Author: winklerh

Navigating Life as an Immigrant Child: What can schools do to help?

What is the fastest growing segment of the United States population?  When posing this question to a group of collogues at the dinner table, not a single one could answer correctly.  By 2050, children from immigrant families will make up nearly one third of the population of children in the United States, making them the fastest growing segment1.  Not only do these children come from a variety of diverse cultural backgrounds, but their lived experiences can be wildly different based upon a myriad of contextual factors1.  The inability of anyone at my dinner table to point to this population as one of such immense growth indicates a couple of things.  First, a need for general population visibility, and second, an increased understanding of their needs, many of which will need to be met in the United States public education system.  Education has long been considered as the foundation for later life success, a belief that is not excusive to native born Americans, but is rather shared by parents across the globe2.  In order to foster an atmosphere of educational success in both the social and academic spheres of schooling, educational institutions must consider the unique factors and experiences of immigrant children in order to meet their needs.

In considering best practice for immigrant children in education, it is helpful to consider what will best facilitate their engagement within the school system at large.  Developmental research suggests that while school engagement is a predictor of positive academic achievement for both immigrant and non-immigrant youths, there may be specific factors that help to facilitate the engagement of immigrant children2.  These facilitators include the positive relationships between immigrant children and their parents, their teachers, and their peers within the context of education2.  Meaning, if immigrant children are made to feel important and motived within the classroom by their teachers and their peers, and then motivated to succeed academically at home; engagement and thereby achievement will increase2.  It is essential for parents and teachers alike to be made aware of the significance of these facilitators, which would not only lend to an increase in student visibility, but also in their educational success.  Creating opportunities for this kind of bi-directional communication between school and home community can lead to significant educational strides being made by immigrant youths2.

Despite the presence of these facilitators across the immigrant youth population, a variety of outside contextual factors may get in the way of their execution.  One of those being the presence of family separation.  Although family separation can happen for several reasons and look different depending on circumstance, in all cases it is the separation of the family unit, most typically a parent/parents from their child3Family separation due to instances of migration has been happening for decades, but it has garnered significant media attention due to policies imposed by the Trump administration.  While it is obvious that this separation is painful for all parties involved, it can actually result in significant short-term depressive symptoms for young immigrant children3.  If a child is coming to school anxious and depressed due to a lack of awareness of their parents’ status and location, it is grossly unfair to expect them to be fully engaged in the classroom.  In making policy decisions about family separation at the United States boarder as our political leaders are today, a lack of consideration for the needs of the fastest growing United States population is incredibly irresponsible.

In considering these factors, it may be beneficial to examine the successful practices that other countries adopt in their treatment of immigrant children in the public education sector to gain insight into what the United States can do to improve.  In countries like Canada, specifically the Province of Toronto, many public schools have put in place a number of immigrant-inclusive programs helping to foster their engagement in the classroom.  These include family outreach programs, one-on-one attention, immigrant specific classrooms with integration into general education, and culturally inclusive practices such as including tea sets in the classroom to increase visibility.  Policy makers in the United States may argue that Provinces such as Toronto, where every student receives the same amount of funding regardless of their school district, would be unattainable in the United States where funding varies by state and district.  However, several of these interventions come free of charge, and are simply based on an understanding and awareness of immigrant culture.  If educators and policy makers in the United States were made aware of (1) the scope and growth of the United States immigrant youth population, and (2) the importance of considering these cultural differences with regards to their impact on achievement, then perhaps they would consider the successful adaptation of these young migrants the creation of public and educational policy.


  1. Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50(6), 1771–1787.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.




The Impacts of Immigrant Status on the Nation’s Youngest

The ever-growing immigrant population in the United States1 calls for an increase in our understanding of how immigrants participate in United States society how our society can be molded in a way that accommodates this significant portion of the population.  Inundated by the  political turmoil and anti-immigration rhetoric of today, perhaps the most important immigrant population to focus on is those who are growing up in the thick of it all: the children.   As of 2013, one-fifth of children in United States schools came from immigrant families, a number that is expected to grow2.  These individuals have the potential to become the leaders, teachers and change makers of the future, but this cannot and will not happen given the systems we have in place.  So, how can we best serve these children?  What barriers stand in their way?

The topic of best-practice for immigrant children can get muddled by the individual and group differences within this population.  The relationship between the context of the receiving culture a child enters into, and the heritage culture that their family has come from plays a significant role in their development both inside and outside of the classroom3.  For example, developmental theory describes that the more similar the heritage and receiving culture are, the easier it will be for an immigrant to integrate into society3.  This notion has significant implications in terms of schooling, even if the immigrant child is a United States citizen.  Take the fundamental issue of race for example, a factor that can have a phenomenal impact on the perceptions of students in the classroom.  The current anti Mexican rhetoric, and the deeply rooted racial prejudice of our nation systematically disadvantages immigrant students of color, compared to those that may pass as white3.  Our cultural preference for “whiteness”, situates those immigrants who are white or who may pass as white more in line with the norms of United States culture, thereby easing their integration into it3.

In looking at cultural norms and expectations, if both parent and child understand the interworking’s of their receiving society, active parent participation within the educational system is more likely to occur3,4.  One of those expectations is the ability to speak English4.  The inability of a parent to effectively speak English, places a barrier along the path to their active participation to their child’s education.  Active parental participation has been shown to bolster student motivation and performance, thereby, disadvantaging immigrant students with non-English speaking parents.  Although sentiments about schooling, and the motivation to do well may vary by immigrant generation1,2, the general belief of immigrant students is one that acknowledges the importance of English profiencency4.  While bilingual education programs do exist within many United States schools, they vary in effectiveness, and are challenging to create and regulate based on the differences in language ability and the scope of the students they serve4.

Issues such as the relationship between heritage and host culture apply to most all immigrant students, but one group within this population that experiences additional barriers to optimal development are those that are unauthorized.  The term ‘unauthorized immigrant’ refers to an individual who is not legal United States citizen but is rather living in the United States in a state of never-ending uncertainty5.  As of 2011 nearly one-fourth of all immigrants living in United States society were undocumented5, pointing to the challenges of gaining United States citizenship.  If it were so easy to become a citizen, why would one fourth of the population be undocumented?  The constant worry of being deported yourself, or having a parent be deported adds an additional psychological burden to daily life as a student, making it more challenging to relate to and interact with those around you5.  Policies such as The Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals act, otherwise known as DACA, intend to lessen some of these burden’s by providing protection for children who immigrated to the United States as children.  These individuals, having never gaining citizenship, are protected from deportation and allowed to work and often attend college in the United States.  Although the mission of DACA is to help, because of a lack of bipartisan support since its introduction its future is uncertain leaving many students in a state of fear and ambiguity as to whether their DACA status will be maintained or if they are at risk of deportation5.

In order to create the most conducive environment for the successful personal and educational development of immigrant children, a deeper understanding of these issues is essential1,4.  If educators are not aware of the unique psychological stressors and societal barriers facing immigrant students both documented and undocumented, there is no way to improve their experience and advance society.


  1. Marks, A. K., Ejesi, K., & García Coll, C. (2014). Understanding the U.S. immigrant paradox in childhood and adolescence. Child Development Perspectives, 8(2), 59–64.
  2. Greenman, E. (2013). Educational attitudes, school peer context, and the “immigrant paradox” in education. Social Science Research, 42(3), 698–714.
  3. Schwartz, S. J., Unger, J. B., Zamboanga, B. L., & Szapocznik, J. (2010). Rethinking the concept of acculturation: Implications for theory and research. American Psychologist, 65(4), 237–251.
  4. Suárez-Orozco, C., Suárez-Orozco, M. M., & Todorova, I. (2008). Learning a new land: Immigrant students in American society. Cambridge, MA, US: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press. (The Challenge of Language Acquisition)
  5. Suárez-Orozco, C., Yoshikawa, H., Teranishi, R. T., & Suárez-Orozco, M. M. (2011). Growing up in the shadows: The developmental implications of unauthorized status. Harvard Educational Review, 81(3), 438–472.

Developmental Psychology, US Immigration, and Attitudes Towards Immigrants

The United States has long been regarded as a hub for cultural and ethnic diversity.  Some may consider it a ‘melting pot’ while others may opt for a ‘mosaic’ or ‘salad bowl’ in their metaphoric depictions, but the idea remains much the same: different people with different ideas coming together.  Is the issue of immigration as simple as these words may describe?  In short, the answer is no.  Since the early 19th century, the United States has experienced successive waves of immigration from all over the world, with the current post 1960’s wave being the most massive1.  As of 2013, the United States had approximately 39.9 million immigrants2, with growing populations from Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and the Middle East1.  When thinking about people coming into America, it is important to understand what we mean by the term ‘immigrant’.  Immigrants are individuals who leave their home country voluntarily because of a want to go somewhere else permanently.  This can be for any number of reasons, including a job offer, marriage, enhancement in opportunities, or simply because they believe the benefits of immigrating outweigh the benefits of staying in their home country1.  This term is different from others you may have heard such as ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker’ as these designations describe people who migrate from their home countries involuntarily, not because they want to but because they feel as if they have to.  Questions about the actual experience of immigration, and what happens to immigrants once they arrive in a new country are innumerable, as these experiences are extremely multifaceted1.  One avenue that can be explored in terms of immigrant experience, is its impacts on human development.

As human beings, we are growing and changing from the moment we are conceived, to the moment we die.  This is development.  How we develop is a result of our individual personalities and our interactions with the world around us3.  For immigrants, this process intertwined with issues surrounding race/ethnicity, cultural background, age, language, and time of immigration1.  All of these things affect the ability of an immigrant to interact with United States society.  Although there are certainly developmental experiences that are consistent across all immigrant populations such as the need to find balance between home culture and new culture, placing all immigrants into one descriptive box is not helpful2.  For example, the experience of a white immigrant from Canada who speaks English is going to be drastically different from a person of color from Iran who speaks little English4.  Similarly, the experience of a two-year-old immigrating from China, is likely going to be much different than their parent once in the United States2.

One of the most important contributing factors to the experience of an immigrant in their new country is the current rhetoric surrounding their specific immigrant population.  Although the United States has always had a preference for whiteness1, an attitude that is openly endorsed in today’s presidential administration, the ideas surrounding specific immigrant groups are subject to change. For example, the events of 9/11, lead to a phenomenal increase in the presence of islamophobia, an effect that still lives on today.  Fast-forward to 2018 and examine the more current negative rhetoric surrounding Mexican immigrants as is similarly promoted by the Trump administration.  The dominant cultural ideas at the time of immigration play a phenomenal role in the experience of the immigrant2.

The interaction between immigrant and their environment in each of the situations described above serve to tremendously impact development3.  Specifically, prolonged interactions such as those between parent and child, and peers in a school setting play a crucial role in the development of both immigrant attitudes about themselves, as well as attitudes about immigrants amongst native born citizens3,5.  So what does all of this mean for immigrants?  How can those living in United States society make their experience better?  Researchers are consistently attempting to construct new models to describe the strategies that immigrants develop as they integrate into U.S society3.  The most important thing we can do as active citizens is talk to each other.  Parents play a key role in the construction of their children’s attitudes surrounding immigrants, specifically in early adolescence, but once this period passes, peer influence plays the larger role5.  By encouraging children to think positively of immigrants and encouraging the formation of friendships between native born Americans and their immigrant counterparts, in most cases, prejudice against immigrant groups will decrease6.  Through further research and conversation, the United States can become a more inclusive environment for all of its citizens.


  1. Schwartz, S. J., Unger, J. B., Zamboanga, B. L., & Szapocznik, J. (2010). Rethinking the concept of acculturation: Implications for theory and research. American Psychologist, 65(4), 237–251.
  2. APA Presidential Taskforce on Immigration (2013). Crossroads: The psychology of immigration in the new century. Journal of Latina/O Psychology, 1(3), 133–148.
  3. 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.
  4. García Coll, C., Lamberty, G., Jenkins, R., McAdoo, H. P., Crnic, K., Wasik, B. H., & Garcia, H. V. (1996). An integrative model for the study of developmental competencies in minority children. Child Development, 67(5), 1891–1914.
  5. Gniewosz, B., & Noack, P. (2015). Parental influences on adolescents’ negative attitudes toward immigrants. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44(9), 1787-1802.
  6. Zalk, M. H. W., & Kerr, M. (2014). Developmental trajectories of prejudice and tolerance toward immigrants from early to late adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(10), 1658–1671.

Halle’s Biography

I am a college senior at Dickinson College originally from Portland, Oregon.  My interests lie in a variety of things such as organizational psychology, human interaction, and education policy.  After graduation I hope to return to the west coast and do some sort of work in human resources, but I have no idea where the wind will take me! I love to travel, cook, eat the food that I cook, and explore nature.  I also love children.  I am an active member of the organization Big Brother Big Sisters, and I am also the Education chairwoman of my sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma.