In Charlottesville, International Neighbors Helps Make Sure All Students Receive the Support They Need

The coronavirus pandemic has created myriad issues for schools, from determining the right conditions for in-person learning to developing student and staff schedules to ramping up technological capabilities and more.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, teachers and area residents have rallied to address an additional challenge: finding a way to meet the needs of their refugee students, many of whom are new to the country, and some of whom neither speak English nor are computer literate.

Thomas Jefferson’s backyard is a refugee resettlement site, and students at the local Greenbrier Elementary School hail from Syria, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other countries. More than 21 percent of the school’s students are refugees, and students speak 42 languages in total. When Charlottesville school officials determined the 2020-21 school year would start with students learning remotely, teachers and families sprang into action.

The result is three pods made up of 16 refugee students. A bus brings the students to and from a Quaker meetinghouse and the office of International Neighbors, a local volunteer organization that supports refugees and special immigrant visa holders. The school district provides lunch. A Meet the Moment grant from VELA, in partnership with the National Parents Union, helps pay for three pod guides to support the students.

Kristin Thomas Sancken is a Greenbrier parent who applied for the Meet the Moment grant. She said the funding supports staff members who speak more than six different languages, including Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Dari, French, and Spanish.

At the pods, students receive direct instruction online through their Greenbrier teachers. They also have art, music, library, physical education, and a STEM enrichment class through their local school district, as well as daily English Language Learner (ELL) classes.

The pods have been a crucial support for the students and their families. Of the 16 students, 14 have lived in the United States for less than a year. Many of the students do not have reliable internet access at home, and some of the students are also dealing with food insecurity and other challenges.

The school board recently announced students will be learning remotely until at least late January, but the future of the pods is less clear. Sancken said International Neighbors has funding to cover the bus service through mid-November.

After that, she said, the situation is up in the air.

To learn more about International Neighbors, visit

Photo Credit: Rebecca George Photography