For most children, regardless of immigrant status, their neighborhood and their school are the places in which they spend the most time. However, the experiences and circumstances surrounding these contexts differ greatly for U.S. born children versus immigrant children. For example, non-immigrant children are more likely than immigrant children to attend preschool1. Additionally, non-immigrant children in the U.S. enter school already speaking English and are taught neighborhood values and beliefs from birth. However, many immigrant children must attend school while in the process of learning English and may take time to learn the community values and customs2. It is important to understand how immigrant children’s varied experiences impact their development, specifically in regards to circumstances in schools and neighborhoods.
In addition to lower rates of preschool enrollment, neighborhoods with high numbers of immigrants have decreased access to quality childcare options1. But, even with these barriers to young childcare and education, neighborhoods with high numbers of immigrants also possess qualities valuable to immigrant children. For example, social cohesion, or the trust and strong bonds that exist between neighbors, can be higher in neighborhoods with higher numbers of immigrants. This social cohesion can help mitigate the level of acculturative stress experienced by the neighborhood immigrant children1. Lower levels of acculturative stress can help children have smoother acculturative transitions and successes in school—for example, by being able to acquire the level of English proficiency needed to do well academically2.
However, it is important to acknowledge that not all immigrant children will experience this social cohesion. Additionally, not all social networks and bonds will have favorable effects on immigrant children’s academic achievements. When an immigrant child’s network consists of people who have limited levels of education, who do not speak English, or who do not know how the U.S. education system works, their academic success and development may suffer1. It is also important to acknowledge that immigrant status alone can act as a risk factor for instability in academic achievement2.
With all of these factors in mind, and the fact that immigrant children are the fastest growing population in the United States1, communities need to improve and increase support systems that focus on helping immigrant children succeed academically and developmentally. Many schools across the U.S. could take a page out of Utah’s book on how to better assist their immigrant students in these ways. The Granite school district in Salt Lake City hosts a two-week transition program, where newly arrived immigrant students learn important acculturative tasks such as how to behave during a fire drill, how to navigate the bus, and how to open their lockers3. The Granite school system also implemented classes for parents of immigrant children to help strengthen the children’s networks and academic support systems. These parent classes consist of English education, information about how the school system operates, what to anticipate during parent/teacher conferences, and interpreters should the parents need language assistance3.
There is no one easy solution to help immigrant children across the U.S. succeed in school in the face of acculturative stressors and neighborhood disadvantages. However, when school systems like Granite pay attention to the research on what immigrant families need in their schools and neighborhoods, more opportunities will arise for children and parents alike to achieve the success they are capable of and deserve.
- Leventhal, T. & Shuey, E.A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50, 1771-1787. doi: 10.1037/a0036424
- 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, 126-135.
- Wicks, Annie. (2018, January 31). Lessons from public schools succeeding in helping immigrant students become Americans. Retrieved from https://www.the74million.org/article/lessons-from-public-schools-succeeding-in-helping-immigrant-students-become-americans/