Serving Recent Immigrant Students Through School-Community Partnerships
- Immigration to the United States continues to rise steadily (United States Department of Homeland Security, 2007). Immigrants today—just as in the past—migrate to the United States for various reasons, including opportunities to receive a quality public education, obtain a relatively high-paying job, or flee from social upheaval. Of course, growth in immigrant populations directly corresponds with a growth in immigrant students—also known as and referred to in this newsletter as "newcomers." Unlike historical patterns of immigration that mostly affected large urban areas, newcomers are settling in parts of the country that until recently had remained relatively homogeneous.
Districts and schools across the country are looking for ways to adequately meet the needs of newcomers, many of whom are not proficient in English when they arrive in the United States. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Schools and Staffing Survey reports that nearly 4 million, or 8 percent, of the nation's K–12 students were identified as limited English proficient in 2003–04 (Provasnik et al., 2007). According to the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA), there were more than 5 million English language learners (ELLs) by 2005, a figure that has grown by nearly 61 percent in the past decade, while overall K–12 enrollment has grown less than 3 percent (see Table 1) (NCELA, 2006). Not only must schools and districts determine how to effectively engage their ELL students in the academic and social life of the school, but they also are being held accountable to ensure that these students become proficient in reading and mathematics.
|Year||Total K–12 Enrollment||K–12 Enrollment Growth Since 1994–95||Total ELL Enrollment||ELL Growth Since 1994–95|
Source: NCELA, 2006
This month's newsletter examines how district and school partnerships with community-based organizations can help schools better meet the needs of recent immigrant students. In particular, the newsletter provides some examples of promising strategies in which community-based organizations and districts work together to address linguistic and cultural differences, help newcomers gain new language skills and catch up academically with their peers, and provide educational and social support to immigrant families.
Researchers Phelan, Davidson, and Yu (1998) argue that students' academic success reflects their ability to navigate the experiences and expectations of home, school, and peers. Linguistic and cultural differences often make this process more challenging for newcomers. In an article examining a district-community partnership in Florida, Schoorman and Jean-Jacques (2003) emphasize the "two-way response between the community and the immigrant that is necessary for successful integration" (p. 308).
To successfully support this integration, however, it is important to partner with organizations with leadership and staff who are knowledgeable of the culture, traditions, and values of these groups and who are well respected and trusted in the immigrant community. For example, Schoorman and Jean-Jacques describe how American teachers interpreted certain nonverbal behaviors of immigrant students, such as crossing one's arms, as disrespectful. The teachers did not realize that in the home country of the students this was a sign of respect. The community-based organization staff was able to explain these differences to the school staff as well as to the newcomers and their families. Not only are knowledgeable and respected community-based organizations able to facilitate cultural transactions, but they also may be in a position to gather important information about students' academic and familial backgrounds, as well as details about their personal lives that may affect their learning but not be known to school or district staff.
In places throughout the country, districts are using the services of community-based organizations to provide cultural and academic support to recent immigrant students and their families and to support the teachers and schools that serve these students. For example, community-based organizations are working with districts to transition immigrant students into their new environment in the following ways:
- Explaining how expectations, norms, and behaviors in U.S. schools are different from those in their home country.
- Providing afterschool programs, night classes, or summer programs that can lend linguistic, academic, and social support to children in a safe and supervised environment.
- Identifying differences in pedagogy or instruction that students may have learned differently in their home country.
- Translating into a native language critical information that the student or family must know.
- Providing classes or training for parents.
- Providing opportunities for students and families to network with other recent immigrants.
- Serving as a liaison between the community and the school or district.
As a complement to the services that a community-based organization may provide, districts and schools also can implement strategies to better serve newcomers by providing the following:
- Professional development for teachers and administrators about implementing research-based instructional strategies that work with ELLs including, but not limited to, differentiated instruction.
- Broader opportunities for ELLs and general education teachers to collaborate.
- Culturally relevant curricula or lessons in instruction.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. © 2008 Learning Point Associates. All rights reserved.
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