I want to say a sincere thank you during these times of uncertainty for your faith in Year On. All of us here have appreciated your warm expressions of support, your patience, and your positivity over the last several months as we’ve worked to prepare for the start of an impactful and safe gap experience.
We’ve been working diligently for four months to make preparations for the effects of COVID-19 on program operations. Back in April we were among the first gap year programs to announce plans for an amended program running domestically instead of internationally. Our guiding values were proactivity and transparency and, as much as possible, predictability. Throughout our planning for the fall, we have prioritized operational predictability and program continuity, working to limit the likelihood of severe disruptions to the student experience.
In recent weeks, we’ve all seen the alarming increase in rates of COVID-19 infections across the U.S., especially in Florida, Hawaii, and Montana where we planned to operate this fall. The curve we all hoped would flatten has only grown precipitously for the last two months, and there have been persistent and worrying inconsistencies in the pandemic response from state to state and county to county.
While we hoped through the spring to see an easing of state restrictions, closure orders, and 14-day quarantine on arrival policies, current conditions now indicate that these directives are highly likely to continue unpredictably throughout the fall. In addition to the direct effect these conditions would have on our participants and staff, they would also impact the operations of the non-profit partners with which our participants planned to volunteer during the Explore phase of the program.
Under these circumstances, running a safe, effective, and uninterrupted gap year program this fall will remain uncertain and unlikely at best.
As a result, we’ve made the difficult decision to cancel the fall 2020 Year Experience.
I know this is a huge disappointment to our participants who’d been planning for so long and with so much hope to start their Year On. It is a disappointment to me, to our team, and to our partners as well. But we cannot persist with a path that would almost certainly require us to be in a mode of constant operational improvisation. We have a responsibility to our students and their families and to our staff to operate programs that can run safely, that have programmatic continuity, and that have the highest likelihood of delivering on learning objectives.
With that in mind, we’re dedicating our energy and focus on launching our new Virtual Experience program. It has been in development for more than a year, and it launches September 8 [updated]. To build it we’ve taken all the key elements of our in-person gap year program and packed them into a single semester. It includes the entire Focus skill-building curriculum, plus the expanded Wayfinding module. There’s a virtual service learning project and an 8-week professional externship, each providing real-world portfolio building impact. And the hallmark of our programs - personal coaching - is threaded through all 15 weeks with students supported and mentored by professionals working in relevant fields, exactly like we do in the year-long program.
Of course, we’re also planning to run our Semester Experience in-person and unchanged beginning in January 2021. This program includes the entire Focus curriculum, coaching, housing in San Francisco (all new accommodations for 2021), and a five week international travel and service phase slated for April & May 2021.
2020 hasn’t been easy, and there are no doubt more challenges ahead. But I’m encouraged by the strength and generosity I’ve seen from all corners of our community, and I’m confident that we’ll rise to the occasion with what’s to come.
In your service,
Since it became apparent early in the spring that we'd need to modify our traditional program significantly in response to the health & safety conditions resulting from the pandemic, we made the commitment to you to move forward with the values that have guided us since we first started operations: transparency and proactivity.
On May 7, we announced our intentions to shift the service learning & immersion phase of our Year Experience program from destinations abroad to U.S. locations. We shared the latest planning on the first three domestic travel destinations in a call on June 17 (recording).
There are no shortcuts to building great partnerships. We started by reaching out to 116 organizations that met our initial criteria and using a matrix of considerations consistent with our accreditation standards we narrowed that group to three partners. Building an education experience in any new place with a new partner is exacting under the best of conditions. We’ve done it in multiple places with multiple partners over a very compressed time frame. And we’re working to add even more locations in different states before the end of the summer.
We also have opened registration for our Virtual Experience, a new 15-week gap semester modeled after our flagship, in-person program. With this program, we’ve envisioned an engaging experience for students to build skills and add competencies effectively and conveniently from anywhere in the world.
A full, in-person gap semester in spring 2021 will open for registration on August 15. We plan to run the Semester Experience unchanged: ten weeks in San Francisco for skill building workshops and intensive coaching sessions, followed by five weeks abroad with a focus on service learning, volunteering, and cultural immersion.
Our mission at Year On has always been to support students in gaining confidence, clarity, and direction for their next steps. We’re confident that these program configurations will deliver a full, transformative gap year experience for the widest range of students. And as a program accredited by the Gap Year Association, students in all our programs have the option to add on coursework through our academic partner Portland State University and earn up to 18 quarter credits.
We’re committed to providing participants more flexibility and more choice in their gap year than ever before, and that includes additional flexibility in our refund policy. Any participant whose plans change to participate in Year On in fall 2020 can receive a full refund on all payments made through July 15, 2020.
As we have done now for more than three months, we continue to monitor advisories from the World Health Organization (WHO), CDC, California Department of Public Health, and the City of San Francisco, for information that may impact our program structure or student experience.
Please reach out at any time by phone at (510) 985-9711 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or concerns. We’re here for you.
Charlie Taibi, CEO