Across the Nation, Immigrant Students and Families Go Back to School

A new Yale publication, “Portraits of Four Schools: Meeting the Needs of Immigrant Students and Their Families,” provides insight into how four different schools are meeting the challenges and opportunities of new languages, cultures and expectations as well as new students.

The four communities – Green Bay, Wisc.; Leadville, Colo.; Stamford, Conn.; and Columbus Junction, Iowa – are representative of rural, suburban and urban communities experiencing increases in their immigrant population. The study included interviews with educators, community leaders and businesses and immigrant children and parents.

Reflective of the national trend, schools in “new growth” communities, places with no recent history of immigration where employment is plentiful and the cost of living is low, are experiencing a significant increase in the number of immigrant students and a vast change in the composition of the population. The proportion of immigrant children in the United States, including children recently arrived to the U.S. or children born to immigrant parents, has grown by close to 50 percent in the past decade, in comparison to 10 percent growth in the number of native-born Americans.

Although statistical studies on the new wave of immigration have emerged since the publication of the 2000 Census, these do not show the impact on schools, nor how the schools and communities are coping with increased enrollments and changing demographics. The Yale publication brings to life the current state of affairs for schools, communities and immigrants.

Businesses are behind the vast demographic changes communities are experiencing. Although a new meat packing plant or other business is an economic boost to the community, it comes at a cost: the community is rarely prepared for a large influx of new immigrants, many of them very poor and uneducated, with hardly any English speaking skills.

The schools participating in the study were creative in their approaches and succeeded in providing not only quality education, but also in reaching out to and helping families. There were variations in the approaches used, but some common themes emerged: creating a trusting relationship with immigrant families; establishing partnerships with outside community-based organizations, institutions, government agencies and businesses, and helping immigrant children gain a sense of confidence. Some of the schools in the study, for instance, established mime clubs where both native born and immigrant children communicate in ways other than spoken language.

The Yale publication is a product of a larger project known as The Responsive Schools Initiative: The Heart of the Community, which was established at the Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale with financial support of the Rockefeller Foundation. Each of the schools has implemented the School of the 21st Century Program, also known as Family Resource Centers in some communities.

The School of the 21st Century Program transforms schools into multi-service centers offering guidance and support for parents; all day, year-round preschool; before and after school and vacation care for school-age children; health education and services; training for child care providers, and information and referral services for families. Since 1988, more than 1,300 schools in 20 states have implemented the program. The model has proven successful in urban, rural and suburban settings as well as in affluent, middle class and poor communities.

The study on immigrant children in schools was conducted by Matia Finn-Stevenson, Nicole Wise, Nicole Fedoravicius and Erica Lopez, all of the Center for Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University. For more information about the publication, please contact Nicole Fedoravicius at 203-432-9989, or by email, Nicole.fedoravicius@yale.edu

The report can be downloaded at www.yale.edu/21C.

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