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Digital learning innovations bring new opportunities to Goodwill students and employees

POSTED September 28, 2020 IN: Community


At Seattle Goodwill, we served 6,684 students last year at our five Job Training and Education centers throughout the north Puget Sound. For us, supporting students is more than in-classroom instruction – it means offering the same type of care and compassion one would expect from a family member.

“I felt really uniquely appreciated,” said Goodwill employee-turned-student Tammy Carder. “I thought Seattle Goodwill did an extraordinary job of making me feel like I was part of their family, that we were going to get through this together. They helped me from feeling isolated.”

Tammy, like millions of other Americans across the country, faced tremendous uncertainty once COVID-19 began carving its path through the U.S. Statewide stay-at-home orders halted her normal life. When we closed our 24 thrift stores in late March to protect community health and safety, Tammy lost her income and was placed on stand-by.

Tammy questioned her next move, but she was comforted by Goodwill and our Job Training and Education (JTE) staff’s commitment to supporting her needs. While JTE staff provided nearly around-the-clock outreach to other employees and impacted community members, the team also knew they could waste no time innovating our JTE programming.

Our Job training and education programs traditionally offer a wealth of in-person, adult and youth work readiness and vocational courses, and a broad scope of support services. But in-person classes were canceled just as we were set to start a new class session last March. Without the ability to teach in-person, we had to innovate.

“The only thing we knew for certain was that everything we knew for certain was changing,” King County JTE Instructor Scott Rice said.

The Goodwill mission services team remained committed to community support and pivoted to an online course model and prioritized youth services, employment support, and case management services. The team created an online Work Readiness course, as well as an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) option, but not before doing plenty of research on remote learning best practices and seeking the help of education experts.

“There is this onion graphic that (retired Seattle University Dean of Adult Basic Education) Dr. Bob Hughes shared with us,” explained Jennifer Pritchard, Seattle Goodwill Director of Program Planning, Strategy and Research. “In the layers of the onion, there are six steps before you get to the actual content of making sure someone is prepared for class. That onion graphic really reflected what we were experiencing on the ground. There is a lot of work that goes on before the actual class content is even created.”

In one month, the JTE team developed a rich online course, completed student outreach for class sign-ups, and found a way to provide students technology so they could take our Work Readiness course from the safety of their homes.

“The course was a ‘greatest hits‘ of Seattle Goodwill Job Training and Education curriculum that we were able to move online using Google Sites,” said Scott. The class included 12 learning modules such as career exploration, resume building, job interviewing techniques, time management, and health and wellness.

In addition to building an online curriculum, we had to find ways to creatively bridge the digital equity gap. Many underserved community members lack access to digital tools such as at-home internet or personal computers. The JTE team received nearly 200 Android tablets from T-Mobile at a discounted rate, purchased Bluetooth keyboards, created student technology tip sheets, and drove to students’ homes to deliver the technology in-person.

“The class was important to me because I felt connected to a larger community,” said Tammy, who took the Work Readiness course. “That made a big difference, and it also really motivated me. The material was good, and it was available online and you could access the modules when you were ready.”

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Carol Asmann was another employee-student who received great benefit from the online Work Readiness class.

“The class was totally above and beyond my expectations,” Carol said. “I understand how to be a professional much better now than before I took the class, and I had no idea that would happen. That was really important to me to come away with something like that.”

Both Carol and Tammy returned to their jobs at Goodwill stores once they reopened, and 11 of the other students who took the class have since found employment.

At Goodwill, we will continue to innovate our online course offerings that started due to the pandemic. Today we offer a hybrid blend of in-person and remote classes in Seattle, South Everett, Bellingham, Mount Vernon, and Bremerton, and are working to expand our online platform.

Seattle Goodwill embraces a continuous improvement culture. JTE staff extensively surveyed students and staff to ensure it continues to enhance its online curriculum.

“We are totally committed to the community and will offer our mission services the best we can and pivot the best we can so there aren’t gaps in services during this time of need,” Jennifer said. “We want to make sure our teaching philosophy of student-centered learning is still at the core of what we do. It’s still about community. As long as we have the resources and the power to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for the community, we’ll do that.”

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