WHO WE ARE

The Aspire team, brainstorming and breaking bread together!

The Aspire team, brainstorming and breaking bread together!

We are a group of educators, activists, and social entrepreneurs who are committed to improving the classroom experience of child survivors of war, forced migration, and other crisis environments. Some of us have lived through war as children. Many of us have started schools that serve the unique needs of children with interrupted education. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, we have worked with refugee, immigrant, and inner-city children, as well as families living in poverty.

We have come together for two reasons—to document the unique problem of interrupted education in crisis and trauma environments, and to create a tool chest of promising practices for teachers, volunteers and students through SIE’s ASPIRE programs.  

Our initial focus is child and adolescent survivors of war and forced migration, but we know that there are millions of other victims of interrupted education, including trafficked, enslaved and impoverished children. Their schooling challenge is enormous, with little research or agreement on how to meet their needs. SIE and ASPIRE educators and professionals, along with local volunteers and students, have culled our experiences, successes, failures and lessons learned at every level into the development and implementation of the ASPIRE programs.  

On this site, we want to share our own experiences and learn from yours. To join the conversation and add your voice to this critical work, please register here.

Click below for links to media coverage of our efforts:

Sharing a meal, ICS Saturday School, Decatur GA

Sharing a meal, ICS Saturday School, Decatur GA

OUR VISION AND MISSION

Our vision is to transform classroom practice and public policy for every student with interrupted education. 

Our mission is to improve in measurable ways the school experience of child survivors of war and forced migration.

OUR GOALS

  • Document and raise awareness about the educational challenges faced by refugees and migrants.

  • Inform public policy as it affects children and teens with critically interrupted education.

  • Promote a child-and-family centered vision of learning with the values and practices of a Beloved Community for all students whose education has been interrupted by war, conflict crises and forced migration.

  • Develop an association of former and current child survivors of war and their supporters.

  • Build a tool bank of strategies and promising practices through the SIE ASPIRE Programs for students, teachers and community volunteers.


THE ASPIRE TEAM

We are educators, medical professionals, social activists and community volunteers with decades of experience in refugee education. Many of us are cofounders and/or sustainers of the International Community School, the Global Village Project for refugee girls, and a Saturday School for refugee students ages 5 to 75, in Decatur, GA.

The ASPIRE program is led by academic coordinators, Dr. Rhina Fernandes Williams of Georgia State University and Maggie Deaton, a teacher facilitator at the Rollins Center for Language and Learning in Atlanta. ASPIRE also includes a human rights curriculum developed by Deqo Mohamed, MD, and students at Yale University Law School, with a problem/solution approach to empowering students.  

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Deqo Mohamed, MD, is a doctor, educator and social entrepreneur. As the CEO of the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation, she works to develop models of sustainability in healthcare, education, food security, clean water, solar energy and alternative housing materials in Somalia and the surrounding region. Since she was a teenager, Deqo has assisted her mother, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Hawa Abdi, to provide essential services to displaced Somalis. She was a Yale Greenberg World Fellow in 2016.

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Barbara R. Thompson, SIE Executive Director, has more than twenty-five years of experience working with refugee families in crisis. She was a cofounder of the International Community School (a charter school for refugee and local children), the Saturday School for refugee children and their families, and the Global Village Project in Decatur, Georgia, for refugee teenage girls. She is an award-winning writer and editor, specializing in well-researched approaches to social issues. She was awarded the Christopher Award for media affirming “the highest values of the human spirit.”

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Rhina Fernandes Williams PhD, Academic Coordinator, is a faculty member in the Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education at Georgia State University. Her work as an elementary school teacher, professor and community member revolves around social justice and the belief in the power of critically conscious teachers. She specializes in critical pedagogy and multicultural education and works with in-service and preservice teachers in graduate and undergraduate programs. She is also an affiliated faculty with the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence and has served on the board for the International Community School. Her publications include In the Service of Learning & Empowerment. 

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Maggie Deaton, Academic Coordinator, is the lead facilitator for the Dual Language Learners Program at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy of the Atlanta Speech School, where she coaches and trains early childhood educators. She is a graduate of Rhodes College, taught with Teach for America, and has an MA in teaching from GSU. She is a former teacher at the International Community School and serves on the board.

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Charlotte Finegold, Human Rights Coordinator, is the Community Human Rights Fellow at the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School and the Communications & Development Director for the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation. She supervises the Hope Village Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Curriculum, a four-year program designed by Yale students to teach high school students how to become change-makers. Charlotte is a graduate of Yale, where she studied literature and human rights. 

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Rebekah Pleasant-Patterson, Project Director and Conference Coordinator, came to us with a rich history in the arts and events planning for business conferences, concerts, weddings and social gatherings of all kinds. With a BFA in Dance Performance and Movement Composition from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, she brings her artistic talent into the choreographing of logistics, personnel and events for the ASPIRE conferences and programs. Just as importantly, Rebekah’s work-spirit and attention to creative detail brings a vital sense of warmth and welcoming to our conferences.  

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Luther E. Smith, Jr. PhD, is Professor Emeritus of Church and Community at the Candler School of Theology of Emory University.  He is a founder of the Interfaith Children’s Movement in Atlanta, Georgia and speaks frequently in the US and internationally on topics such as the Beloved Community and the vision of Howard Thurman. He has made numerous television and radio appearances to discuss issues of race, religion and social change. Dr. Smith is an ordained minister in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and on the faculty of the Academy for Spiritual Foundation. 

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Rhoda Lapp, ESOL teacher, has taught ESOL for more than 20 years, and served as a Fulbright exchange teacher in Morocco. After retiring from a public school system, she has focused on adult education English classes and students who need to improve reading and writing skills to gain admission to technical schools, colleges or graduate programs. Her students include those who have never been to school and medical doctors, accountants and lawyers.  She also assists refugee and immigrant students to prepare for citizenship and is the ESOL teacher for SIE’s ASPIRE AFRICA program. 

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Roberta Weisman Malavenda, Executive Director of CDF Action, is working to connect, collaborate and transform the Clarkston community. As a local and national consultant, she has spent decades developing and implementing early learning programs with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Ford Foundation. She helped establish the first Latino family child care center in Atlanta and founded the Georgia Parents as Teachers (PAT) Network. She is also the director of a W.K. Kellogg grant for family engagement and early learning. 

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Suchita A. Patel, DO, MPH, is a physician trained in Preventive Medicine and Public Health. She has worked at the CDC since 2005 on immunization-related program planning, implementation, research, and evaluation projects as well as emergency response work including the 2009 influenza pandemic. She has served as the lead for immunization program evaluation and trained over 400 state and local public health staff in how to conduct program evaluation.


SIE BOARD OF DIRECTORS

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Barbara R. Thompson has extensive experience working with refugee families in crisis and is an award-winning writer and editor. She is the cofounder of the International Community School, a charter school for refugee and international children in DeKalb County, Georgia, and the Global Village Project for refugee teenage girls. She also founded a ground-breaking Saturday School for refugee children and their families. 

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Heval Kelli came to the US as a Kurdish refugee and worked as a dishwasher in the shadow of Emory University, where he is now a fellow in preventive cardiology. Dr. Kelli is a cum laude graduate of Morehouse School of Medicine, and did his internal medicine residency at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. He was voted resident of the year by his colleagues, and helps lead non-profit organizations focused on mentorship and medical education. He is also the founder and president of the Kurdish American Medical Association. His interests include web design, sound engineering, and nonfiction writing, and he is an accomplished composer. 

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Ifrah Jimale arrived alone in the USA as a teen refugee from civil war, without formal schooling and unable to read or write. By her senior year of high school, she was the editor of her high school newspaper and won a journalism scholarship to college. Today she is a writer as well as the director of communications for the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation which works for a sustainable peace in Somalia through building sustainable institutions in healthcare, education, agriculture, and social entrepreneurship. 

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Suchita A. Patel, DO, MPH, is a physician trained in Preventive Medicine and Public Health. She has worked at CDC since 2005 on immunization-related program planning, implementation, research, and evaluation projects as well as emergency response work including the 2009 influenza pandemic. She has served as the lead for immunization program evaluation and trained over 400 state and local public health staff in how to conduct program evaluation.

Angela Hale is the facilities manager of the Carter Center in Atlanta, GA, and is a past chair of the board of the International Community School in Decatur, GA, for refugee and local children.

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Jeremy Lewis is the executive director of Urban Recipe, a pioneering nonprofit creating food security for 350 families through a co-op model that affirms dignity and builds community. He was the founding executive director of Clarkston Development Foundation and directed an asset-based community development project in the twenty poorest rural communities in the US. He has a degree in finance and worked as a financial advisor before getting his M. Div. with a focus on community development and public policy from Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He is a graduate of the Community Development Academy at the University of Missouri. 

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Justin Howell is the development director for the International Rescue Committee, Atlanta, Georgia and a former education and learning specialist for refugee programs. He is an award-winning science educator with years of experience teaching in refugee and immigrant communities.

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Janet Kotler is an independent development consultant and a co-founder and former board member of the International Community School, the Saturday School and the Global Village School of Decatur, Georgia. She has extensive experience in nonprofit development, governance, strategic planning and funding, and taught for many years at universities in Wisconsin, Vermont and Virginia.

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Dean Leeper is the founder, principal emeritus and executive director of The Kindezi Schools, innovative, high-performing K-6 charter schools with family-sized classrooms. Dean is a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and has taught and worked for many years in diverse and low-income neighborhoods. 

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Ron Martin is a real estate developer from Atlanta, Georgia. He was board chair for the founding organization of the International Community School and serves on the board of advisors for the Global Village Project.  

William L. Moon is a teacher and principal with more than forty-five years of experience in international education. He was the founding principal of the International Community School, and he has served as the director/principal at schools in the U.S. France, Greece and Luxembourg, and as an Assistant Examiner and curriculum consultant with the International Baccalaureate organization. Mr. Moon was awarded le Chevalier des Palmes Académiques and l’Officier des Palmes Académiques by the French Ministry of Education.

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Wendy Silver is a funding development consultant for nonprofit organizations and schools. After a twenty-five-year career in advertising, she was the founding development director for the International Community School and the Global Village Project. She is currently a development consultant for organizations focused on education, community organizing and child survivors of war.

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Roberta Weisman Malavenda is the executive director of CDF Action, working to connect, collaborate, and transform the Clarkston community. She has spent decades developing and implementing early learning programs with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Ford Foundation, and serving as a local and national consultant. She helped establish the first Latino family child care center in Atlanta and founded the Georgia Parents as Teachers (PAT) Network. She is the director of a W.K. Kellogg family engagement and early learning grant.