An Update on our Virtual Learning Centers

Dear Friends,

As IN’s Virtual Learning Centers enter the second week, I wanted to update you on the three “learning pods”— one at the IN House, and two at Friends Meeting House. Thanks to incredible support from donors and volunteers, 18 refugee neighbors have been able to gather in small groups of students for supervision and support during the virtual learning protocols of local public schools. This support is crucial for most elementary-aged students to succeed at virtual learning, but especially important for our English Language Learning (ELL) students. 

Our dedicated volunteer, Kristin Thomas Sancken, shared her observations on the challenges and triumphs refugee students experienced with online learning last week: 

“I don’t think people have any idea of how desperate the situation of online learning is for newly arrived refugees. The first day, none of the kids knew that computers had to be plugged into power. None of them knew how to connect to WiFi. Then, they were expected to log onto classes at very precise times, or else they are marked as absent. One teacher told an Afghani 5-year-old over Zoom, “don’t forget, you have to log in with your ESL teacher at 2 p.m. today!”  As if a 5 year old knows how to tell time, much less log into Zoom and choose the right link for the ESL teacher that they’ve never met in person. (I love the teacher who said this. It’s no criticism against her. It just shows how difficult the situation is right now.)

I was so happy on Wednesday to observe my own daughter’s 1st grade class on Zoom and see one of the girls from the International Neighbors Virtual Learning Center engaged and singing the alphabet song!  This is the first time this school year that particular student stayed online for the entire morning meeting!”  

Another celebration this week is that a generous group of donors offered to fund 6 weeks of private van service! (See photo above) IN Staff and volunteers are thrilled to not endure the logistical turmoil of multiple pick-up spots, driver availability, etc. The kids were so excited this morning to board the “bus” together, and we were there to remind students to bring their school computers, power cords, password badges, and books needed for online classes. 

We Need Volunteers
Getting started last week taught us that we need more volunteer hands on deck at both virtual learning center locations. Ideally, we would love to have a dedicated volunteer for each child. But, at the very least, we would like to have two adults providing supervision for each pod at all times.

Times that volunteers are most needed:
At the IN virtual learning center—in the afternoons: 1:30 – 2:45
At the Friends virtual learning center—mornings before 11:45/afternoons: from 1:30 – 2:45

If interested in volunteering, please use the volunteer sign-up sheet found here:

If you have any questions about volunteering, please contact IN’s Virtual Learning Centers Supervisor Susanne Sachs,

We Need Donations
The current plan is to continue the virtual learning centers until Nov. 9th, based on the projected date Charlottesville City Schools gave for the return to in-person instruction. The $24,800 grant from the National Parents Union to start up learning pods to support online learning for ELL students has been spent mostly on hiring the four temporary, part-time staff needed to operate our three learning pods. For all other needs, we are dependent on donations.

Some of our current needs, and estimated costs:

  • Craft supplies to keep little minds engaged and creative during Zoom breaks – $50
  • Child-sized masks, forehead thermometers, and other supplies – $525
  • Additional two weeks of transportation by passenger van – $740 ($370 per week)
  • Hire one additional staff to support refugee families online schooling at home – $6,000 

The district’s ELL teachers are identifying many more students who need additional support with virtual learning, and are urging us to make room for them in our learning centers. We would love to be able to offer support to more students, but it would take additional resources. If you can, please make a donation today. 


Kari Miller

Executive Director and Founder

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