Seattle School: A Shining Light for Refugee Students
The bell rang as Melissa and I arrived, and suddenly we were wading upstream through a flood of students who had just finished another day at school. Laughter and chatter filled the air. In some ways, it felt similar to most schools, but in fact it’s unlike any other school I’ve visited in the U.S.
Have you heard of the Seattle World School (SWS)? Several of us from Bethany recently gathered there. Helene Mansfield and Terri Johnston (both long-time members of Bethany) gave us a tour, and it was like discovering a hidden treasure in the center of our city. As we met the principal, various teachers, instructional assistants, health workers… I felt my heart lifting and lightening.
Inside the entryway, someone was passing out apples and Ramen noodle packs. A little further in, a group of kids was learning vocational skills. Another group of students were preparing for a robotics contest. Beautiful student art lined the walls. Everyone we met received us graciously and generously shared of precious time explaining their mission and how we could be part of supporting this calling.
Helene has worked as the school nurse with SWS for nine years, and Terri has volunteered for seven. Both strongly advocated, along with Tim Burgess, for a specialized health center within the school and a permanent school location. The health center is now in place and the school opened this year in its new location on Capitol Hill at 1700 E Union Street.
Seattle World School has a unique mission in the Seattle Public School district. They serve students, ages 11-21 (middle and high schoolers) who are new to the United States. The school is also now an accredited high school, with its third graduating class this year.
Some other things we learned, that I’m still trying to take in…
- All of the students are immigrants or refugees.
- Of the 350 students, about 100 are considered homeless.
- 98-99% of the students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.
- Some students grew up in refugee camps, never attended school, and didn’t know how to hold a pencil. Others speak multiple languages, and now must learn another language, along with how to navigate life in a new country.
- There are 34 languages spoken in the school, with all students learning English.
- Most students have never been to a dentist or had limited access to health care. Beyond this, Helene shared her assessment that many of the students’ health concerns stem from depression and anxiety caused by the upheaval in their lives.
And yet, amidst the angst, there were so many smiles… which leads me back to the lightening sense I experienced there. I learned that the appreciation these students have for an education runs deep. In fact, Helene said a lot of the students don’t like to go on school breaks… they miss the time in class and they miss this safe place where they can consistently come to be with friends and nurturing people. They also miss the two meals they get at school each day.
It seems to a number of people that this is a kairos time for our church to join hearts and hands with the folks at SWS. The needs are great, and people are looking for ways to respond to the global migration crisis. Our Refugee Ministry Team is hoping that Bethany can establish an ongoing partnership with SWS. There are so many ways – big and small – that we can be involved.
Already there are some exciting developments. Misty Grieger has said yes(!) to being Bethany’s point person for coordinating our efforts to connect with the SWS community. Some initial steps have to meet with the SWS team, help with a family outreach dinner on April 21 and we will provide lunch for the staff on May 4th.
Please be praying for us to develop a solid foundation of trust with the principal, teachers and students.
If you are interested in being involved, contact Misty at firstname.lastname@example.org. May God guide us as we continue to explore how we might connect with this special community!