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Meet Amy Pelissero of Global Village Project in Decatur

Today we’d like to introduce you to Amy Pelissero.

Amy, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up as the oldest of three children in a single-parent household. My mother raised us alone, and we faced many challenges. School became a solace and safe space for me. Reading and writing were powerful tools for me to imagine possibilities for my life beyond what I knew growing up.

I remember often playing school with my sister and brother and pretending to be their teacher. But, I never imagined that I would have my Ph.D. (as neither of my parents earned a four-year college degree) and serve as the Head of School at a place like Global Village Project.

Most of my childhood was spent in a tiny town in South Carolina, and the only global perspective I got was from my books. I never imagined ever meeting people from all around the world, and travel was only a dream for me then.

Now, I spend my days with young women from across the globe. I have the great privilege of learning from and with them, of experiencing new cultures and ways of being, and of traveling for pleasure and for work. I have traveled extensively to attend and present at educational conferences and have hosted educators from around the world at our school.

In October 2018, I will be in Greece for another educational conference, and some professional consulting focused on migrant integration and education. I cannot imagine any more exciting or rewarding work. I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I have had, most of all for the opportunity to do work with great purpose.

As Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai have both pointed out, education has the power to change the world. At Global Village Project (GVP), we dream a better world, one girl at a time, and it is my great privilege to lead and be part of this work. Growing up, I had the privilege of seeing a strong woman make her way in the world. My mother led our family and challenged us to be and do our best at home, in our community, and at school.

Education and giving to others were both important to her, and she had high expectations for all three of her children. I never imagined then that so many girls around the world would not grow up as I did, knowing their value as women and their potential. I didn’t know until much later that there were millions of girls around the world who were missing out on school and had little hope for an education.

When I came to GVP in 2010 as a teacher, I had experience as a middle school English teacher and was just starting my Ph.D. program in teaching and learning for language and literacy at Georgia State University. Because of my work in refugee family literacy in Clarkston, GA and my work at GVP, I focused my doctoral studies on refugee women’s education and literacy practices.

It is my great privilege to be in a position to put my studies and research to good use–especially at a time when we have more refugees than we’ve had since the end of WWII and also because new research shows us that more than 130 million girls around the world are still missing out on school.

Has it been a smooth road?
Like most, I have faced many obstacles and challenges on my journey. As a young girl, I was separated from most of my family. My father passed away, and my mother moved us down South so that she could support us on a nurse’s salary. She worked hard; we worked hard, and as the eldest daughter I had many family obligations and responsibilities.

We lived with limited support and learned to stand on our own. I felt the pain of poverty and of economic inequality. Although I had done well in school and loved school, I had little help navigating the transition to higher education. I had to manage work and school throughout undergraduate and graduate school and then manage a family and career during my doctoral studies.

These challenges grew my resolve and my resilience, and along with my faith, were fundamental to my future success. I became a goal-oriented, determined, and driven person. With encouragement from teachers and professors, I came to believe in myself and in my power to make a difference in this world.

Education changed my life and offered me new and unimagined possibilities, and I wanted others to have the same opportunities that I did through school. While I had spent many years in education and was continuing my doctoral studies when I was hired as the Head of School at GVP in 2013, I had never held a position of leadership for an entire organization.

I had never been responsible for staffing, human resource development, or fundraising before. It was my new job to grow the organization, and things felt very much like what I imagined it would be like at a new startup company. I had a great deal to learn and very little time to learn. It was quick on the job training.

I had never written a grant before, negotiated contracts, hired staff, worked with consultants, crafted organizational goals, worked with a board of directors or managed a strategic planning process. So much was completely new to me. Trying to balance work, family life, and the completion of my dissertation was an incredible and almost insurmountable challenge.

I had to extend my doctoral research two years longer than I had anticipated and intended. In the end, these challenges showed me that I could do more than I thought I could. I learned that I was capable and grew in confidence and courage. In the past five years as Head of School at GVP, we have seen a 50% increase in student enrollment, and our mentoring program has grown nearly tenfold.

Our budget has more than tripled, and we have seen 25 students transition from high school into college with support from our mentoring program. I have been able to take the Global Village Project beyond the local and into the global arena for education.

We have been hosts to educators from South Korea, New Zealand, Greece, and Brazil. I will be in Greece in October 2018 for an educational conference presentation, and some professional consulting focused on migrant integration and education.

GVP will be a local site school for the International TESOL Convention in March 2019. Despite the challenges and struggles I faced and with a tremendous community of support, I have managed to make GVP a model for excellent education for refugee students.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Global Village Project story. Tell us more about the organization.
Global Village Project, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) special purpose middle school that prepares refugee girls with interrupted schooling and limited English for success in high school and beyond. The GVP mission is to develop a strong educational foundation for each student in a caring community using a strengths-based approach and intensive instruction in English language and literacy, academic subjects, and the arts.

Founded in 2009 by a group of dedicated volunteers, GVP has matured into a nationally recognized, three-year accelerated learning program serving more than 45 students annually at no cost to the students. The program is intensive and highly individualized. It offers an interdisciplinary and integrated approach emphasizing creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and confidence.

Intensive English and STEAM instruction (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) are at the core of our academic program. We maintain small classes (8:1 ratio), employ highly qualified teachers, and train volunteers to support learners and teachers. More than 120 volunteers work in the classrooms each week to help provide the individualized support that our students need.

In addition, GVP supports more than 90 alumnae in our Mentor Program. Nearly 70 volunteer mentors, support students as they transition into high school and navigate secondary school, college, and new careers. Now in its 10th year, GVP has served 225 students, and there are now more than 25 alumnae who are enrolled in or who have graduated from college.

GVP is the only school in the nation dedicated to serving refugee girls. With more than 75% of older refugee newcomers dropping out of secondary schools, we know that our program provides much-needed support for refugee newcomer girls and a much-needed model for educators. Globally, it is estimated that more than 130 million girls are not in school.

Of more than 120 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 who cannot read or write, 61 percent of them are women. Furthermore, refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than their same-age peers around the world. GVP girls are representative of these statistics. Their lives and opportunities have been directly impacted by war, displacement, economic hardship and cultural norms that place a low priority on girls’ formal education.

As an all-female learning community, GVP empowers refugee girls to learn, take risks, work collaboratively and creatively, ask questions, imagine new paths for their lives, and pursue their dreams. For the past nine years, GVP has been empowering and educating newly arrived refugee teenage girls, supporting each one as she reaches for her dreams here in her new home.

On average a GVP girl is 13 years old and has already missed three years of schooling before arriving in the US. Our students have come to this place because they and their families desire safety, security, and education. They dream of high school graduation, college, careers, and giving back to their communities, and they are dedicated to achieving those dreams. In 2016, one of our GVP graduates earned a Gates Millennium Scholarship that will pay her tuition for undergraduate and graduate school.

In 2018, our first 2 GVP alumnae graduated from college—one was a Bonner Scholar at Berry College and the second graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology. Together in our village, we are dreaming of a better world one girl at a time and impacting educational change for women and girls around the world through our innovations.

Where do you see your industry going over the next 5-10 years? Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc.?
We have more refugees in the world today than in any time since WWII. Yet, resources and support for refugees and their resettlement have increasingly diminished. In Georgia, the number of incoming refugees has dramatically decreased despite the dire need and contributions these new Americans have made.

At GVP we have seen an increasing number of volunteers and donors who believe in our work and who want to support refugees in our community. We know that there is much we can do over the next five years to support the refugee young women who are already living here in our community and refugees around the world, but we do hope that the push to tighten our borders and turn refugees away from our state will change in the coming years.

GVP remains committed to our mission, vision, students, and families. We seek and strive to share what we are doing with others here and around the globe. We believe that education is a critical component of our work with others around the world to address the current refugee crisis.

Pricing:

  • GVP estimates tuition (including transportation, interpretation, lunch, school supplies, field trips, etc.) at $16,000 per student.

Contact Info:

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