Immigrant children are first introduced to American culture through their schools and neighborhoods1. A major important psychological theory in developmental psychological posits that development is influenced by different environmental systems2. One of these systems is the microsystem, which includes schools and neighborhoods. Not only are immigrant children introduced to American culture through their experiences at school and in their neighbors, this also has implications for their development. Furthermore, as immigrant children navigate a new culture at school and in their neighborhood they might experience acculturative stress3. Acculturative stress is the psychological impact of adapting to a new culture. Usually stress arises when navigating a culture that is different from their original one3. However, even though schools and neighborhoods can be sources of acculturative stress, they can also provide resources that lessen the burden of adapting to a new culture.
Before addressing how schools and neighborhoods mitigate the consequences of adapting to a new culture, we need to understand the ways they contribute to acculturative stress. In schools immigrant students are tasked with learning the beliefs, values, and language of the host society while still trying to retain their own culture’s customs3. This is might cause stress when trying to bridge these distinct cultures. Failure to adapt to the educational systems of the host society might be associated with poor school performance, for example, immigrant children are more likely to struggle in school and have poorer scores on standardized tests4. A recent report found that English-language learners from immigrant families tend to have lower test scores in math and reading when compared to non-immigrant students4.
Furthermore, studies show that immigrants usually live in poor neighborhoods that do not have access to resources that might help them successfully integrate into the receiving society5. For example, a report in 2010 found that 19.9% of immigrants compared to 13.5% of native born Americans lived in poverty6. Additionally, these immigrants were likely not have proper health insurance. Thus, when dealing with psychological distress immigrant children might not be able to access mental health services due to poverty.
However, promoting school engagement among immigrant students might help them cope with acculturative stress4. For example, educators should attempt to get to know immigrant students and their families as a way to foster a welcoming environment7. Sometimes this might prove challenging if children have been separated from their parents as a result of stepwise migration (one family member migrating first then to be joined later with other family members) 8. Educators can create an engaging environment by inviting immigrant students’ culture into the classroom7. A great way would be having students share popular stories or folktales with the class. Having a space to engage their own culture at school immigrant students might have an easier time adapting to the new culture while still maintaining their own.
Additionally, neighborhoods with high immigrant populations should aim at creating youth services that help immigrant children engage in the receiving culture6. A good example is the YWCA in Carlisle, one of the youth programs they run is an after school homework club9. The program aims at providing an environment where students can complete their homework in an interactive manner and also get mentorship from tutors. The program is open to all students in the 1st to 5th grade. Thus, immigrant children might interact with other children in a less formal environment while also getting help with their school work. Youth services such as the YWCA after school homework club help immigrant children integrate into the receiving society and interact with other members of their community.
It is important to understand how schools and neighborhoods might create environments that make it difficult for immigrants to adapt to the receiving society’s culture. But we should also go further and investigate how these same microsystems can adapt strategies that are protective against acculturative stress. In doing so we might be able to create environments that are supportive to immigrants.
- Read “The Integration of Immigrants into American Society” at NAP.edu. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu/read/21746/chapter/2#
- Bronfenbrenner, U. (2000). Ecological systems theory. In A. E. Kazdin & A. E. Kazdin (Ed) (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Psychology, Vol. 3. (pp. 129–133). Washington, DC, US; New York, NY, US: American Psychological Association.
- Motti-Stefanidi, F., & Masten, A. S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18(2), 126–135.
- Mitchell, C. (2017, October 25). Kids Count: Immigrants and Their Children Face Challenges on Path to Opportunity. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning-the-language/2017/10/immigrant_students_often_struggle.html
- Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology,50(6), 1771-1787. doi:10.1037/a0036424
- Immigrants in the United States: A Profile of America’s Foreign-Born Population. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://cis.org/Immigrants-United-States-Profile-Americas-ForeignBorn-Population
- (2017, January 11). Creating a Welcoming Classroom Environment. Retrieved from http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/creating-welcoming-classroom-environment
- Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying behind: Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26(2), 222–257. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558410376830
- After School Homework Clubs. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ywcacarlisle.org/index.php/programs/specific-program/afterschool-homework-clubs