North GA schools prepare for influx of immigrant students - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

North GA schools prepare for influx of immigrant students

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DALTON, GA (WRCB) - The political debate over immigration is intensifying locally after learning the federal government has been dispersing thousands of immigrant children throughout Georgia. In Northwest Georgia the biggest influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America is in the Dalton area.

More than 57,000 minors, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, have crossed into the U.S. in the last several months. The federal government sent more than a thousand into Georgia. Governor Nathan Deal told President Obama it is "unconscionable" and voiced his concerns over local communities being forced to provide them services, like education. But, schools officials in Dalton say they're prepared.

Teacher Jennifer Ross readies her classroom with just two days until dozens of immigrant students fill the desks.

"To call them 'illegals' I think is so sad. They're here, they need our help and as human beings. Compassion is, I think, the first thing we need to look at. These are kids," Newcomer Academy teacher Jennifer Ross said.

Dalton Public Schools has created what's called Newcomer Academy inside Morris Innovative High School specifically for minors who've fled Central America.

"We don't want children out roaming the streets and we most certainly as a public school can not look at their immigration status," Dalton Public Schools Assistant Director for School Support Caroline Woodason said.

Most are between 16 to 20 years old and came from detention centers, where they received immunizations, then had to find a family member in the U.S. to serve as guardian. Whitfield County already has a large Hispanic community, so around 50 of them went there. Most come after traumatic experiences crossing the border.

"Really the big challenge for our students doesn't even come with academics. It comes with feeling safe and feeling that they have adults they can trust," Woodason said.

Many don't know how to read in any language and have never used a computer. Teachers at Newcomer Academy are experienced with English learning students.

"It's an amazing gift to be able to teach these children. That's how I feel," Ross said.

Students will only stay at Newcomer Academy' for one or two semesters, then transition to regular schools. School officials say No Child Left Behind standards are the biggest issue they face with these new students because they only have four years to graduate.

While some in the community have strong opposition to them being there, some local churches are collecting school supplies to donate to the children who arrived with nothing.

"We're trying to avoid any of the political aspects of it. All we know is we've got some people here in need. We feel as a Christian community we have an obligation to help out," St. Mark's Episcopal Church Senior Warden John Hutcheson said.

The following school supplies for the Newcomer Academy are being collected at St. Mark's Episcopal Church at 901 W Emery St. in Dalton:

Writing paper
Composition books
3 prong folders with pockets
Expo markers
Colored pencils (twistable)
Drawing paper
Lysol wipes
Hand sanitizer
Zip lock bags- gallon size
Erasable white boards (individual ones for students to practice math)
Magnetic white boards- (individual for students to practice reading)
Magnetic letters
Wal-Mart gift cards

Dalton Public School officials say Rock Bridge Community Church and Grace Presbyterian Church in Dalton are also helping out with Newcomer Academy.

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