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At DeKalb Schools, teaching international students on the first day

Several hundred students and parents gathered inside the cafeteria at the International Student Center, a nontraditional school in the DeKalb County School District for immigrant and refugee students, for the first day of school.

There, teachers called names over a loud speaker system to find their students. The language barrier — many of the students and their families speak limited English — didn’t help.

“It can take some time,” Principal Royce Toombs said this morning.

The welcome wall inside the International Student Center is written in different languages. (MARLON A. WALKER/ marlon.walker@ajc.com)

The school, located in Decatur near Covington Highway, gets several hundred students a year who need additional resources before moving on to the district’s traditional schools. About 350 students, from third grade through ninth or 10th, are expected today. Toombs said about 1,000 students attended the school at some point during the 2016-2017 school year. The district has said its students speak more than 180 primary languages.

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Students there are given as typical an experience as possible, grouped by grade and attending classes by period. Teachers are certified or endorsed in teaching English as a second language. Paraprofessionals may do some translation for students and teachers.

Gabriella Guiol spent about 10 minutes after classroom introductions trying to get her students to take out notebooks and paper. She asked each of the six in her classroom, then provided what they did not have. In a traditional setting, it would have taken less than a minute.

“You have to be patient,” Toombs said.

In another class, Negial Kemp asked his students where they were from. The five students, in grades seven and eight, were from Ethiopia, Mexico, Guatemala, Tanzania, Venezuela.

He took them on a tour of the classroom, showing them where in the room to check for their daily assignments and workbooks.

Nearby, DeKalb Schools Superintendent Steve Green rode the school bus with students to Peachcrest Elementary School. He spent the morning in several schools, a tradition he’s kept since coming to the district in 2015.

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