A Culturally Responsive Guide to Understanding Immigrant-Origin Children

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by Carola Suárez-Orozco, Adam Strom, and Rosalinda Larios

In the United States, the question of how schools are responding to the educational needs of immigrant-origin student and their peers has never been more relevant. Twenty-six percent of school-aged children today are either immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants and in light of increasing political divides over immigration, rising hate incidents in and out of schools, and increased immigration enforcement, their place in schools can feel precarious. Recent studies highlight the impact of current climate on both immigrant students and their peers’ social well-being and academic performance.1

In this challenging environment, we need creative and effective strategies to address the unique strengths and challenges for immigrant-origin students which are defined as the children of immigrants. They can be first-generation (born abroad) or second-generation (born in the U.S. with a foreign-born parent). Both share parents who are immigrants. Some are English Language Learners, and some are not. Finding ways to optimize their successful inclusion into schools is both an economic and democratic imperative.

In the United States, immigration is our past, our present, and our future. The Irish, Chinese, Italians, Germans, Eastern European Jews, and others that once crossed the ocean to what many called the Golden Land, struggled to adapt to live in their new land when they first arrived, just as do today’s “new immigrants.” The concerns about how the old immigrants could and would fit in were similar to the arguments of today. We can only speculate on the way that those that argued that they could never fit in, would respond to the successful inclusion of generations of immigrants.

Indeed, in many ways, immigration is a good news story. A recent study by the National Academy of Sciences focused on the integration of immigrants in the US found that today’s immigrants are integrating as fast or faster than immigrants of the past.2 A closer look at schools suggests that we should be doing better, however. While children of immigrants often enter schools full of hope, too many of their educational experiences leave them isolated, frustrated or disengaged. 3 Many educators who work with immigrant-origin students do not feel well-prepared or adequately trained to work with this rapidly changing student population.4

The purpose of this guide is to help bridge research from the academy to classrooms, with the recognition that only by learning from and with each other, can we help our immigrant origin and English Language Learning students reach their full potential.

Check back with us soon to download the full guide