OST Voices: Episode #6 Global Kids-DC
By Libby Hill - Assistant Director and Liat Wasserman - Intern, Global Kids-DC
For some young people, growing up in Washington, DC means having a diverse array of international, cultural, artistic, and educational institutions at one’s fingertips. But as we know, opportunities to share in the District’s incredible resources are not always distributed equitably. Depending on one’s neighborhood, these opportunities can seem a world away. For more than 10 years, Global Kids-DC has successfully bridged this gap, connecting youth in DC’s under-resourced communities to the people and places they may not otherwise access, and helping them develop into leaders in their neighborhoods and the world.
“Global Kids created a place where I wanted to learn more about the world,” said one participant. “I get more global experience and knowledge about problems that are similar or different to ourselves and other countries.”
GK-DC partners with schools across DC to offer afterschool and summer programs for middle and high school students. We have served nearly 200 students over 2,500 hours in a virtual format during this school year. GK-DC equips young people to learn about important global issues so they can participate in the democratic process of influencing change. One of the main vehicles for change that we integrate into our curriculum is action projects: innovative student-led projects that respond to a global or local issue. Our staff design programs that help to support young people's critical thinking, leadership skills, social emotional learning, and education, and through partnerships with schools and other community partners.
Our workshops are designed to be responsive to domestic and international news and current events, including topics that are controversial, but deeply important to understanding the world. For example, our students were engrossed in the 2020 presidential election. Not only did we discuss the election itself, but we also delved into difficult topics like voter rights and voter suppression. We’ve held discussions on human trafficking, health care rights, self-care, and police brutality. Students find these discussions to be uniquely important.
“It opened my mind about controversial topics,” said one student.
While COVID-19 threatened to make the world less connected, GK-DC students were able to meet over 50 visitors from around the world during weekly town hall-style meetings. This is a hands-on way to understand the broader national and international subjects and ask questions to visitors they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet.
Experts from prominent institutions such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the US Department of State, the US Department of Treasury’s International Affairs Bureau, the Albright Stonebridge Group, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies have given their time and opened up mentoring opportunities for GK-DC youth leaders during this past year. For many of our students, this is their favorite component of GK-DC.
"I like all the programs offered, but I love virtual visitors," one student said.
Another aspect of GK-DC’s weekly programming is Creative Expression, which gives young people the chance to engage with social topics they care about through a wide range of artistic and visual media. Students come away with the understanding that art can intersect with social change. For many young people, this creative outlet has become an increasingly important tool during the pandemic.
“Creative expression and self-care have always been a part of our program, but we have increased our focus on them since we started virtual programs to respond to the emotionally and psychologically difficult change in circumstances for many people,” said Coco Shin, a GK-DC senior trainer.
For many students, the most meaningful elements of GK-DC are the sense of community and the values at the core of our program. Students are navigating a second year of online school instruction, making the importance of a consistent community where they can discuss current events and simply have fun together even greater.
“GK is a loving community and an accepting experience,” one student said. “GK has been very good to me so far. I look forward to seeing everyone.”
At the core of GK-DC’s model is not just learning about issues, but taking action. This focus has not wavered just because our programs are virtual. GK-DC youth completed 17 action projects since the pandemic began, including writing songs about justice, designing zines on sustainability, writing letters to the DC Council, and creating logos promoting solidarity between Black and brown communities, which students posted around their neighborhoods.
While we look forward to seeing our students in person when it is safe, we are proud of the learning and development they have experienced in this difficult and unusual year. Despite the circumstances, our students have continued to take action in their communities with leadership and compassion, and demonstrate every day what it means to be a global citizen.
Check out previous episodes of OST Voices: