Building a Better Normal: stories and stats of OneWorld Now re-emerging from the pandemic

“This year, because of COVID, the opportunity opened up for me to attend a OneWorld Now Korean 1 class online, from across the country. My teacher, Ms. Kang, kept a 1.5 hour long Zoom class alive and full of curiosity. That is nearly impossible. She did the impossible, and she did it two days a week for an entire year. Ms. Kang inspired me to take initiative in my own life and apply for a scholarship to study abroad in South Korea. Now I will be spending my summer surrounded by the language and culture she taught me to adore. Ms. Kang taught me how to be curious, and she introduced me to my passion, and she did that all without ever meeting me in person.”

– OneWorld Now Korean Student

A photo of alum and summer intern Chelsea Morales standing at the door of the OneWorld Now office, welcoming people inside.

OneWorld Now alum and summer intern Chelsea Morales welcomes you back to the office!

By Jordan Goldwarg, Executive Director

It feels a little strange, but I am writing this from the OneWorld Now office, which has finally reopened after nearly 15 months of being closed. While our office is dusty, our learning community is moving fast! Enrollment in our after-school program nearly doubled this year, with the addition of online classes. We recently celebrated our year-end graduation on a festive Zoom call. And shortly after that, our summer program began, also with record enrollment.

When it comes to the pandemic, we know we are not out of the woods yet, but I feel like I finally have some space to breathe while reflecting both on what has happened, and also on what we are looking forward to as the world opens back up.

Over the course of the pandemic, people have asked me what I was doing to cope and what was bringing me hope. In addition to some common self-care strategies (exercise, meditation, chocolate chip cookies), a consistent source of hope and inspiration was our students. There were so many examples of students looking out for each other and creating environments of learning and empathy.

Man holding cookie

Me about to enjoy one of my favourite coping mechanisms.

Here are some examples that stuck with me:

  • Our students discovered that the chat function in Zoom is a wonderful place to shower your classmates with affection and affirmation. Whether it was congratulating someone after giving a presentation in Arabic, celebrating someone’s identity after sharing something vulnerable in a Leadership workshop, or simply complimenting someone’s new haircut, our Zoom chat became a place where students could find support and safety.

  • All of our students pushed through the isolation of the pandemic to learn more than ever, as exemplified by our Korean student quoted above. At our recent graduation, we recognized nine students who studied more than one language with OneWorld Now, a new record!

  • One of our students provided a professional development session to our staff focused on the history of redlining and housing discrimination in Seattle and the ongoing effects of that legacy on our public schools.

Map of redline districts in Seattle

A map showing historically redlined neighborhoods in Seattle; to learn more, visit this website developed by the University of Washington (photo credit: National Archives, Seattle Public Library online collections/Courtesy of Wing Luke Museum)

These memories combine with some impressive statistics about what we have been able to accomplish during the pandemic:
  • Online classes allowed us to nearly double our program enrollment this year, serving a record 224 students in our after-school program, including students from across the country (15 states in addition to Washington!).
  • School partnerships grew. We expanded our partnership with Seattle Public Schools to create our first dedicated middle school class (at Denny Middle School), while also forging a new partnership with Highline Public Schools in South King County.
  • We refreshed our Leadership curriculum to create more explicit linkages between the leadership concepts we teach and the languages our students are learning, while also providing more opportunities for students to process the events of the past year, including the pandemic, the racial justice uprising, and the rise in anti-Asian bias.
Student enrollment numbers by year since 2017

As we look ahead to the coming year, we are thinking about how to sustain this growth.

First, this fall, we plan to offer both in-person and online classes, allowing us to respond to a wider range of students needs and preferences. While we know that many students prefer in-person classes, many others have told us they prefer online classes since it cuts down on travel time, reduces social anxiety, or just makes it easier to juggle other responsibilities (and it’s also the only option for our out-of-state students!).

Second, responding to student demand, we also have plans in the works to offer more advanced levels of classes in more of our languages. We hope to add a Level 3 class in at least one additional language this fall.

Third, we are so excited to begin planning for study abroad programs in 2022. With study abroad cancelled in both 2020 and 2021, we are anticipating pent-up demand for our study abroad programs next year, and we will be working to accommodate as many students as possible.

Finally, we are making much-needed investments in staffing — both for programs and for organizational infrastructure — hiring a new Leadership Facilitator and a new Development Manager in the past year. These positions will build quality of experience for students and stability over time.

These changes rise to meet students where they are in this moment, while also strengthening our ability to continue this work. They also come with costs. Please consider a contribution to make it possible for us to step into these opportunities. A group of friends encourage you with leadership gifts of $8,000. Consider joining them.

To wrap up, I want to share a thought that helps put OneWorld Now’s work into a larger context. Whenever I have heard people say that they want things “to get back to normal,” there is a part of me that remembers that the old “normal” was not a great place for so many of our students. The old normal was a place of educational inequity, lack of opportunity, racism, xenophobia, poverty, transphobia, and so many other ills that have plagued our society for generations. The disruptions caused by the pandemic, however, have allowed us to imagine a different, better world. So, rather than get back to normal, I challenge all of us to visualize what a new normal could look like. OneWorld Now and our students are creating that new normal every day. Will you join us?

If you feel inspired to walk alongside our students as we build this better normal — together — you may donate online or send a check to 610 Maynard Ave S, Seattle, WA, 98104. These all add up to give back to a global community we all yearn for.

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