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OneWorld Now! Program Quality is Key to Building Global Leaders

by Danielle Baer | | Posted under Afterschool and Summer News

What does it mean to develop the next generation of global leaders? At OneWorld Now!, it means providing young people with the opportunity to be transformed through learning critical world languages that are in high demand by employers but not commonly taught in K-12 public schools, engaging in leadership development, and embarking on a study abroad experience with peers.

OneWorld Now! is one of the many diverse youth development programs engaged in School’s Out Washington’s Youth Program Quality Initiative (YPQI).  Over the past year, through assessment, coaching and peer to peer learning, OneWorld Now! program staff have incorporated strategies to elevate youth voice and leadership building on their successful model to further engage and increase program quality utilizing the research-based assessment tool and improvement process. 

Wei, who recently graduated from Franklin High School in Seattle sums up the positive impact of OneWorld Now! and the program’s ability to make lasting change and help build his self-confidence. “Aside from the language classes, the leadership part of the program was one of the most fun, interesting parts of being involved in OneWorld Now!” explains Wei. “Through OneWorld Now!, I’ve found the space to become a better person, and guide other people as well. I’ve felt really safe in the program, and accepted by staff which helped me come out and really grow as a person and as a leader.”

Wei, OneWorld Now! youth leader, pictured on the left

OneWorld Now! was founded in 2002 post 9/11 with the identified need to teach young people critical world languages like Arabic and Chinese, combined with leadership development and study abroad experiences to break down barriers and prepare students for college and career. 

“OneWorld Now! started with a focus on reaching underserved students with zero or limited access to international education, but over the past 15 years, we are finding that when we look broadly at the field of education, students across the board lack opportunities when it comes to language and international leadership development,” explains OneWorld Now! Executive Director Jennifer Tanaka. “One of the most impactful parts of our program is bringing together students from different schools and communities which creates opportunities to dialogue with kids from different backgrounds.  Being able to connect and communicate across difference is key to developing global leaders.”

The organization currently serves students from every high school in the Seattle Public Schools, working with over 150 students each year.  Students like Wei experience the positive support and impact of the program, with over 98% of participating students graduating from high school.

Jennifer had heard about SOWA’s Youth Program Quality Initiative and the positive experience other youth development organizations were having as a part of the process to narrow in on how to improve practices to better support and engage young people.  She said to herself and her staff, “This is something I want OneWorld Now! to get involved in and really look at areas where youth leadership and voice can be further institutionalized into how we develop and implement our programs.”

Jayanika Lawrence, Operations and Student Outreach Manager, feels positive about some of the changes that have occurred being a part of YPQI. “This process strengthened our staff’s focus on really affirming students and helping them feel like they are creating a community. We saw both what feels like small changes to more significant shifts in how we operate after being involved in the YPQI process,” explains Jayanika.

 “Things that may seem simple like greeting students by their name make a big difference and help them feel validated.  We also over the past year have looked more intentionally at strategies to involve students in decision-making by, for example, adding a student to our Board of Directors. Authentically bringing youth voice into our organizational operations and systems has been a key takeaway,” Jayanika continues.

OneWorld Now! Students in Morocco

As many other youth programs involved in YPQI have stated, the process is a commitment and it takes time to balance the elements of the experience that make it most impactful.  When asked for her advice to other programs venturing into YPQI, Jayanika says, “While YPQI is a time commitment and we’re all busy balancing so many different things, it’s worthwhile and has been really helpful.  It’s been a good refresher and reminder that keeping youth voice central in how we program and make decisions is critical to having a high-quality program.”

OneWorld Now! has made a difference for hundreds of students for 15 years, and as a part of YPQI will continue to focus on quality and connection to the broader youth development field. 

At the heart of YPQI and building a quality program is creating that sense of belonging and connection which in Wei’s words, OneWorld Now! knows how to do well! “No matter your background, whatever you are, this place will be a place for you. Everyone is welcome here.”

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