Strategies for Supporting Immigrant Students and Families

How to Build Partnerships with Immigrant Families

Learn how to build effective partnerships with immigrant families through communication, parent leadership, and culturally responsive outreach.

These strategies are part of the Colorín Colorado resource guide, How to Support Immigrant Students and Families: Strategies for Schools and Early Childhood Programs.

(It is best to) provide a summary of information in the family's native language. Assume that families may have to be given information multiple times in multiple formats (orally, written, follow up) before they know what to do, as the system is unfamiliar.

 – Educator response to a Colorín Colorado survey on how schools are supporting immigrant families


Overview

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Partnerships with the families of immigrant students and English language learners are critical to student success. In addition, schools are required to communicate with families in a language they understand. Here are some ideas for meeting those requirements, encouraging parent leadership, and building a greater network of support with community organizations.

Create different channels for communication in families' languages

Help families keep emergency contact information updated

Learn why it is critical to help ELL and immigrant families keep their emergency contact information updated and how to do so.

Why this matters

School districts are legally obligated to share information in a language that families understand. Families may also need information in different formats to understand it, especially if they have lower levels of literacy. By learning more about how families prefer to communicate, administrators can allocate resources and staff time more effectively.

In addition, it is critical to provide forms and documents in families' home languages to the extent possible, such as registration forms, home language surveys, and emergency contact forms. Keep in mind that the U.S. educational system will be new to families and they may have lots of questions on top of their questions about complex issues related to immigration.

Note: This is especially critical when it comes to questions of special education evaluation, services, or Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

Tips for getting started

Work with parent liaisons to determine how best to provide translated information and if your families prefer to communicate through:

  • in-person conversation
  • written handouts
  • email
  • websites
  • telephone hotlines or automated phone calls
  • text messages
  • social media
  • video-streaming events
  • partnerships with local community groups such as a house of worship

Posting information online

Posting translated information online increases families' access to resources from their own home. When you find out families' preferred methods of contact, you can find out how easily families can access information online and let them know where internet access is available.

Note: Providing a link to an online translator is not sufficient, as machine translators often mistranslate educational or context-specific words and phrases.

Recommended resources

Recommended videos

Video: Building parent relationships built on trust

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Revisit school data about immigrant students

Why this matters

Looking at student data can help identify patterns or experiences that may be affecting your families. While it is important not to make assumptions or ask for any information related to immigration status, the better you know your families, the better you'll be able to address their concerns. You may also find some patterns that surprise you, as in the case of this Illinois high school who realized that many immigrant students needed significant support in applying for college.

Tips for getting started

  • Revisit student data and talk with the staff who work with immigrant students to make sure you know who your immigrant students are, always protecting student privacy.
  • Remember that immigrant students may have diverse backgrounds/education levels.
  • You may wish to ask the following questions when you look at your data:

◦ What trends and commonalities are there within the different families?

◦ Do families represent different world regions, religions, and languages?

◦ How about educational backgrounds?

◦ Are there particular issues impacting families that need to be addressed?

It is also worthwhile to take a look at your state immigrant/ELL population. You can get started with the following data sources, as well as the immigration data resources in our introduction:

Finally, avoid making assumptions about what kinds of issues and challenges families are facing based on their background, country of origin, or languages spoken. For example, the DREAMer population is a diverse group; while the majority of DACA recipients are from Mexico and other Latin American countries, The Washington Post reports that tens of thousands of DACA recipients also come from countries such as South Korea, the Philippines, India, Jamaica, Tobago, Poland, and Pakistan. A significant number of DACA recipients are also high school students. (Read more in our section on the diversity among undocumented immigrants.)

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Encourage family leadership

Why this matters

Families can be tremendous allies and ambassadors for their community when given the chance. They also can provide helpful input on how to effectively meet other families' needs or address concerns. Principal Nathaniel Provencio says that one result of the uncertainty facing his families is that they are taking on more leadership roles in the school community.

Tips for getting started

  • Ask families what their questions and concerns are.
  • Form an advisory group of families to discuss these issues. Ask them to identify priorities and then draft recommendations for teachers, administrators or other leaders.
  • Invite families to school board meetings and encourage them to speak. Be sure to remind school districts to have interpreters available and encourage families to use them.
  • Take their input seriously, and don't ask for it until you are prepared to listen. It may be challenging at first, but well worth the learning curve.

Recommended resources

Recommended Videos

Video: Immigrant parents are rising to meet new challenges

Video Interview: Iveth Monterrosa, PTA President of Wolfe Street Academy in Baltimore, MD

 

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Create partnerships with community organizations

Why this matters

Beyond addressing questions of basic needs, other community partners that represent your families can be valuable allies, such as organizations with ties to local immigrants, houses of worship, and businesses. These organizations can help provide:

The role of libraries

Libraries can also play an important role in supporting immigrant families, as seen in these examples:

In addition, you can read about an innovative early literacy program designed to welcome immigrant families in the report Building Safe Community Spaces for Immigrant Families, One Library at a Time.

Community schools

Around the country, many schools are adopting the community school strategy, which develops partnerships in order to provide additional supports that can help students succeed. Learn more from our community school resource page, as well as our video project about how community schools can support ELL/immigrant families at Wolfe Street Academy in Baltimore, Maryland.

Tips for getting started

  • Create an asset map of valuable partners, opportunities, and resources in your community.
  • Talks with colleagues about which existing partnerships are working and new partnerships that make sense to pursue on behalf of your families.
  • Look for partners that can provide students with enrichment experiences.
  • Connect with other community leaders, such as faith leaders, non-profit leaders, political leaders, or business owners who wish to express their support for local immigrant communities. There may be ways to have a broader impact through partnerships and find solutions to local challenges (see the video below about Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and his community work in his hometown of Hazleton, PA).
  • As you bring people together, have some examples available of what other communities are doing.
  • Don't hesitate to turn down partnerships that aren't beneficial or appropriate for your community. For example, Principal Mark Gaither at Wolfe Street Community School shared with us that he has turned down partnerships that were not going to yield worthwhile results for his students and looked for more suitable options.

Recommended resources

Recommended videos

Video: How a Community School Helps ELLs Succeed

Video: Identify your resources and allies

Video playlist: How community schools support ELL/immigrant families

Video: Joe Maddon and the Hazleton Integration Project

This video was produced by NBC and is featured on the Reimagining Migration website.

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Parent engagement toolkits

A number of organizations have published toolkits focused on culturally responsive parent engagement with diverse families. Here are some of the highlights!

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References

See our complete reference list for works cited in this article.

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