Challenges of School Enrollment for Refugee Children

By USCRI August 19, 2022

Over the course of the past several months, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants North Carolina Field Office has helped enroll over 80 Afghan children into Wake, Durham, Cumberland, and Harnett County schools since they began arriving en masse in August of 2021. The process of enrolling the kids was made even more cumbersome by uncertain, long-term housing situations. USCRI NC’s School Impact Coordinator, Catheryn Kightlinger, says inconsistencies in country-of-origin documentation, along with a bottleneck of prospective students in the system, made the task extremely challenging. “The backlog of students needing to go through the educational assessment set our enrollment timeline back 4 weeks,” she said.

The language barrier also proved a high wall to climb. A seemingly routine parent-teacher meeting becomes an all-hands-on-deck affair with Catheryn having to coordinate Dari and Pashtu translators with teachers, parents, students, school social workers, and USCRI case managers. Furthermore, a general driver shortage coupled with issues of consistent school transportation because of students transitioning into permanent housing meant Catheryn often facilitated emergency school shuttles. “I had a few kids who, for weeks, needed daily rides to and from school because the bus was not picking them up,” she lamented. “That improved, thankfully, with the school year.”

Today, Catheryn is no longer waking up to frantic texts from parents whose kids are waiting for busses that never come – the county’s school buses are finally in sync with our clients. After several months enrolled in school, our students are finding their footing in their new classes. Thanks to several volunteer organizations, USCRI has new backpacks for every student loaded with all the school supplies they need for the coming year.

The Triangle area is also fortunate to have Refugee Hope Partners (RHP), a local non-profit that imbed themselves deep into refugee communities and offers comprehensive programming to ensure every kid has access to the best out-of-school supplemental education and tutoring. They lean on an impressive network and provide forward-thinking solutions to some of the toughest problems in the resettlement of refugee children. RHP provides a dynamic and immersive learning environment for students of all ages.

Furthering the educational opportunities for our refugee clients is an ongoing job. We rely on the support of volunteer tutors and city-sponsored summer camps to keep our kids engaged and help them catch up on years of missed school. Thanks to Catheryn’s persistence and dedication, all the children of our recent Afghan arrivals now have the opportunity and resources to pursue their promising educational futures.

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