School Strategies to Support Immigrant Students, Families


Male High School Student Talking To Male Latino Teacher.
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Immigrants are a part of American society, regardless of ongoing political battles.

Schools play a big role in embracing and accommodating the unique socio-emotional needs of immigrant students and their families, well beyond academics.

But not all school personnel are equipped to respond to these needs.

Fortunately, recent guidelines from the National Dropout Prevention Center can help you and other teachers, administrators, and staff at your school understand and better meet the social, economic, and emotional needs of immigrant students and families.

“Meeting the needs of such diverse immigrant child and family situations requires knowledge, commitment, and emotional energy on the parts of school administrators, teachers, and other school personnel,” according to the guidelines. “School professionals should be poised to provide assistance to immigrant families in a culturally competent manner.”

The Immigrant Experience

Many immigrant children and families  face traumatic experiences before, during and after immigration and continue to face uncertain circumstances.

These stressful and chaotic circumstances impair children’s brain and body development and hinder learning, setting off a vicious cycle of health disparities through adolescence and into adulthood.

Each child brings unique emotional, social and cognitive strengths and needs that deserve to be supported in school environments that foster respect, success and achievement for all.

Guidelines for School Personnel

Male Student Talking To male Latino High School Counselor Under federal law, states and local educational agencies are obligated to provide all children—regardless of immigration status—with equal access to public education at the elementary and secondary level.

The National Dropout Prevention Center’s paper, Strategies for Supporting Immigrant Students and Families: Guidelines for School Personnel, aim to help schools ensure they achieve the law.

Using the guidelines can help schools understand the issues and identify the resources, systems, and professional development necessary to meet the needs of immigrant students and their families.

For example, the guidelines can help you better understand:

  • Key issues faced by immigrant students in school, such as acculturation challenges, racism, discrimination, social pressures to fit in, and absenteeism.
  • Key issues faced by immigrant parents and families, such as language barriers, fear of deportation, and lack of access to employment, healthcare, transportation
  • Key issues faced by principals, teachers, and other professionals, such as accommodating language barriers, and finding ways to support and connect resources to immigrant families in a culturally responsive, accessible manner.

Also, the guidelines share school-based strategies to help teachers, administrators, and staff accommodate the needs of immigrant students and families.

These include:

  • Find ways to enhance and achieve your own self-awareness of your cultural heritage and the values that are embedded. One must understand one’s own heritage in order to be culturally responsive to others’ heritages and values.
  • Remember that immigrant families might not share a philosophy of active participation in and partnership with schools. Some may view the teacher and the school as the main authority for the child.
  • Provide support services for immigrant families. School personnel—particularly school psychologists, social workers, counselors, and family liaisons—should work together. These school personnel are greatly instrumental in helping meet the needs of immigrant children and parents.

Schools across the country are incrementally reshaping their environments to better meet the socio-emotional needs of their students.

Latina student with high school diploma.See what this school district in central Texas is doing to ensure school personnel understand the social-emotional needs of students and connect students and families to school-based and community resources. They started out incrementally, one campus and in-serve meeting at a time.

Check out this trauma-informed, school-based curriculum for newly arrived Latino migrant youth in the Bay Area who have experienced trauma.

The years before kindergarten are important, too.

In May 2018, National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) released a policy update urging state boards of education to take actionable steps to increase the quality and diversity of the teacher workforce and support young dual language learners.

What will you do at your school?!

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