By Curt Yeomans
For approximately 10 percent of Clayton County Public Schools' nearly 50,000 students, their primary language is not English, according to the school system official who oversees English education for foreign-born students.
"There are 9,665 students whose primary language is not English," said Chantal Normil, the district's English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) director. "That is up by 400 students from last year."
With such a group of students, comes a wide variety of lingual diversity for the school system. In all, according to Normil, there are more than 60 languages and dialects -- other than English -- spoken by Clayton students.
And now, there is a place where these students and their parents can enroll in the school system using their native language. Clayton Schools opened an "International Center" on Sept. 15, whose purpose, Normil said, is to help "English Language Learners," whose families are new to the country, negotiate what could otherwise be a confusing process.
At the center, parents who do not speak English, can register their children in school, and be shown an orientation film on the expectations of Clayton County Public Schools, Normil said. She also said students can take the English proficiency test that all immigrant students have to take before starting school in Georgia.
The International Center is located in the back portion of the old Morrow Middle School building, at 5968 Maddox Road, in Morrow. It will be open from 8 a.m., to 3 p.m., according to Normil.
The largest group of Clayton County students, who speak a language other than English -- 7,158 pupils to be exact -- are Spanish-speaking students. Another 1,313 students speak Vietnamese, according to Normil. Those two groups make up nearly 88 percent of the county's students who speak a language other than English, she said.
Among the other languages, excluding English, are: several African dialects, Creole, French, Chinese, Russian, German, Italian, Japanese, Punjabi, and Portuguese, according to the school system's web site.
Normil also said the district has so many Spanish-speaking, and Vietnamese-speaking families that it prints documents in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
The district used to print documents in Khmer and Lao, as well, but the school system's ESOL director said that has stopped because the numbers of students speaking those languages has dropped to almost nonexistent levels.
"Fifteen years ago, Khmer and Lao were two of our biggest language groups," she said. "Now, less than one percent of our students speak Lao, and only two percent speak Khmer."
The center is staffed by two bilingual paraprofessionals, and one bilingual support specialist, to assist non-English-speaking parents, according to Normil. Additionally, the district's ESOL director said her office is located at the center, so she can help out with the registration of students. She added that for those languages which the officials at the center do not speak, the center uses a service called Language Line.
Language Line is a multi-lingual, call-in service with representatives who speak 170 languages, according to Normil. She said an official with the International Center, and the parents of the student to be enrolled, wear headsets that connect them to a Language Line representative. The Language Line representative then translates the information into the parents' native language, she said.
"That way, whoever wants to enroll their children in the school system, should be able to do so, in their primary language," she added.