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home : city sections : schools & youths January 25, 2015

8/20/2013 3:52:00 PM
WORLD SCHOOL STORIES | July is for learning
Bao Chau Nguyen, 14, (left) and Tuong Van, 13, both from Vietnam, work on their presentation of wetland habitats. Photo by Diane Steen

Bao Chau Nguyen, 14, (left) and Tuong Van, 13, both from Vietnam, work on their presentation of wetland habitats. Photo by Diane Steen

By Diane Steen

Every weekday during July, Rony Nuñez, 15, from Guatemala, arrived at the Seattle World School (SWS) for a half-day of class. 

“Nobody said I had to go,” he said. “I just wanted to work on my English.” 

His and four other newcomer classes for secondary students went on field trips to study different environments in the city, then headed back to classrooms to process what they’d learned and to start work on presentations. From wetlands at Magnuson Park to urban habitats on Capitol Hill, this project allowed students from different countries to be creative, work on their own and learn about Northwest habitats, all while learning a new language.  

A variety of opportunities

Down the hall in the former Meany Middle School (330 21st Ave. E.) on Capitol Hill, where the SWS is housed, 60 elementary students worked in three classrooms on environmental awareness. 

Further on, more advanced SWS secondary students worked on credit retrieval — a class for those who started later in the school year or who were behind in a language arts class or who just wanted to work on their English. 

Kyi Kyi Win, 15, from Burma, attended every day because she’ll attend Chief Sealth High School in September. 

“I know I have to speak just English at my next school so I have to keep working on it,” she said. 

Two other classrooms provided space for students who frequently transition from one district to another and were missing credit or two. Their classes allowed them to study whatever subject they needed credit for, while getting help from bilingual instructors. 

One additional class was a videography course with a focus on social justice and self-identity. With a grant and a professional videographer from the Youth Media Institute, this upper-level course took former SWS students and helped them create films about their personal stories.

After classes finished at 12:30 p.m., students could go home or could head over to the Miller Community Center (330 19th Ave. E.) for lunch and additional activities. These included cooking, gardening, hip-hop, basketball and a leadership/fund-raising class that raised money for its first bus trip by having a bake sale.  

A community effort

Recently retired principal Martin O’Callaghan created this summer program by including wording for its funding in the Families and Education Levy, passed by voters last winter. He had invaluable help from Kai-Chin Chan of the Refugee Women’s Alliance. 

Chan worked with Irene Rodriguez and Ruel Olanday of the SWS and Linda Jordan Todd, who oversees the Refugee Impact Grant for Seattle Public Schools. They designed the program, did the staffing and recruited students. 

Their work paid off for more than 200 English language learners from roughly 30 different countries who took buses from all over Seattle to participate. Twelve Seattle Public School teachers led the classes.

The Coalition of Refugees from Burma, a fiscal umbrella group, helped manage the Refugee Impact Grant that paid for the elementary students’ program and one field trip. Additional community partners included the Migrant Education Center, Miller Community Center, St. Mary’s Food Bank and the Vietnamese Friendship Association. 

Interns from the teaching program at the University of Washington UW and Seattle University interns worked with the teachers, as did more than 35 volunteers from the UW and from the community. 

The city’s Human Services department provided reduced-price bus tickets for Metro buses for secondary students, and Seattle Public Schools provided school buses for the younger children. Seattle Parks and Recreation staff facilitated field trips. 

A positive atmosphere

It was a great July, and the school buzzed with activity and a positive atmosphere — all because students wanted to be there. 

Have a look on the Web ( for photos, videos created by the social-justice group and an A-to-Z book on the Northwest environment. 

And if you have time next summer, think about joining as a volunteer — it’s an enriching experience for everyone. 

DIANE STEEN is a volunteer at the Seattle World School 

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