them at either one of their schools, no class Zoom meetings or parties, no school assemblies, no awards, tributes, or farewells. Nothing. It is so strange for them not to have that moment of joy and celebration and that feeling of completion. I am so deeply grateful that is not happening for our GVP students. We completed family-school conferences this week; we had small class celebrations online; and then we ended with a whole school celebration and a car-parade. For us, recognizing and honoring our students and their accomplishments can’t be overlooked. I am deeply grateful to all of our staff for making the time and space for these celebrations.

I had all the same jitters I would typically get as the last day of school approaches, both yesterday and today. I was restless last night and had the most bizarre dreams about runaways and underground meetings in caves. As I woke, I could feel the rising anxiety mixed with excitement, wondering about how the end of day events would go, how many students would show, and what our collective emotional state would be. On our morning Team Huddle call, several of us shared the same feelings of excitement and anxiety, mixed in with some sadness. We also reflected back on past challenges as we ended one school year and looked towards a new and uncertain one.

In 2017 when the church that houses our school underwent major renovation, we had to pack up all that we owned, store most of it, sort through the rest of it, and set up administrative offices at Agnes Scott College for the summer and then set up a temporary school space at Clairmont Presbyterian Church for the start of our new school year. We planned, worried, and wondered about how we could make it work. Our bus routes were different; we didn’t have access to all of our resources; we couldn’t show newcomer students and families our “real” school as they interviewed with us; we couldn’t go to lunch at Agnes Scott in our new location; so much had changed and would change. But still, so much remained the same. The team came in each and everyday with the same level of commitment and focus on our mission and vision. We created a plan. We were flexible and leaned on one another. We made it work, and we moved back into our beautifully renovated school space for the second semester, and GVP went on but differently. Of course, a national health and economic crisis cannot really compare to a temporary displacement and renovation. But, it reminded me of how strong and resilient we are as a school and as humans. We adapt to what’s new and what’s needed. When things get tough, we come together. We are better and stronger together.

Post-planning for teaching faculty will take place next week. This year, we will be meeting together in the afternoons on Zoom instead of in person in our empty classrooms. Our Educational Coordinators are working diligently to design a summer program schedule for the weeks between June 1 and July 17. We won’t have our traditional GVP book club this summer, but we are creating something new. Now more than ever, it is critical that we keep our connections and support students in continued learning over the summer. Staff will be sharing that schedule with students and parents in our weekly calls on Monday. After June 1, our weekly family calls will go to a bi-weekly schedule, but we will continue to stay in touch. We are also planning for May 18, June 8, and July 6 deliveries to families. We will provide food, cards and communications, and other needed documents and learning supplies for students and families.

GVP’s Administrative Leadership & Support Team will continue to work remotely Monday through Thursday throughout the summer. We have planned some Admin L/S Team strategic sessions over the summer and will similarly be planning some strategic sessions for teaching faculty. Teachers at GVP are all contracted and paid to work 40 hours through the summer for curriculum and professional development. This summer, we will need to spend some of these hours working together to plan and prepare for reopening and the possibilities ahead.

There is so much to decide and do this summer. As the past months have proven, things will likely be very different during the summer and into next year. Maybe they will always be different moving forward. Right now, our Admin L/S Team is scheduled to return to work together in our GVP Offices on July 20, but there is much to plan, consider, and finalize before then and much remains unclear and unknown. The teaching faculty is scheduled to start pre-planning on July 27th. Whether that happens together or online is yet to be determined, too. So much is uncertain, yet plans and possible scenarios have to be made. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must be ordered for staff and students, new classroom layouts, procedures, and plans for safe distancing designed. But, I am also feeling a very deep desire among our staff for some separation from school and work and some much-deserved rest. As most teachers and administrators do, we have pushed forward with almost supernatural strength in this time of crisis. We have put our super powers to good work and done all that we could for our students and families at home and at school in order to bring the school year to a positive and powerful end.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I often refer to our teachers as superheroes. We reflect on and share our super powers with each other; we bring them to our work together. Recognizing those powers is part of what makes our team strong and reflects our strengths-based approach. We have even created superhero names together; mine is Passion Flower. It is interesting to note that a number of comic book superheroes were also educators in their everyday lives. For example, Jefferson Pierce, a gold medal winning Olympic athlete, earned an English degree and returned to his old high school as a teacher. When his first attempts to protect his students from drug dealers and criminal organizations left one of his students dead, Pierce became the superhero Black Lightning to clean up the streets and protect the school. Spiderman, Emma Frost, and others similarly took up day jobs as teachers in their stories.

While it can be very exciting to put our super powers to work for the good of our students, families, and communities, I am personally looking forward to slowing down at least for a little while and looking for time to rest, renew, and recharge before the fall so that I can be my best for the changes and challenges ahead. As part of this slowing down process, I will limit my blogging to once per week over the summer. It has been a great challenge and joy to finally start this blog and to fill these pages with my thoughts on education and our school in these unusual times. I am thankful to you for reading and look forward to continuing to document our collective journey, as we enter year #12 at GVP and a whole new kind of “normal.”

Some possibilities:

"A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter when it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you're in and take advantage of it." -- Nikki Giovanni

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” --John F. Kennedy

Virtual Connections

We have only three days of school left for students. Our Educational Coordinators met this morning to create a plan for continued and supported summer learning and a plan for our post-planning sessions with teaching faculty next week. There are plans for a school-wide end of semester Zoom party on Friday, a GVP graduate car-parade on Saturday, a musical livestream with Ms. Elise on Sunday, and a family home delivery on Monday with notes, cards, and gifts for graduates and food for families. We will also deliver the outline for summer programming, calls, and meetings so that we can stay in touch with students and families and keep them connected to the school community.

In post-planning next week, we will reflect upon all that has happened over the past two months and carefully consider the options for moving forward. Most importantly, we will critically think about how we can continue to reimagine and recreate what we have in our brick-and-mortar school in a virtual or blended learning model. We must craft a new model that allows us to maintain the most critical elements of our holistic educational program at GVP and that can bring students back together and inspire them to engage in learning.

Over the past 8 weeks, GVP has faced some of the same challenges as many other middle and secondary schools around the nation. In particular, our school has experienced much higher levels of absenteeism and students have been inconsistent in their attendance. The high rates of attendance that we had traditionally seen—typically above 90%--have dropped significantly. High rates of attendance had always been a point of pride for us at GVP because research shows that often families with lower incomes and those whose first language is not English have much lower rates of attendance overall. Additionally, research has shown that attendance rates are lower among older secondary students and among girls.

In a 2018 Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study on student absenteeism, Garcia and Weiss noted, “One in five eighth-graders was chronically absent,” and “boys showed a higher full-attendance rate than girls.” They went on to say, “Hispanic ELL students and Asian ELL students were the most likely to have missed more than 10 school days…” In conclusion, they pointed out that absenteeism is “a puzzle composed of multiple pieces that has a significant influence on education outcomes, including graduation and the probability of dropping out. The factors that contribute to it are complex and multifaceted.” According to the US Department of Education (2016), major contributing factors to chronic absenteeism include: poor health, parents’ nonstandard work schedules, low socioeconomic status, mobility and transience, extensive family responsibilities, and inadequate supports for students within the educational system (e.g., lack of adequate transportation, unsafe conditions, lack of medical services, harsh disciplinary measures, etc.).

Many recent reports have shown that as many as 40% or more of secondary students are not showing up for virtual classes right now in the US. The New York Times published an article on April 6th that clearly articulated the current state for schools: “Chronic absenteeism is a problem in American education during the best of times, but now, with the vast majority of the nation’s school buildings closed and lessons being conducted remotely, more students than ever are missing class — not logging on, not checking in, or not completing assignments. The absence rate appears particularly high in schools with many low-income students, whose access to home computers and internet connections can be spotty. Some teachers report that fewer than half of their students are regularly participating.”

Since our school closed, I have been paying close attention to the ways in which this unprecedented pandemic affects our educational system, schools, and students. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear many good news stories about students in remote classes. I have seen a number of news articles and reports from cities across the country sharing similar concerns around absenteeism. Staten Island, NY, Rapid City, SD, and Orange County, CA are all distinctly different and geographically distant but all report similarly dramatic declines in online attendance. I worry that so much of what is most valuable in our schools--positive relationships, supportive teachers, healthy food, hands-on projects, and time with peers—is lost online and in our virtual classrooms and are contributing to this decline in attendance. I wonder about the other factors that are contributing to this terrible trend.

There is a general recognition that welcoming schools and schools with highly positive climates and cultures see better rates of attendance. Research shows that responsive and restorative schools see better rates of attendance and lower rates of absenteeism. That was certainly true for us at GVP. We very rarely dipped below 90% attendance, and we called our students and families whenever they were absent. Occasionally, we even saw students walk the 5 miles to school after missing the bus. But now, things are different. We have worked hard to take our best practices and holistic model of education online. We have provided all the needed technology, called all the families each week, offered music, drama, tech, and counseling classes in addition to the core content, and so much more. Teachers and staff have texted, called, chatted, and messaged across multiple platforms, hoping to engage full classes online. But, things have changed.

I have not been able to fully assess the data we have gathered on attendance during the COVID-19 crisis yet, but I know from talking with teachers that classes that should include at least 15 have sometimes had only two or three students in attendance and that overall our absenteeism is likely reflective of the 40% other schools have seen. That is difficult for our teachers, and it is difficult for me. My mind tells me and our counselor reminds me that these are extraordinary times. We are experiencing trauma and grief at a personal and unprecedented national level. While I understand this, I am still struggling to understand what it will take to bring our students back together and engage them in this virtual learning world and practice. It seems even more critical as I anticipate the start of a new school year that will certainly call for a blended learning model.

I look forward to learning from other schools around the country and to lively debate and discussion about how to engage secondary students, in particular, who seem so tuned out when it comes to online learning and virtual schooling during this time. I wonder and desperately want to know what we can do to combat it, to keep our students connected, and to keep them interested and invested in continued learning. Students like ours at GVP certainly can’t afford to miss any more schooling, and we intend to do all that we can to keep that from happening.

Thank You, Moms

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. It was a beautiful, sunny day here in Decatur, and I spent most of the day relaxing outside with my family. I shared emails, text messages, and pictures with other moms that I know and love and got to visit with my mom outside at a safe, social distance. I received a special text message from one of our GVP parents early in the day wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day and found myself thinking of our GVP mothers often throughout the day.

I thought about their courage and care for their families and about the calculated risks they are willing to take for the sake of their children. Research shows that 80% of refugees are mothers and their children. Often, women resettle on their own, seeking safe, secure, and stable lives for their children. They are ready to give up their homes, families, and networks of support to find something better for their children. They fight fearlessly to give them an education, an opportunity, and a future.

According to History.com, the origins of Mother’s Day in the US date back to the years before the Civil War. Ann Reeves Jarvis started “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to care for their children. These clubs later became a unifying space in a region of the country still divided over the Civil War. In 1868 Jarvis organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” where mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote peace and reconciliation. Soon after in 1870, the abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a call to action that asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In 1873 Howe campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2. Following her mother’s 1905 death, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices her own mother and all mothers made for their children. I am grateful to our mothers past and present who make sacrifices for their children.

Moms are central to their children’s health, wellbeing, and education. According to UNESCO, if all mothers completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by two-thirds. If all women had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in half, saving 3 million lives and 12 million children would be saved from malnutrition. UNESCO research also shows that educated mothers are more likely to ensure that their children receive the best food and nutrients, know more about appropriate health and hygiene practices, and have more power in the home to make positive decisions for their children. Educated girls are less likely to marry early and have children at any early age. If all girls had a secondary education, there would be two-thirds fewer child marriages.

GVP is dedicated to empowering and educating girls and in turn creating a safer world for women and their children. Girls’ education has a powerful ripple effect. Educated moms are empowered moms who empower their daughters. Girls and young women who are educated are more aware of their rights, have greater confidence, and have more power over their decisions, life options, and futures.

GVP students have experienced interruptions in their formal schooling but because of the care, protection, and education their mothers have provided, they will have more power over their decisions and more choices for their future. We are deeply grateful to all of the mothers who have entrusted us at GVP with the education and care of their daughters. I am also deeply grateful for the mothering that our students receive from our GVP community of support. During our family-school conferences this week, many parents thanked me for caring for their daughters, for the good education they were getting, and several even thanked us for being like parents to them. I am profoundly thankful for the ways that GVP fosters a feeling of family among our parents, students, and community stakeholders.

Last Friday at our regular 9AM Morning Huddle Hangout with the team, Mr. Crispin, our School Support Specialist, wished us all--the wonderful women he works with--a Happy Mother’s Day and thanked us for being supportive mothers for him, as his own mother is so far away. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the verb mother means to treat someone with kindness and affection and try to protect that person from danger or difficulty. In this way, we are all mothers to Mr. Crispin, to each other, and to our students. We practice kindness and care for each other and do our very best to keep each other safe. Like Mr. Crispin, I want to thank our GVP community for being powerful mothers. Thank you for caring deeply about our students and families and for fighting for educational equity and justice. Thank you for working for peace, creating safe and welcoming spaces, and for loving and nurturing each other. Rumi said, “We are born of love; love is our mother.” I believe the image of love as a mother is the most powerful of all.

21st Century Learners and Leaders

Earlier this week in my Monday Blog, I shared a little about what I think is required of learners in the 21st century and about the four C’s--Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, and Critical Thinking--of 21st century education. I also shared what I would like to call the fifth and perhaps most important C, and that is Courage. Today during Teacher Appreciation Week, I am thinking more about what it means to be a 21st century teacher. Strong 21st century educators don’t just teach students the four C’s: they practice and model them. 21st century teachers are creative; they collaborate, think critically, connect and communicate with others. They are committed to lifelong learning; they adapt and are flexible. They are courageous and future-facing. They are not afraid to step out, innovate, and take up new ways of teaching, leading, learning, and living, and they empower others to do the same.

All good educators want to help their students succeed in school and in life and hope to help them reach for their dreams and greatest potential. However, what was once considered a good education is arguably not the same today. Success in high school, college, career, and citizenship is different than it was even 25 years ago. In the past, our educational focus in the US has been on knowledge attainment and mastery for content-based exams. In the 21st century and the age of Siri and Google, specific knowledge has become less important and knowing how to learn has become far more important.

In the 21st century, education has become more learner-centered, allows for the integration of different types of knowledge, and focuses on marrying knowledge and skills. 21st century educators want to give students the skills, tools, resources, and practice needed to gather knowledge and gain new skills inside and outside of school. In order to do this, teaching has changed in many ways. It includes more tools and technologies than ever before; it ties learning academics to social and emotional learning; and it is faster and can take place almost anywhere. As the world grows smaller through connections that transcend borders,  learners need to be prepared for local and global citizenship and for community integration and interaction. Teachers have to take learning beyond the classroom walls,educating through technology, experiential learning, service and project-based learning, etc. Teaching is rapidly changing in these times, encompassing more than ever before.

At GVP, we embrace the Core Value of lifelong learning. Educators who want to be 21st century teachers and models for students must do things differently. They pay attention to new media, technologies, and information. They learn and practice new literacies and model them for students. They are willing to take risks and allow students to become their teachers. 21st century teachers not only view students as potential teachers, but they encourage them to be producers rather than merely consumers. With technology and tools, students can create and produce their own websites, blogs, books, videos, music, movies, and more. 21st century educators encourage students to use their creativity and to become creators. 

In addition, 21st century educators use the tools, resources, and technologies on hand to open the world to students and take them beyond their school and local community. By broadening students’ exposure to other people and places and by teaching them the skills they need to practice empathy, active listening, and critical thinking, they can help them begin learning and practicing global citizenship. UNESCO states, “Global Citizenship Education (GCED) aims to empower learners of all ages to assume active roles, both locally and globally, in building more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure societies.” Through this type of education, students begin to see and value other cultures, languages, and ways of doing things. By going global, teachers enable and empower students to connect and collaborate with others to create a more just, equitable, and sustainable world and open new creative alternatives for life and living.

At GVP, our 21st century teachers are leaders, committed to providing students with a strong 21st century education and empowering them for the future. To that end, we started a new Rising Scholar program for our Form 3 students this year. Dr. Cassie, our Curriculum & Assessment Coordinator, and Ms. Katelynn, our School Counselor & SEL Coordinator, worked together to lift this program off the ground this spring semester with a 12-week pilot. As they crafted the curriculum, they kept focused on 21st century learning and leadership. This Rising Scholars program aims to provide refugee newcomer students with opportunities for leadership at GVP and help prepare them for leadership roles in high school and in their community.  Through special teacher-facilitated classes and learning experiences, trips, and projects, Scholars have the opportunity to develop new skills and imagine bright futures. The program focuses on leadership, service, college and career exploration, and the development of life skills. 

The semester-long program culminates with a collaborative Passion Project. Obviously, this first pilot program and Passion Project will not be exactly what we had planned. However, the students continue to press on together in online classes to work on a project they designed that is aimed at supporting people experiencing homelessness. These students will receive special honor and recognition for their critical and creative thinking about a community problem and their collaborative work to help solve it when we celebrate their graduation. We can’t wait to see what these Scholars accomplish in the project and in the future! 

 

“As we look ahead into the 21st century, leaders will be those who empower others.” -- Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”  --John Kennedy, former US President

“Great leaders harness personal courage, capture the hearts and minds of others and empower new leaders to make the world a better place.” --Maxine Driscoll, Author

Superhero Teachers

When I was 7, my mother moved me and my younger brother and sister from New York to a very small town in South Carolina. It was a difficult time and move for us and felt more like we were moving to a different country than another state. I can remember meeting Ms. Newby on my first day of first grade in my new school. She was not very tall and walked with metal crutches. I learned later that she had survived polio as a child. She wasn’t overly friendly but introduced me to everyone and smiled.

At first, I felt like I didn’t belong in my new school. I was different from everyone else. I was that “Yankee girl,” who talked funny and didn’t have a dad. I didn’t know anyone in my class and felt very sad and very alone. So much had changed for me, and I certainly couldn’t make sense of it all at that age. But, Ms. Newby must have made some sense of what was happening for me because as the days and months went on, I learned that she cared deeply for me. She noticed me, called on me, complimented me, and even started giving me “special” things to do. I loved when she let me be the one to write our first grade class news stories. She told me that my handwriting and spelling were so good that I could be her helper. I loved it, too, when she would let me take our “Class News” up to the front office to be copied on the mimeograph machine. I couldn’t wait to smell the freshly printed pages, as I carried them confidently back to class. Ms. Newby made sure that I belonged in that class and that I felt cared for and valued. From Ms. Newby and that first grade class, I learned to love school. That never changed for me.

I started studying to be a teacher at Georgia State University in 1991, and I remember someone teaching us way back then about what really matters to students in schools. Our professor asked us to write a reflection on our teachers and about our school experiences. When we read them aloud, we recognized that what we remembered most was how we felt in school, how being in school made us feel. We didn’t remember much about the daily lessons, textbooks, or our teachers’ specific methods, but we remembered the relationships, the people, and how they treated us--good and bad. I started to understand then how important my role as a teacher was in the classroom. I had the power to create the kind of learning community and classroom space in which students could feel accepted, valued, capable and cared for, or alternatively, feel ignored, incapable, and insignificant. Later in my life, I came upon the Maya Angelou quote that summed up what we learned in our education class that day. She said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week. I still wish that I had truly thanked each of my teachers for the difference they made in my life. I wish they could know what their kindness and care meant to me and how they influenced my future. I know that I would not be an educator today if not for the tremendous teachers that I met along the way. Those very good teachers saw me and looked for my strengths. Their aim was not to “fill me with knowledge” so that I passed my end of year exams. They wanted me to know that I was cared for and that I had value and potential. Muriel Spark said, “The word ‘education’ comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.” Reading this quote reminds me of Paulo Freire and his powerful “banking model” metaphor for education. He said that people too often view education as a banking model. In this model, the students are empty receptacles to be filled with knowledge by the teacher, and good students are quiet and receptive. In this model, only one kind of knowledge is valuable--teacher or textbook knowledge. The students’ strengths, skills, resources, identities, and funds of knowledge are unimportant and ignored.

Ms. Newby did not practice the banking model; she recognized my strengths and helped me build on those. Today, I love writing in part because Ms. Newby encouraged me early on. At GVP, our teachers look for students’ strengths and use these and all that students bring with them to build new knowledge and skills. Ours is not a banking model and it is not a subtractive model of education. We are not looking to only make knowledge deposits or to erase or ignore what students already possess. We take up a strengths-based and additive model of education wherein students’ strengths become resources for learning and growth and students are always adding to their repertoires of knowledge. They know many things and come with many resources and our teachers help them mine these resources and add to their collection.

Thanking and appreciating our teachers is something we try to practice regularly at GVP, as appreciation is one of our Core Values. But, this year is so different and somehow I feel we need to do more. We have asked teachers to do so much—to learn new technologies, take up new methods, create a new learning model, support students and families socially and emotionally, and do all this while also managing their own families, stress, and trauma related to the pandemic. GVP teachers are exceptional and extraordinary. They go above and beyond to be sure that students are cared for and that they feel connected. They don’t just care about students learning new material and mastery for tests. They model and teach lifelong learning, respect, responsibility, appreciation, and kindness--all of our Core Values. I am thankful for our teachers’ courage in this time; for their continued dedication to their students and our school; and most of all for the care they so generously give.

I saw a quote this week as I searched for words and ways to thank our teachers. The author was unknown, but the quote said, “Not all superheroes wear capes, some have teaching degrees.” The quote made me smile, as I often refer to our teachers and staff at school as superheroes. I really like the Cambridge Dictionary definition of a superhero; it is broad in scope and allows us to include humans in the superhero category. It says that a superhero is “a character who has special strength and uses it to do good things and help other people.” I also love what Superman once said, "I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” Ms. Newby certainly had to overcome obstacles in her life, and she was a superhero to me. I know that our teachers at GVP are also superheroes. They have many diverse strengths and they use them each and every day to do good for our students, our school, and our world. They persevere during this pandemic and continue to transform lives and change futures.

Navigating a New Course

On Friday we celebrated our first ever GVP Virtual Community Tea. There were a few very minor hiccups, but it was a wonderful way to kick off the month of May and a huge success overall. While this Authors’ Tea was different from the rest, it brought us together and brought joy to all in attendance—as they always do. We have been holding Authors’ Teas at GVP since our inception in 2009. They are special times where we welcome the wider community into our school and surround our students with support as they share their stories, songs, and learning with us.  Our students are the authors, and after they present their learning showcase, we share tea and all kinds of treats during the reception that follows. It is a beautiful opportunity for sharing conversation and building community.

Obviously, this Virtual Tea was different from the rest, as our students were not performing live for the event and we did not share tea at our reception. But, we did share tea virtually from our own homes; our staff shared videos; Ms. Elise sang songs; and Dr. Cassie answered community questions in real time. People posted hearts and likes, and we shared virtual love for each other, our school, and students. I am deeply grateful that we could come together to celebrate the day, our students, and our connections during this pandemic crisis through this Virtual Community Tea.

Last week, we completed our first ever Newcomer Teacher online interviews and demonstration lessons. We will be hiring a teacher that we have not met in person. For GVP, this seems especially daunting. Of course, I realize that all teachers and schools are unique and special. But, GVP is truly one of a kind, the only school in the nation specifically designed for refugee young women with interrupted schooling.  At GVP, our teachers are as unique as our model, and hiring for this Newcomer Teacher position is a particular kind of challenge. 

A Newcomer Teacher at GVP is required to teach emergent literacy and numeracy, co-teach in content classes, create a strong and safe community among a widely diverse group of students, and teach school norms and expectations to young women ages 11 to 18 who come from at least 10 different countries and are new to the US. Teachers wield a great deal of power, as they chart the course for any classroom and ultimately create the classroom community and culture. This is especially true at GVP, as teachers work with students from all over the world with uniquely diverse cultures, histories, languages, and experiences of schooling. GVP students are not only new to the US and to school; they are often meeting people from other places for the first time. Many of them had never traveled beyond their village or camp before coming to the US. Creating a safe, inclusive, and welcoming space is fundamental to building a learning community of practice where all belong. 

The Newcomer Teacher at GVP must be able to teach at multiple grade levels (Pre-Kindergarten to Second Grade), have expertise in the teaching of English, and enjoy working with teenage girls. She must also have some understanding of refugee experiences and education and trauma-informed and restorative practices. She must be willing to collaborate, create curriculum, work with and direct volunteers, and integrate the arts and opportunities for experiential learning. She must be many things, but most of all, she must be ready to love her students and to learn from and with them. Thankfully, we have access to the technology that allows us to conduct virtual demonstration lessons and online interview sessions. We are grateful for the courage the Newcomer Teacher candidates have shown and their willingness to participate online. Being interviewed is already unnerving, but having to do it all online brings the stress and stakes to a whole new level.  

In addition to our first Virtual Community Tea and Newcomer Teacher interviews, we are conducting our first-ever online family-school conferences this week. Typically, these are some of my favorite days at GVP. We bring students, families, interpreters, alumnae, staff, teachers, and mentors together to discuss students’ growth and learning and to share the special things that are happening in the semester with parents. The Spring Conferences are particularly focused on supporting Form 3 graduating students and their parents as they prepare for the transition into high school. At GVP, we count time with parents as very important and valuable. We plan over several months what we will share during Conferences, how we will get our families there, and how we can best communicate with our parents. We send out flyers and invitations, offer to provide transportation on our school buses, hire interpreters for all of our language groups, purchase food and drinks for the day, schedule volunteers and staff, recruit alumnae to help and support the event, and send multiple reminders and make phone calls to all of our families in the days before. We ask our teaching staff and educational support staff to be available on Saturdays so that we can see the greatest possible number of parents. GVP parents are typically working 10-15 hour days in local factories or warehouses, so Saturdays are often best. 

This year, we must conduct these conferences online. It is a challenge getting everyone logged into Zoom or Google Hangouts together. Like before, it takes multiple phone calls, reminders, and careful planning and interpretation to make these happen. And, we have found that when they happen—they are still well worth the energy and effort. 

I met with one parent on Friday and with 4 more today. It is wonderful to see the faces of parents and students after so many days apart. The outpouring of gratitude is humbling. The first mother we spoke with was in tears, as she explained how she never imagined finding so much kindness here in the US. She was grateful for all GVP was doing to stay connected and provide support for her and her daughter. The four that I met with today similarly took time to express how thankful they were for the care and support we have given their daughters and how much GVP has meant to them all. The students shared their sadness at missing friends, teachers, and school, but we also enjoyed seeing and hearing each other and knowing that we are still connected and will remain so.

GVP has jumped feet first into finding solutions for each of the challenges that has arisen during these unusual times. We have changed course and direction and creatively and collaboratively navigated uncharted waters. We have remained committed to innovation and when faced with obstacles have reimagined old ways and found new ways of doing what we need to do to best serve our families and students and continue on towards our mission and vision.

As I reflect on all that we have accomplished at GVP in these 6 short weeks, I am reminded of what is required of all learners in the 21st century. Today in education, we often talk about the four C’s: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, and Critical Thinking when we discuss 21st century education. At GVP, we have taken up these four C’s to reimagine our work together during this time. We have done so with what I would like to call the fifth and perhaps most important C, and that is Courage. Our students are strong and determined and don’t let things stand in their way. They are resilient, flexible, and often fearless. I think our GVP staff and wider community has shown that we, too, can be fearless. We have taken up courage in these times and in the face of our pains, insecurities, and fears, we have overcome the obstacles in our way. I don’t think that we can underestimate the power of courage alongside creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking for our schools and communities today and for our future together. 

“I believe that the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.” ― Maya Angelou

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. Michelangelo

Building Resilience

Last week, I received a very interesting article from Georgia Center for Nonprofits (GCN) in my email inbox. We have come to rely greatly on GCN’s expertise and guidance in my years at GVP, and I am thankful that GCN is such a strong voice and leader for local nonprofits. This particular article, written by Kathy Keeley, focused on organizational resilience. Honestly, I had not thought about resilience in relation to an organization before. At GVP, we talk often about organizational impact, relevancy, and sustainability—but not about our resiliency. Keeley argues, “This is the time to make resiliency planning your priority. Resiliency is the most important concept for nonprofits to understand and achieve over the next 24 months. Replacing our drive for “sustainability,” resiliency is the ability to absorb a shock and come out better on the other side. The goal is not simply survival, but endurance – through the immediate COVID-19 crisis and the recession that’s guaranteed to follow.”

As I read her message, I felt a sense of urgency and wondered why I had not considered resiliency at GVP, especially given that we use this term and concept regularly to refer to our students and families. In terms of organizational resiliency, Kathy Keeley says, “nonprofits have three strategic options to consider, which I call “reemerge,” “reorganize,” and “restructure.” Though different, all three options call for board and leadership teams to be laser-focused on the mission, realistic regarding funding and revenue, and sensitive to the needs of the community.”

I was relieved as I read her article because I believe GVP is very strong in all three of these areas. We have been and remain “laser-focused” on our mission, vision, and values. We come back to all three in our decision-making, strategic and financial planning, and everyday activities. They are always in front of us---guiding us in all that we do. GVP is committed to the community of students and families that we serve. We strive to create an inclusive community and to listen to our parents and students in order to better serve them and meet their needs. Additionally, our global village is a broader community of support that surrounds and stands with us in our mission and work, and we strive to maintain high levels of sensitivity, engagement, and responsiveness to the wider community as well. Finally, we have an incredible development committee and finance committee who are dedicated to supporting me, our development team, and our board of directors as we carefully plan for future funding and financial resilience. 

In this time, we have stepped up our work in these areas and created new teams to support this. We have a new Family and Student Support Team, Engagement Initiative Working Group, and Communications Working Group. We have a new private volunteer Facebook Group for those who are closely connected to our students and classrooms, and I have started this new blog for reflection, documentation, communication, and connection. We have altered and adjusted our educational model, crafting a powerful virtual model for holistic education for refugee young women. We recognized very quickly that movement to a remote working and virtual learning model would require us to do things very differently. GVP has always been a very flexible organization. We are adaptable, innovative, and open to taking risks for the sake of continuous improvement and movement towards achieving our mission and vision. While I recognized this before, I had not really equated it with resilience in the ways that Keeley suggests.

Keeley describes resilience as, “the ability to absorb a shock and come out better on the other side.” Similarly, Sara Truebridge (2014), an educational expert in resilience, defines it simply as “the ability to spring back from adversity.” Truebridge argues that resilience is “a process and not a trait.” In general, most people think of resilience as a major resource, strength, and skill, and while it can become all of these, it is important remember that it is not a character trait that is stable or inherited. Resilience is not something we are born with but is rather a process--a series of steps and actions and of learning that will enable one to “adapt and define themselves as healthy amid adversity, threat, trauma, and everyday stress.”  Resilience is something that anyone can practice and learn. Sara Truebridge goes on to suggest, “Reframing—moving from a deficit-based perspective to a strengths-based perspective—is at the core of the concept of resilience.”

Sadly, refugees are too-often framed as deficient and viewed as helpless, unhealthy, unintelligent, and incapable in the media and even in educational research. This happens for many reasons including the fact that they have come from areas of intense conflict, lived in camps, may have missed out on school, may have been unable to work, and are not familiar with the language of the receiving countries and communities.  There are, of course, many other reasons for this type of framing that have to do with racism, nationalism, and protectionism. Nonetheless, the process of reframing allows us at GVP and as educators to contest and resist these types of deficit perspectives inaccurately applied and pay attention to the strengths that refugee families and students possess. However, in order to powerfully practice reframing, we need to create an understanding of resilience that is based on a more inclusive definition of success and wellness. 

We have to learn to recognize and value the ways that refugee families and students practice resilience and notice their abilities to navigate new situations, adapt, persevere, problem solve, make decisions, build relationships and networks, and collaborate. As educators we have important choices to make about what is valuable, what success looks like, and what it means to be well. For example, in many school spaces, the only knowledge considered valuable is shared in textbooks. Yet, our students and families come with valuable funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti & Gonazalez, 1992) gathered from their lives and from different cultures and countries. As educators, we can choose to value these funds of knowledge and offer time and space for inclusion and integration into our classrooms and curriculum. 

GVP chooses to take up strengths-based perspectives and approaches to teaching and learning that allow us to draw upon the funds of knowledge--skills, expertise, cultural practices, and resources--our students bring with them to school. Specifically, we strive to recognize the resiliency that our students and families practice each and every day as they overcome obstacles and new challenges in resettlement. We also remain committed to recognizing that there are many ways to define educational success. We know that students have different dreams for their lives and futures and that being socially and emotionally prepared for life is equally, if not more important, than being academically prepared. And, if we accept this, then we have to be very careful about the weight and value that we put on things like standardized test scores, grades, and going to college. If there are multiple paths to a successful life and we value more than what we find in our textbooks, then we have to be sure to include these in our measures of success. 

At GVP, we practice reframing in our community, and we are a resilient community. Yet, I had not seen or even looked for this in terms of organizational growth, strength, and success before. As a relatively new organization that has experienced rapid growth over our first decade, we have had to be flexible and adaptable. As an organization committed to innovation and continuous improvement, we have had to take risks and mine resources in order to create a new model for education. GVP reflects the strength and resilience of our students, families, and communities and this gives me great hope for our future despite the challenges we will face. I am committed to working with our dedicated and determined team to make sure that GVP continues the process of developing our resilience and the resilience of those we serve so that we collectively “come out better on the other side.”

The Power of Reading

Last night in bed, I was looking over my Facebook feed and saw another great post from A Mighty Girl. I love seeing and reading what they put out on social media and then sharing that with my friends online. Through their posts, I have learned the stories of powerful women that I might otherwise never have known. Young women like Sybil Ludington--the 16 year old girl who rode all night to alert militia forces in NY and CT that the British were coming on April 26, 1777, much like Paul Revere. A Mighty Girl is a website and store dedicated to smart, confident, and courageous girls. Their post last night was celebrating 90 years of Nancy Drew. It pointed out how the Nancy Drew books were criticized for their depictions of girls who did not follow the rules or fit within the norms and standards for girls and women in the 1930’s when they were written. For women then and since then, and for me, Nancy Drew was a role model. Those stories contributed to my love of reading and mysteries and my sense of self. Through her character, I imagined myself as a strong and smart young woman—driving my convertible car, solving problems, sleuthing, and outsmarting the criminals.  

When I was young, I spent many hours reading and imagining myself among new people and in new places. I imagined new possibilities for my life and found new options for my future. While we didn’t own a large collection of books or have the money to buy them, my mother often brought me to the public library downtown to check out books. I will never forget those trips to the library and long afternoons spent browsing the shelves and picking out my favorites for that week. I would usually get back in the car with a stack of books so big that I could barely see over them, and I couldn’t wait to get home to start reading. Today, I understand what a privilege it was to learn to read and to have access to books in a free public library.

I have also been privileged to be able to go to school and complete my Ph.D. in Language & Literacy Education. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to attend school for so many years and study literacy. In general, people agree that literacy is the ability to read and write. What I learned through my years of study and research is that literacy is far more than these particular skills and therefore wields much more power in the world. 

For me, literacy is plural, a collection of practices that allow us to engage with, understand, and act upon our world. Literacy practices are meaning making activities; they empower us and provide us with opportunities for agency. Literacies are linked to identities and life possibilities. Paulo Freire explained that reading, as a literacy practice, is inextricably and dynamically tied to our lives. He said, “Reading the world always precedes reading the word, and reading the word implies continually reading the world.” He went on to explain that reading texts and social contexts allow us to write, rewrite, and transform our lives and our worlds. As Toni Morrison said, “Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.” And, Frederick Douglass powerfully said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

Many of the students and families at GVP had to leave any books they owned behind as they were being resettled. They could bring with them only what would fit in a backpack. Some of them never owned a book before coming to GVP, had never been to a library, or never learned to read, even in their first language. According to the 2010 Global Education Report from UNESCO, women still far outnumber men in rates of illiteracy and learning opportunities for girls and young women are still “severely” limited, especially at the secondary level when girls reach adolescence. Many of the students at GVP and their mothers have had limited access to formal schooling and to books. However, I would argue that they are not illiterate. In fact, they have been “reading the world” as Freire suggested, and have managed to navigate the complexities of resettlement, care for themselves and their families, and create a new home here in the US--all of which require engaging in literacy practices and understanding texts of all kinds. Nevertheless, limited print and text literacy is a barrier to gaining social mobility and power here in the United States. Paulo Freire (1987) said, “literacy becomes a meaningful construct to the degree that it is viewed as a set of practices that functions to either empower or disempower people” (p. 141). In this way, literacies are tightly tied to social justice and equity. 

At GVP, our Intensive English Language and Literacy program is at the core of our academic work. We recognize that access to English and to literacies of different kinds will open minds and doors and empower students. We believe that reading is powerful and empowering. Malala Yousafzai recognized this as she said, "I have challenged myself that I will read thousands of books and I will empower myself with knowledge.”  So, at GVP we are committed to supporting our students as empowered literacy learners and readers. 

Back when I was an English teacher at GVP between 2010-2012, we had a little donated library in our main office space. The library was made up of 6 white bookshelves strategically placed around a little round table. The books were a hodgepodge that included lots of kids’ picture books, old and out-of-date encyclopedias and reference books, and some well-worn books for teens. The library was well-used but hardly accessible or relatable for all of our students. It’s hard for many people in the US to immediately grasp what it means to be a teenager struggling to read at a Pre-Kindergarten or Kindergarten level and to feel forced to read books for young children. GVP students are determined to learn to read in English and to gain the language and literacy they need to get into and through high school. They know that they have to learn quickly and that reading will be fundamental to their ability to function in high school and in the world. They are sometimes ashamed and embarrassed by their lack of reading fluency and by the easy books they have to read. It is our job to help alleviate some of the negative feelings that they have around learning to read by making sure they have access to books that don’t look like “baby” books and deal with subjects that are important to them, their lives, and to their continued academic learning.

With generous support from our donors and friends, in the years since we have been able to build a beautiful and much bigger library at GVP. When Decatur Presbyterian Churchrenovated and helped us update our school in 2017, they expanded the library space for us. We now have nearly 10,000 books in our library. They are carefully leveled and labeled by our amazing volunteer librarians Ms. Jane and Ms. Vicky, and all of our books have barcodes for our online circulation system. Now we can look up, check out, and reserve books and teach students about how libraries work.

There are books at all levels and on almost every topic at GVP. We have books that even a brand new beginner can master. No student will be able to say that she cannot read at GVP. Many of the books have strong and powerful female characters, like Nancy Drew, and we have many biographies of famous women. We have been working to create a multicultural library that reflects the diversity of our students. It has taken a long time, too long, for books to be inclusive and reflective of the diversity of our nation. We are intentionally building a library that includes books that have strong and courageous women, women of color, refugee families, and people of all faiths and backgrounds reflected on the pages. 

For the past five summers, we have held a summer book club for our students. We have staff, students, siblings, alumnae, mentors, and volunteers all meeting together at the library for reconnecting, reading, fun activities, and snacks. As teachers, we know that it is important for our students to continue to read and have access to books over the summer. They need to keep practicing and growing so that they are ready for high school reading. This summer, in light of the pandemic, we will not be meeting in person for our GVP book club, passing out books, and sharing stories or hugs. But we will be reading and connecting online. In addition to our beautiful school library, we now have a number of online reading programs available for our students, so they can continue to read at home. I don’t know when the public libraries will reopen or when students will be back at school. So for now, we are thankful that we can provide ongoing access to books online. 

For a few years now, I have been running a Dr. Amy Reading Challenge during our major breaks from school. I call the program--She reads. She leads. It has been lots of fun for me to share my own love of reading with students and encourage them to engage in reading outside of school. We allow students to check out and take home all the books they want for the break and collect all kinds of donated prizes to give students as incentives for participation. They record all the pages and hours they read, and we recognize and honor all of those who take part in the challenge. This week, I had a student write me a chat and ask if we could please deliver books from our GVP library for her to read. I felt awful having to tell her no. I explained that none of us are there at school right now and that we cannot deliver books to only one student and not all of the others. So, we have been brainstorming ideas for deliveries this month and throughout the summer and thinking about alternatives, too, like magazine subscriptions for our families. 

That Facebook post from A Mighty Girl included this insightful comment from writer Theodore Jefferson in a tribute to Nancy Drew author Carolyn Keene. He writes, “Agency. It is that which forms the foundation for any hero’s ability to save the day. In America, agency for teenage girls in literature made its debut in 1930 in the person of Nancy Drew.” Today, I am grateful for authors who take risks, for access to books, for strong female characters and role models, and for the possibilities and opportunities that reading opened to me. Now and always, GVP remains committed to doing all that we can to support our students as they learn to read in English so that they can powerfully read and write their own stories. 

Our Capacity to Dream

This morning I had a hard time getting out of bed. When my alarm went off, I was deep in a dream and wasn’t certain if the alarm was real or part of my strange dream. I know that we all dream as humans, but I am not one to typically remember my dreams. Usually, I only do when they are particularly bizarre or scary. Over the past 6 weeks, I have been able to remember more of my dreams and most of them are unusually real and frightening. My husband told me two weeks ago that he heard me crying out in my sleep, the first time that had happened in 25 years of marriage. 

As I prepared to write the blog today, I thought about how powerful our dreams are. Dreaming is something we share in common. As Jack Kerouac beautifully said, “All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all [hu]mankind together.” Despite the fact that we all dream, it is interesting that we still know so little about our dreams, what they mean, and why we have them. Still, scientists do widely agree that dreams are likely to help us solve problems, process emotions, and make lasting memories. Right now, researchers across the globe are studying dreams and trying to understand their purposes, especially during this unprecedented time. When I did a quick Google search this morning of “articles on dreams during COVID,” I received 115,000,000 results! I found articles available from almost every news outlet and went to find a few from The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, The New York Times, and Psychology Today. In general, all of the articles I looked at seemed to agree that the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent quarantine are causing lots of people to have more vivid and unusual dreams and to remember them with greater clarity. It makes sense that we would need to find ways to process this troubling and traumatic time. It has been about 100 years since we experienced anything like this quarantine/shelter-in-place in the US, and we are dealing with the stress of an unseen and unknown enemy, as well as an uncertain future. 

All of this talk and reading about dreams and their possible relationship to post-traumatic stress made me think of our students and families at GVP. I thought about how they have had to deal with drastic and difficult changes to their lives, very real losses, and the constant fatigue and stress of taking up new ways of living in resettlement. I started thinking about the dreams they may have had for years as they waited to leave refugee camps and be resettled. I thought, too,  about how those post-traumatic dreams may continue here as they try to learn a new language, culture, job, community, and more. 

While I found myself thinking about these kinds of nighttime dreams, I also started thinking about the hopeful dreams for the future that our families formed in their strength and resilience and through their imagination. I thought about Lewis Carroll’s quote, “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” I find myself feeling incredibly grateful, especially in times like these, for our human ability to dream and to imagine something greater than our current reality. I am grateful for our students’ abilities to dream futures for themselves and their communities beyond what they have seen and known. I am inspired by their parents’ abilities to dream futures for their daughters beyond what they have known and their willingness to take risks to make those dreams come true. In general, most of the parents at GVP have had limited access to formal schooling. Like their daughters, many of the mothers in our community had some schooling but were forced to leave school for different reasons related to conflict, poverty, isolation and distance, gender norms, etc. Nevertheless, these mothers imagine futures for their daughters that include access to education and different options and opportunities for their lives. Most of the time when parents share with me why they were willing to seek out resettlement in a new country, they tell me that they did it for their children--so that they could go to school and make a good life for themselves and so that they could have a better life.

Mae Jemison--American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut--became the first black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. She said, “Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.” Our parents at GVP embody this, and we embrace this in our educational model. We don’t see our students or ourselves as limited, deficient, or incapable. We believe in the power of education to create possibilities, hope, and new futures. At GVP, we dream a world, one girl at a time. We believe that in each and every girl, there exists the possibility of a whole new world and a whole new way.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” And at GVP, we believe in the beauty of our students’ dreams, our parents’ dreams, and our collective dreams for a world that is better and more beautiful. 

I hear many people on TV talking about what the “new normal” will be like for us after the coronavirus pandemic has ended. I hope that the new normal we imagine and create will be better and more beautiful for all of us and not just for some of us. As Brené Brown argues, “We can pretend that we have nothing to learn, or we can take this opportunity to own the truth and make a better future for ourselves and others.” As we continue to dream, I hope we remember that dreaming is something we all do together. As humans, we are tied and woven together, entwined and connected, even in our separation and social distancing. As Dr. King said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

In my last blog, I wrote about our Women’s Wisdom Projects at GVP. Today, I share with you the song, “Follow Your Dream,” that was created from our women’s wisdom interview with Dr. Gulshan Harjee. I am grateful Dr. Harjee followed her dream of becoming a doctor and helping those in need and that her life encourages our GVP students to follow their own dreams.  I invite you to read the words and listen to the song sung by our Form 3 students.

Follow Your Dream

Inspired by Dr. Gushan “Garden” Harjee
by Global Village Project – Form 3, Spring 2017

CHORUS
Nothing’s gonna come easy
If you have a dream,
Don’t let anything stop you!
You’ll have hiccups and hurdles along the way
If you have a dream
Just follow it!

Born in Dar Es Salaam, grew up in Moshi Tanzania
Every morning we saluted Mount Kilimanjaro
No Asians in Africa, said Idi Amin
So I was flying for the first time at age 16
For High School I had to move to Pakistan
Goodbye to my family, to do what I can

When I was 6 years old, my grandma almost died
We lived far from the city, and so we tried
To reach the hospital, it was so far away
We made it just in time to save the day

I chose to be a doctor from that day on
Thanks to the Queen, I went to Med School in Iran
But then Iran had a revolution
So I fled to America for my education ‘Cause you know that –

CHORUS
I speak 6 languages, my first was Kutchi
In Tanzania, everybody speaks Swahili
English was the language we learned in school
In Pakistan you had to speak Urdu to be cool
In Iran in just 6 months, I learned Farsi
From my husband’s family, I learned Gujarati

BRIDGE
Would you like to try a Tanzanian food?
Matoke, made with plantains, it’s a stew
You peel them, and boil them like you do potatoes
With garlic, onions, salt, pepper, and tomatoes

My dad’s dream was to be a doctor
He never realized his dream
But now my sister is a nurse and my brother and I are doctors
We made our dad so proud

When I saw so many people come to Clarkston from war
I helped start a Free Clinic, where all workers volunteer
When you’re sick, you want a doctor to know what’s happening
I understand sickness in 6 languages! Well you know that –

CHORUS
Nothing’s gonna come easy
If you have a dream, don’t let anything stop you!
You’ll have hiccups and hurdles along the way
If you have a dream, just follow it!

I’m so grateful I came to this country
And thankful I was given this great opportunity
You ask me why I love medicine?
‘Cause I care for others and use my education

I help the old, the sick, people in pain
Anyone who needs me, anyone suffering
I’m having such a good time taking care of patients
I’m just loving it, I’m so fortunate
I’m so lucky, I’m just having a ball! But you know that – 

CHORUS
Nothing’s gonna come easy
If you have a dream, don’t let anything stop you!
You’ll have hiccups and hurdles along the way
If you have a dream, just follow it!
Follow it!
Follow your dream!