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WATCH: The little school for refugees

When H’Thin Rochom came to the United States in 2005, she was too young to remember much about her family’s home in Vietnam. But that part of her identity certainly followed her into Charlotte.

When she started falling behind in middle school, she knew there was a problem. But it felt like nobody cared — like she was being pushed through the system anyway, especially in her ESL classes. That was before she was invited to attend the Nest Academy.

In 2008, Charlotte resident M.C. Hildreth was helping tutor local refugee and immigrant students through One7 ministries at the public library uptown. Hildreth said many of them couldn’t speak English.

She said when she approached the public school system looking for a way to help, she found an overburdened ESL (English as a Second Language) program that was having challenges with the refugee population.

So Hildreth decided to open a small private school for refugee and immigrant students. She called it The Nest Academy, a Christian school that was initially girls-only. They began the first school year in 2009 with five refugee girls who were struggling in school. Since then, the academy has expanded to cover grades five through 12, and includes boys, too.

This year, H’Thin Rochom was the sole member of the 2019 graduating class. That’s not an unusual class size for the school, which has graduated nine students since its inception 10 years ago. Each year, Hildreth said, they have the same graduation ceremony regardless of how many students are graduating.

Unlike most private schools, the students here pay nothing to attend. Their tuition is covered by fundraising from individual donors in the private sector. Hildreth said this year, corporate donors contributed for the first time.

Robert Kinlaw

Robert was director of multimedia for EducationNC. He is a journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker in the Triangle. Robert attended both public and private grade schools in North Carolina and graduated from the Media and Journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has produced video content for The News & Observer, ABC11-WTVD, UNC-Chapel Hill, The News Reporter and more. His short documentary Princess Warrior received an Excellence in Filmmaking award at the 2017 Carrboro Film Festival. Visit his website at robertkinlaw.com.