In the World School library, in one of the rare quiet corners of Capitol Hill, a group of high school students gather, cracking jokes and giggling, after the last school bell rings. They sit on a mismatch of couches, chairs, and around tables and look to the leads of their after-school program, Cielo Martinez and Gustavo Morales.
They are here as part of the Newcomer Club, headed up by Cielo and Gustavo who founded it because of their shared experience: both were newcomers to the U.S. when they were young, both attended the World School, a public school that welcomes immigrant and refugee students, and both wanted to build community for young people who are newcomers as well.
“We grew up in different countries and when I was 14-years-old I left my family and my friends and came here to Seattle and I had to build new friendships with people who spoke English,” Cielo said. “It was really hard for me.”
The club is funded by the Youth Healing Project, a program that provides small grants to young people to create mental health supports for their peers. The Youth Healing Project was started by citiesRISE, the Community Center for Educations Results, and ReOpp in response to young people’s experiences and recommendations for supporting through the pandemic. It is now sustained through the Best Starts for Kids voter-approved initiative.
While many mental health supports can be in clinical settings and offer traditional therapies, Cielo and Gustavo saw an opportunity to create additional community-based and relational supports. Through the Newcomer Club, they created a community of friends oriented around shared experiences and cross-cultural learning.
As a group they come up with ideas for events, like the Cultural Fair they put on for the World School in May, and go on field trips, like the trip they took to the Space Needle in June. The members of the Newcomer Club connect on the shared the experience of being new to the U.S. but come from all over the world.
Asiya, a club member who originally is from Eritrea said she found friendship at the club and also a chance to share her culture at the Cultural Fair.
“It’s really bad to be alone and it’s really good to be around people and sharing your ideas and working on teams,” she said.
At the Cultural Fair Asiya got to share Eritrean dress in a fashion show she organized with other club members.
“I was really proud to show my culture and what I’m coming from,” she said. “I wanted to show how beautiful it is. I was really confident and proud.”
Another club member, Amir shared that he was quite nervous about performing a dance at the Cultural Fair, but through regular practice, he felt more confident, and also grew deeper friendships.
Through the Newcomer Club “…I made new friends. I was actually open and comfortable and talking to everyone,” he said. “One of the best after school classes in my experience.”
Cielo and Gustavo see opportunities to continue and grow their work to support immigrant and refugee students build community.
“Creating The Newcomer Club provided a safe space for Seattle World School students,” Cielo said. “Students were able to meet new friends, get to know the Seattle area, and I was able to build strong relationships with them, which makes me happy. We hope we can keep creating this space for them as more newcomers arrive to Seattle World School”