Category: June 2020 Newsletter

The Courage to Live in DEI: GVP’s Journey

The work of diversity, equity and inclusion is not for the faint of heart.

You cannot approach DEI strictly from a procedural perspective, thinking that it is solely about structures, policies, and practices. It is not enough to craft a model and hope that all will adhere to it (or even to require that they do), though these are each critical components of a sustainable DEI initiative. And DEI is not in the business of quick fixes when it comes to harm and pain. 

The real work of DEI is a commitment to growth, transformation and well-being: To truly have an effective and essential DEI initiative, one must understand and embrace DEI at its core. This journey lies in empathy, understanding, and solidarity, and it requires us not only to accept DEI’s principles, but to prioritize them as those that truly matter. Only then can we ensure that the practices and systems that we design actually manifest our commitment. Only then are we able to wholeheartedly engage with conflict and challenge when they arise, and to honor and address harm by building a climate in which all voices are heard. 

These tenets are especially true right now. In this historic moment of racial reckoning, calls for justice and equity resound around the world. How do we chart a strategic path forward through these dual times of trauma and transformation? For Global Village Project, a school founded on the principle of educational equity, how do we keep evolving in our work? How do we learn when we misstep and grow stronger through our ability to listen, heal and progress?

I have been writing about our DEI journey at GVP for several months. I am thankful that over the past year and a half, in my time here as Transformation Management and DEI Specialist for GVP, GVP has had the courage to take on its DEI work at this core level. Our work has progressed from the inside out - beginning first with building a team united in its understanding of and deep commitment to DEI, and then actualizing this commitment through efforts to shape and refine our culture, spaces, and practices. To strengthen the footing on which we build our practices, we began with the hard work of critical self-reflection; growth, courage, and vulnerability; and the embracing of DEI guiding principles with both heart and mind.

This framework continues to provide a roadmap for the team, supporting the coordination of organized action while constantly drawing us back to a common grounding in our goals. From a cultural perspective, pivotal shifts are already underway. Through coaching and team-building, workshops and courageous conversations, GVP has developed a strong commitment to open intentional dialogue about DEI. This work builds upon a culture that incorporates GVP’s inherent values of love and learning into an impactful model for listening and inclusive growth. Over the past year and a half, I have seen great strides in our ability to stand together in brave vulnerability, patience, nonjudgment, and compassion. I believe that the heart strides reflected in this evolving culture are crucial to long-term change.

On a more tangible operational level, GVP has also made significant progress in creating infrastructure for the continued practice and development of DEI work. Our DEI Circle, a multi-discipline group of GVP Team members from across departments, supports the community in designing our DEI vision and action steps. It serves as the hub through which feedback, both positive and negative, is actively sought out, heard, and documented, so that it can be incorporated into our design of DEI trainings and programs.  

Out of this Circle, a variety of structures have arisen to support the engagement of all stakeholders in the DEI process: our DEI Book Club, currently reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is providing space for our GVP volunteer and mentor community to engage in difficult conversations about diversity and lived experiences. Our Black Lives Matter discussions with students offer a means to process this moment in our history together. The Alumnae Advisory Council poetry slam workshop found the alumnae powerfully sharing their voices. And our efforts to recruit GVP family members to contribute their voices to DEI at GVP are crucial to advancing equity and inclusion. In the next phase of development, our DEI Circle will grow to incorporate stakeholders from all areas of the GVP community, as we collectively chart the next level of vision and action for the DEI journey.

All in all, GVP has experienced an extraordinary amount of growth since we first embarked on our DEI journey over a year ago, but we recognize that there is still much to be done. That work will take even more grit, guts and grace, but with our intentional commitments in heart, behavior, strategic framework, and action, I believe we are on the road to what I like to think of as stunning solidarity.

The current season of pain and struggle in this nation has brought to the forefront our collective need to address the ongoing injustices and inequities that plague our communities. I believe, and on behalf of the GVP Team, we contend, the only way forward is through mutual commitment - and not the sort that gets by with superficial fixes, but that which is built upon empathy, understanding, and solidarity, and manifested in structures, policies, and practices. 

In this work lies our salvation and our chance for a future founded in love and justice. 

Jai Simpson-Joseph, Esq.
Transformation Management and DEI Specialist 

GVP Students and Families Regain Footing During Pandemic

The refugee students and families at Global Village Project are persevering through the COVID-19 crisis one day at a time. While the pandemic’s far-reaching implications continue to take their toll, GVP School Support Specialist Crispin Wilondja remarked, “In general, [GVP families] are recovering,” and they are moving forward with the resolve and support they need to face the uncertainties ahead.

Refugees are among those marginalized groups which have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Having recently arrived in the U.S., the refugee families at GVP face a myriad of challenges which put them in a difficult position - they are navigating a new environment, learning a new language, and tackling the immense task of rebuilding their lives in a new place. As displaced newcomers to the country, many are in precarious financial positions, living paycheck to paycheck while also sending back money to support relatives in their home countries. Plus, finding work is often not easy: due to language and other barriers, many GVP parents work low-wage, physically taxing jobs at Georgia’s poultry plants, and endure long hours with few benefits to support their families in America and back home. 

These hardships have all been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. Unable to work because of the quarantine, many parents feared that they would soon be struggling to feed their families and pay rent. They worried, too, about their ability to continue taking care of family members back home.

GVP has long recognized the intersectionality of the challenges that refugee families face, so when the coronavirus struck our Family Support Team mobilized quickly and effectively to help meet some of these critical needs. When GVP transitioned to a remote learning model in March, we began calling families every week to check in, and made rounds through Clarkston to deliver food, learning supplies, and other necessities. These efforts are part of GVP’s core commitment to a holistic educational model. Extending beyond the academic to focus on the whole girl, our commitment includes recognizing and addressing the structural barriers to learning that our students face - especially during a global crisis. 

While the school year ended on May 15th, our Family Support Team has continued to provide and adapt these forms of critical support to ensure that GVP families have what they need to weather the ongoing challenges. Our food deliveries via the GVP bus now occur on a biweekly basis. Through a partnership with the Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta, we have been able to provide about 20 pounds of food staples and fresh fruits and vegetables to each of our 30 families with every delivery. These rounds through Clarkston have helped ensure that the learning doesn’t stop over the summer: the Family Support Team, collaborating with our educational staff, has also distributed specialized learning packets and stacks of books sorted and leveled for each student, with over 500 books in total!

The direct impact of these deliveries is accompanied by the more comprehensive, flexible role that GVP plays as a hub through which families gain access to other resources. Since the start of the summer, the Family Support Team has called each of our families every two weeks to check in with them about additional needs. The biggest challenges that they have been struggling with at this time are unemployment, rent, and food security. As such, GVP’s Family Support Team has connected families with several other agencies and organizations who are able to help ease these burdens, such as Inspiritus, the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia, and the City of Clarkston. Many families have since received help applying for unemployment benefits and accessing rent assistance.  

Finally, the GVP team has made sure to provide families with additional information about food pantries in Dekalb County, and Mr. Crispin has helped many families successfully apply for food stamps as well. After completing a training program through Georgia Gateway, the government body that manages food stamps and Medicaid, he assisted many families with their applications and estimates that 60-70% of those who applied have been approved for food stamps. 

All in all, conditions have stabilized for most GVP families. Most parents have returned to work at this point, and a way forward, perhaps, is even in sight. According to Mr. Crispin, families are feeling encouraged by being able to work again and have drawn a lot of hope from seeing GVP’s care and support over the past few months. “I can just say that for our GVP families, parents have realized the support of GVP as a school and as an institution by our offering to students all the materials they need to continue their learning, by giving them the chance to chat and hear how they are doing, and by giving them food… the fact that this support has continued outside of school has really impacted families.”

Mr. Crispin adds that GVP’s support for families may also be attracting future students to the school. He says the GVP bus’s rounds through Clarkston have piqued the interest of members of the Clarkston community beyond our immediate students and families, and many have been impressed by our commitment to providing support for them through the crisis. It has certainly made the girls who currently attend our school feel proud to be GVP students. “When the bus is coming to deliver food,” Mr. Crispin recounts, “the girls tell their neighbors, ‘This is our bus; this is our school. I love GVP.’” 

GVP Alumnae: Empowered Young Women of Color

This month marked a major milestone for a group of remarkable young leaders at Global Village Project (GVP): the one-year anniversary of the founding of the Alumnae Advisory Council (AAC), GVP’s first alumnae leadership organization.

Over the course of the past year, the inaugural cohort of the AAC has worked hard hard to collectively build a vision, structure, and strategy for the organization in partnership with Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator Katelynn Villari. The AAC, an extension of GVP leadership, is a channel through which alumnae contribute their expertise and experiences to help shape the future of GVP. Its current members include students across a range of graduating classes at GVP - those now enrolled in high school and college, college-bound high school graduates, and recent college graduates - together, a team of 16 powerful young women.

While GVP has engaged alumnae through our Mentor Program for the past several years, the AAC represents an intentional new effort to partner with our alumnae and is critical to GVP’s long-standing commitment to amplifying the voices and leadership of young women of color. We have long dreamed at GVP of starting a leadership program for alumnae, in part because of our commitment to equip students to change a world in dire need of more women of color in leadership. Despite the skills, leadership, and experience women of color bring to the table, they are still drastically underrepresented in positions of power from government to higher education to corporate leadership. Discriminatory practices and harmful stereotypes strongly contribute to these barriers.

Yet their leadership is precisely what is needed to break this cycle; as our Head of School Dr. Amy Pelissero writes, “Having women of color in powerful leadership positions will lead to more empowered women of color and empowered communities of color. These women and the structures to support their leadership are needed now more than ever to bring transformation to our nation, our political and social systems, and our communities.” GVP hopes to be at the forefront of empowering young students of color through specific initiatives designed to help them develop, practice, and hone their leadership skills. Our new Rising Scholars Society for our Form 3 students is one example of such a program that we launched this year, and the AAC is another key opportunity we’re continuing to develop. 

In their first year of service, the AAC has laid a strong foundation for the future. They began their journey with a retreat last summer facilitated by consultants Jai Simpson-Joseph and Sumaya Karimi, during which they self-determined their structures, purposes, and goals for the organization. Since then, they have continued to meet regularly and give back to the GVP community in various ways - you may, for example, have caught AAC Communications Specialist Nasteho Ibrahim as our keynote speaker at the 2019 Welcome Walk. 

In addition, the AAC has played a pivotal role as peer mentors to current GVP students. As the 2019-20 school year drew to a close, AAC members joined current GVP students at some of their remote classes to share about their experiences in high school. In response to students’ questions, graduates gave thoughtful advice about studying, accessing resources, joining new clubs, and opening up to others to make friends. The AAC were also planning to host a graduation party at the Clarkston Community Center for GVP graduates this year, but that has been postponed until the end of the summer, or whenever it is once again safe to do so.

The young refugee leaders who serve on the AAC have already shown remarkable promise, vision, thoughtfulness, and generosity. collective. Their mission and our collective hope is that their influence will not only extend forward as they gain the skills and experience necessary to continue leading in the future, but also backward as they provide guidance to younger students at GVP. Most importantly, we hope they continue to imagine, influence, and impact the future of GVP and the world. That process is already well underway: as GVP alum and AAC member Nasteho Ibrahim commented, “[The AAC] is actually really thriving now. It’s becoming bigger than I expected it would, and I’m excited about the things we’re doing.”

GVP Teachers Bring Black Lives Matter to the Classroom

As the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks have sparked national outrage and weeks of protest, conversations about race are more critical than ever - among friends, in the workplace, and in the classroom. As Jamilah Pitts of Teaching Tolerance contends in her article “Don’t Say Nothing”, silence on the part of educators is not an option: “As educators we (sometimes unknowingly) step into roles of advocate, caretaker, guide, and even mother or father to students. Students pay attention to everything we say and do. They particularly pay attention to our silence.” (emphasis added)

When the video of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of law enforcement went viral at the end of May, students at Global Village Project had questions. They felt and shared many emotions in response to what they were seeing on the news and were very concerned about the history of police brutality in the U.S. Recognizing the need for open dialogue, Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator Dr. Cassie Leymarie pivoted from the curriculum initially planned for the next meeting of summer camp and instead dedicated it to discussing the recent incidents of racial violence.

Through a discussion centered on the theme “Rights & Black Lives Matter”, Dr. Cassie and School Counselor Katelynn Villari opened the space for GVP students to share their feelings, ask questions, and take the time to process. Dr. Cassie also read aloud the book “Black Lives Matter”. This age-appropriate text by Sue Bradford Edwards and Duchess Harris helped students learn more about the events that sparked the movement and the ongoing activism that fuels it. 

Many GVP students wanted to know what they could do to help. Katelynn shared an initiative from the King Center that offered a way to support the movement safely from home: students were invited to take part in a nationwide online protest led by Dr. Bernice A. King, CEO of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (“The King Center”), during the week of June 2-9. The group then reviewed our first amendment rights to protest from the Rights learning unit they had studied earlier this year, and sang songs of inspiration from the unit with GVP Music Teacher Ms. Elise.   

Open, honest conversations about race are crucial for helping young people grapple with the realities of racial discimination and violence in the world. While the “Rights & Black Lives Matter” discussion at GVP has been the most intensive dialogue about racial justice with students so far, by no means does it represent the end of this conversation. During subsequent sessions of summer camp, Dr. Cassie and Katelynn have continued to engage in this discussion, and some students have reached out individually as well. Already, GVP’s academic team is brainstorming ways to incorporate learning about the present struggle for rights and justice more concretely into our curriculum when we return to school in the fall.

While the recent incidents of racial violence in this country have been heartbreaking to witness, the difficult conversations about race that they have inspired, like our discussions with students at GVP, will hopefully help to pave a new way forward for our communities. The current historical moment of national racial reckoning is an opportunity for all of us to learn, reimagine, and rebuild for a more just and equitable tomorrow.

GVP Honors Graduates With Car Parade Through Clarkston

Above: GVP staff wave to families from inside their cars. Photo by Dean Hesse of Decaturish.

Like many schools across the country, Global Village Project was not able to hold our traditional ceremony for students transitioning to high school this year - but that didn’t mean they graduated without a celebration!

On the afternoon of Saturday, May 16th - the day after students’ last day of classes - GVP teachers and staff pulled up to the parking lot of the school in cars decorated with signs and streamers. They set out for Clarkston in succession, a parade over ten cars long, en route to meet graduating GVP students and their families at their homes. Led by the Global Village Project bus, the parade charted a course through apartment complexes in Clarkston. The festive caravan stopped by the home of every graduating student to share big smiles and waves, shouts and honks of celebration, and an abundance of joy.

The graduation car parade was part of GVP’s commitment to finding innovative ways to honor students in spite of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. We celebrated the last day of school with an all-school Zoom party that featured an awards ceremony, music, and dancing. Graduating students also received goodie bags, including handwritten cards and journals, that were distributed through deliveries later in the month. All in all, the GVP family was determined to recognize and celebrate the achievements of our students, who have worked so hard to overcome the barriers they face. As Dr. Amy Pelissero, Head of School, stated, “We’ve had to apply new innovations to honor the students who fought so hard to arrive at this moment of graduation. Our students' accomplishments will not go unrecognized."

The GVP car parade proved to be a hit not only with students and families, but also with many other members of the Clarkston community. As the GVP bus rolled into each apartment complex, students, families, and other residents alike rushed out to snap photos and wave, sharing in the excitement of celebration. Several GVP team members later remarked that it was very moving to be able to share this moment of collective joy with so many others. That the car parade was a morale booster and a chance for connection, during a time when the weight of quarantine and social isolation has been so palpable, ended up being as important as the graduation celebration itself.

The activities that this year’s graduating class missed out on still mark a very real loss for students, and pending the resolution of public health concerns, we do hope to be able to hold an in-person ceremony for GVP’s class of 2020 at a later date. For the time being though, the graduation parade was a very “GVP” display of love, pride, and appreciation for students - a reminder that even from afar, the GVP community is here to support and celebrate with them. As School Support Specialist Mr. Crispin Wilondja remarked, "Just to see teachers, THEIR TEACHERS coming to their apartment complex to see them is powerful, and they will keep that forever."