Immigrant students are under pressure. Four Ways Districts Can Support Them
Immigrant students, whether refugees, unaccompanied minors or migrants, are increasingly visible in K-12 schools across the country as immigration topics make headlines.
In recent weeks, for example, the Republican governors of Texas and Florida have transported migrants by bus or plane from Texas to more Democratic communities such as Washington, DC and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. They cited the latest wave of undocumented immigrants entering through the country’s southern border, even as others accuse governors of using vulnerable people for political stunts, and immigrant families have filed at least one legal action in response.
Whether a school district is new to welcoming immigrant students or has been doing so for years, district leaders agree on some best practices to ensure that these students and their families receive the support they need. Here are four best practices:
Leveraging federal and other funding for immigrant students
When Elena Garcia became executive director of English language learners for the Hillsborough County School District in Tampa, Florida, one of her first goals was to assess her department’s data on immigrant students and apply. imfunding for migrant grants through Title III, the federal program that broadly supports academic programs for multilingual students.
She realized the district qualified for the grant and was able to hire a bilingual social worker, a bilingual school counselor and an additional interpreter to expand the district’s pre-existing workforce.
Although the district has been eligible for the grant before and hasn’t applied, Garcia said there have always been ways to fund programs for immigrant students if it’s a real priority for the district. district.
“Hillsborough County Public Schools is and continues to be committed to serving immigrant families regardless of external funding we have received,” she said.
Prioritizing funding for services tailored to these students is critical, said Abdul Sami Safay, school community refugee specialist at the San Juan Unified School District in Carmichael, Calif., and it starts with the superintendent.
One way to raise funds is to establish offices or departments focused on providing services to immigrants and refugees, as San Juan did. Centers should work in tandem with a district’s English language development office and other resources, such as bilingual teaching assistants, for immigrant students classified as English learners.
Make decisions based on data and feedback
Once funding is secured through Title III grants or other means, spending plans should be guided by data and feedback from immigrant families themselves.
The district of San Juan, for example, has seen an increase in the number of refugee families enlisted from Afghanistan and Iran several years ago. It adapted by hiring staff who reflected the community and spoke their languages, said Raj Rai, district communications director.
“It really sets the stage for creating this welcoming environment,” Rai said.
In Hillsborough District, where the majority of immigrant students come from Honduras, Cuba, and Venezuela, Garcia examines what families need today, how those needs have changed, and what the district needs to do to help. She collects direct feedback from families at in-person welcome events.
Schools also need to take the time to assess students’ needs when placing them in the right grade level and program, said Viridiana Carrizales, co-founder and CEO of ImmSchools, a nonprofit that works with K-12 schools to support undocumented students and their families. .
And they should be careful not to jump to conclusions: Carrizales has found cases where immigrant students are classified as having a learning disability when there really is a language barrier involved.
Invest in training for all staff
Districts may have staff dedicated to immigrant student services, but all district staff must be properly trained to support these students and their families, Carrizales says.
This includes knowing how to use trauma-informed practices to better accommodate the traumatic experiences of some students coming to the United States and learning about different cultural norms.
Educators also need a basic understanding of how the US immigration system works, why these families are here now, and what rights students have, especially if they or their parents are undocumented. .
As a high school student, Carrizales was undocumented, as were her parents, who feared filling out school forms that required ID cards. And Carrizales had an incident where a well-meaning school counselor wanted to call immigration to find out how to get her a social security card for college admissions forms, which could have put her in danger, her and her family, she said.
In the district of San Juan, training is a two-way street: it offers staff presentations to learn about students’ home countries and cultural backgrounds and classes for immigrant families on how to navigate the district, how it works, and the services available.
Partner with community organizations to help the whole child
The San Juan District organizes student cultural clubs and sports teams to help immigrant students better connect with all of their peers, Sanjay said in California. But when a district is new to working with these populations or is strapped for funding, third-party partners can be a lifeline in providing these kinds of services.
Districts can partner with community organizations such as food banks to help families more directly outside of the school day.
And local relocation agencies know the most about students’ unique needs and can alert districts in advance about who’s coming, how many families to expect, where exactly families will be moving, and more, Garcia said. in Florida.
Organizations like ImmSchools can work with districts to assess their resources and determine where they can expand.