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Refugee children land in Gainesville, Hall schools

Districts absorb about 50 Central American students

POSTED: August 10, 2014 12:13 a.m.

Both Hall County and Gainesville school districts have enrolled new Central American refugee students this school year.

School leaders say the new students are facing challenges but are ready to learn, and the districts are ready to accommodate them.

Wanda Creel, Gainesville City Schools superintendent, said she met some of the students Thursday as they practiced learning English during the first day of classes.

“They were working on introducing themselves. We were saying ‘hello’ and saying each other’s names,” Creel said. “What I saw were students who were eager to learn and who were not afraid to try.”

Hall officials estimate 25 to 30 refugee students had enrolled in local schools as of late last week. Gainesville said at least 20 students from Central America had enrolled as of Monday.

Between Jan. 1 and July 7, 1,154 children and teens were sent to sponsors in Georgia through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Unaccompanied Alien Children program.

Between October 2013 and June 2014, more than 57,000 children entered the U.S. without a parent or guardian and without legal immigration status.

Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in the Hall County system, said the district is working to identify challenges the students may be facing beyond learning the language.

“These kids came into the country with the clothes on their backs,” Barron said. “One of the things people don’t realize about the school system is that we look at all of that. ... The picture is so much bigger than where they are academically. The social, emotional — those needs will be something we’re working closely on.”

Of course, academic needs are a challenge as well. Barron said some students may be four or five years below their grade level.

At Johnson High School, Principal Stan Lewis said 10 or 12 refugee students had enrolled so far, and that the academic challenges of each student will be assessed on an individual basis.

“We don’t know much about their histories. A lot of them have come to us with very little schooling,” Lewis said. “Certainly they come to us with challenges. But we have many students who have challenges, and we’re going to treat them all like Knights.”

Lewis said teachers will work to “meet the students where they are,” but they first have to learn more about them.

Creel said schools are working to help the students adjust to a new environment.

“We are working to make sure that their initial needs are taken care of in regard to learning, and a lot of that is language, and help them acclimate to our school setting,” she said. “It’s helping them feel a part of the community.”


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