A Network of Connections: Global Kids

Izzy WeitzmanJuly 20, 2021Connection and IsolationInterfaith Connections
A Network of Connections: Global Kids

When someone devotes their time and energy to something, they do it because they want to accomplish something. But one’s time is limited, and there are many things in the world that one needs to address.

So if one wants to accomplish something large, one must find a group of like-minded individuals to assist. The larger the plan, the larger the required network. I found this network in an afterschool program called Global Kids, which taught me a number of lessons regarding the state of affairs in the world and new ways to absorb information. It is a powerful community, and my time in the program has given me extended knowledge about the system.

Global Kids is an organization that provides free afterschool programming to a number of middle and high schools in the United States, mainly New York City. I started participating in Global Kids when I began middle school. The workshops were interesting, each covering different social issues and using different ways to learn about them. Everyone at Global Kids, students and staff alike, is there because of the knowledge to be gained and the community to be formed. The adults always feel less like teachers and more like friends, despite usually teaching more in 45 minutes than some teachers do in a week. Their combined role puts them in a mentor-like position. They present themselves as complete people, not just paths to information.

Once a year, around April, Global Kids holds the Annual Youth Conference. It is planned by a group of high school students who select the topic, plan the workshops, and facilitate on the day of the conference. When I began high school, I joined the conference planning team. I felt a little nervous, but it was a healthy community and a good choice for anyone interested. The continuing Global Kids structure made the transition simple.

The process is similar every year, but this was my first time experiencing it from the inside. We made shortlists after researching in groups, before developing a few proposed topics. We took a vote, and the winning subject was gender equity. In my opinion, this was the best choice among the finalists, because there were a lot of different avenues we could look into; also, information would be fairly easy to find, so we could focus on crafting workshops, not just research.

The next step was research. We each took different parts of the topic and researched them in small groups. The student area of our meeting space is a larger room designed to seat 30 to 40 people easily. There is a conference room adjoined to the student space, a printer room adjoined to the staff space, and a kitchen unit between the two. It is a large enough space to house many different conversations, yet homey enough to house a community. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the documents that guide the organization, is painted onto the walls of the rooms. All in all, it's a good place to plan a conference.

After the research phase, we began to write the workshops. We split into groups of two to four, each with a different topic to cover. The topic I was assigned was “gender equity in the legal system.” A Global Kids workshop follows a distinct formula. The first step is the icebreaker. It's designed to make everyone in the room comfortable. The next is the warm-up. It introduces the topic of the workshop, before getting to the more serious version. It can be a lot of different things, and it should begin the workshop. It's the first time critical thinking comes into play, and the level of discussion is still rising. If someone is a little confused by the workshop, they can think back to prior Global Kids workshops and know where to look for meaning. This formula provides a common framework from which ideas are constructed, and anyone familiar with the larger system can ground their understanding in this template.

There are a couple of warm-ups used time and time again. The most common is goosimo. Goosimo involves running to a piece of paper taped to the wall and writing the answer to a question. Everyone groans when someone says it is the activity because it is overused, but, in reality, it is overused because of how well it works. It gets people excited and competitive. It easily throws off workshop timing plans, as one needs to plan for arguing over which group finished first or whether what was written on the boards is a lowercase “a” or just a scribble. Surprisingly, the issue of people running into a wall comes up less than one might think.

The main activity is where the magic happens. Part of the Global Kids philosophy is to avoid the system of listening to someone teach. Global Kids' main activities are just that: activities. Each workshop tackles the activity in a new system, or at least a new variant. Since we were focusing on the court system, our workshop’s main activity was a mock trial. We researched three court cases pertaining to the topic of gender equity, and the workshops took different sides and argued for their case. Each case, as well as the full activity, was followed by processing questions.

When it came time to host the conference in April of 2020, we ran into a problem, that problem being the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The conference was pushed back to June, and we had to rewrite the workshops. The arguing of court cases became reading the case aloud and talking about it. Also, we lost the sandwiches. Every year at the conference, lunch is provided by a shop called Potbelly Sandwiches, and they are delicious. If I were to rank my favorite parts of the conference, the sandwiches would be near the top. Of course, virtual sandwiches don't work too well, so lunch was eaten at home.

Finally, the conference day arrived. The whole conference was in one Zoom room. The workshops were in small groups. The main activity did end up working fairly well, but it was not as originally intended. All in all, it wasn’t the extravagant event I had hoped for.

My five years with Global Kids have taught me a lot, both in the sense that I have learned more about the world around me, and more about learning itself. It has reinforced the idea that learning does not require a textbook, that classmates do not need to compete, and that we learn not only to gain knowledge but for the experience of learning things. When I transitioned to creating workshops, I learned new ways to engage with people, to make the shift to teaching others in creative ways. Collaboration was also very important. I was able to learn a lot from others’ experiences.

While the conference suffered due to the pandemic, it happened. Despite the isolation felt by everyone during 2020, we were able to create a nexus of connection. The Global Kids method of learning is robust. It can work anywhere, anytime. And despite everything, we all walked away with something from the conference. Facilitating a workshop has helped me learn to expect the unexpected, and be ready when any one of a million things goes wrong, because nothing goes off without a hitch. It is like running a marathon. It is difficult, requires months of planning, and will exhaust one, but when it is completed, one feels impervious, as if there is nothing one cannot do. The conference was unstoppable and made us all feel the same way.

Izzy Weitzman is a 14-year-old person from New York City. He is a freshman at Bard High School Early College Queens, and lives with his parents, his brother, and his brother’s turtle. He loves Magic the Gathering and reading books.