CANTON, Ga. – A Georgia elementary school launched a new program for upcoming school year that will rely on older students who just learned English to help teach younger students the language.

UPDATE: Cherokee County School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby emailed EAGnews to dispute the WSBTV story as a “complete fabrication.” Her full explanation is included below. 

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“Approximately 42 percent of our students are served in our program for English as a second language,” Canton Elementary School Principal Beth Long told WSBTV.

That means about 336 of the school’s 800 students must learn how to speak, write and read English fluently, a process school officials contend takes five to seven years.

To help speed the learning, school officials plan to use older students as translators for younger students to help teachers communicate lessons effectively, according to the news site.

“The new school year will be very interesting here at Canton Elementary,” WSBTV reporter Darryn Moore said. “The student population is very diverse and English is not the first language for many kids.”

The news story provided omitted all details on the school’s new program, including the cost. But Canton isn’t the only elementary school relying on special programs to cope with an increase in ESL students.

At Warren Elementary in Bowling Green, Kentucky, students from numerous schools spent the summer working on their English for the 2015-16 school year, according to the Bowling Green Daily News.

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The program was free for the roughly 70 fourth through seventh graders who participated in the daily lessons. Those kids received free breakfast and lunch throughout the summer.

The students also participated in other summer programs, like the Junior Achievement entrepreneurship program, Kids on the Block obesity program and the local summer reading initiative. They were also escorted on field trips, including one this summer to Lost River Cave.

Janet Yeager, who has worked with the Bowling Green ESL summer program since it started 13 years ago, said the growth of ESL students locally has been “phenomenal.”

“It grows every year,” she said of the program, according to the news site.

Jacoby’s email to EAGnews:

To Whom It May Concern,

I’m writing to alert you that the WSB-TV article you used as the basis for Mr. Skinner’s article posted here on your website includes misinformation, and I ask that you please remove this story from your website immediately.

The WSB-TV story contains a complete fabrication in regard to operations at Canton Elementary School STEM Academy, a 2014 Georgia School Bell Award winner.  There is no program, initiative, policy, practice, etc. for older students to translate for younger students. 

The school has ample English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teachers and bilingual staff to teach, translate for and assist in all ways the students who come from non-English speaking homes.  To be clear, 42% of the school’s students are classified as ESOL, but that does not mean the children do not speak English… it means they come from homes where English is a second language, so they do not necessarily have the same exposure to vocabulary, advanced sentence structure, etc. as all of their classmates.  Older students stay in their own classes; younger students stay in their own classes.  There likely are instances of children in the same class at Canton Elementary School STEM Academy voluntarily helping a child in a neighboring desk with reading… just as there as instances in every school around the world of children helping classmates in classes in every subject every day – this is and always has been a part of school… I’m sure you remember this from your own childhood.  

When I brought the report’s inaccuracy to the attention of WSB-TV, news managers apologized and immediately ensured all broadcast reports were accurate and pulled the story from its Facebook page; the web story was initially overlooked in this correction process, but managers advise that it will be pulled down today.

This appears to be a case of a reporter looking for drama where it didn’t exist; if you have not read coverage of the event that the station covered and somehow led to this story, there is a report in the Cherokee Tribune posted here, as well as a story with photos on the CCSD website here and Facebook page here.  The Welcome Back Bus Tour was an extremely positive, innovative idea developed by teachers and Principal Beth Long to better engage the community, and it was billed a success by all parties. 

Barbara Jacoby
Director, Public Information, Communications and Partnerships

Cherokee County School District