What strategy do you think has the GREATEST impact in assisting students who are recent immigrants best transition into their new school environments?

Voices from the Field is a place for administrators, teachers, school support staff, community, and family members to (1) share what you think by responding to a polling question, (2) see what others think by viewing the poll’s results, (3) learn what experts think by reading a short post that includes references and related resources, and (4) share your own experiences by posting comments on safe supportive learning topics.

What strategy do you think has the GREATEST impact in assisting students who are recent immigrants best transition into their new school environments?

Learn What Experts Think

Have you ever experienced feeling like an outsider, maybe as a tourist or as a new resident in an unfamiliar area?  If so, you may recall feelings of frustration and uneasiness that you experienced when adjusting to different customs, routines, and possibly different forms of communication that were foreign to you. These experiences are a daily challenge for students who are recent immigrants to the United States. Despite the difficulties, these students can demonstrate their greatest potential when provided with adequate support and acceptance from their communities and families. In fact, did you know that this year, two of the students who were accepted into all 8 Ivy League schools immigrated to the United States while in elementary school (Jacobs, 2015)?

Although these extraordinary students achieved such remarkable goals as a result of their merit, hard work, dedication, and family support, their school environment also played a role in getting them to where they are today.

Schools present an environment filled with challenges for students who have recently immigrated, particularly for those entering high school (Garrett, 2006).  While in school, these students can face difficulties in adjusting to different teaching methods, ways of learning, languages and developing an understanding of their self-identity (Garrett, 2006; Cone et al., 2013). Some students can experience conflicting pressure from school and home as they assimilate into their new surroundings (Cone et al., 2013; Njue and Retish, 2010).  Therefore, it is vital for schools to develop the capacities for creating an environment that can facilitate healthy adjustments and enable students to thrive in their new surroundings.

How can schools meet the needs of students who have recently immigrated?

Although many students who are recent immigrants have strong familial support, many have experienced stress and disconnection caused by long-term separations from their parents or other relatives prior to immigrating (Center for Health and Health Care in Schools, 2011). In addition, some newly immigrated students come from families dealing with past traumas due to social, political and economic persecution, violence or natural disasters, which may have caused them to leave their country of origin (Bershad, 2011). Thus, there are many mental and physical health challenges that emerge during their settlement period. Many of these families lack health insurance as well as information on how to access resources for their children (Bershad, 2011; Center for Health and Health Care in Schools, 2011; Mermin, 2006).

When these students are in school, educators and other school personnel can make a significant impact in helping these families adjust. Research conducted by the Education Development Center, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools has identified some ideas to apply with students in your classroom and school, which may run parallel to existing ESOL and academic supports.

  • Demonstrate sensitivity among school staff for different cultures and traditions.
  • Create a welcoming and warm environment that respects diversity and inclusion. 
  • Identify/implement strategies that can facilitate engagement and inclusion of students, and families from diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • Identify the strengths, differences and needs of individual students.
  • Consider leading classroom discussions or lessons on topics about American culture and customs, including guest speakers from outreach programs in the community.
  • Create opportunities for students to share information about their cultural backgrounds.
  • Develop a network or “bank” of resources, including language/translation help, cultural resources, outreach opportunities, and other staff in the school such as ESOL teachers and school counselors.
  • Provide ample opportunities for parents to become more involved with the school whether it is as volunteers, participants on school advisory boards, or guest speakers.

Why is addressing the needs of students who are recent immigrants important?

As educators and as Americans, we have the legal responsibility to ensure that all students are provided equal access to quality education regardless of their immigration status (IDRA, 2015).  Today, approximately 20% of students enrolled in U.S. public schools are recent immigrants and refugees (Bershad, 2011).  Meanwhile, approximately 5 million, 9% of students, in U.S. public schools are English learners (US Department of Education, 2015). Although many students who have recently immigrated are able to excel academically, this population, as a whole, is still underperforming and attaining lower graduation rates than their peers (Hooker, 2013; Hooker, Fix & McHugh, 2014).  To ensure that these students are given the appropriate support to excel, it is important to develop strategies and plans on how to best assist students who have recently immigrated during their adjustment period.

Related Resources

We encourage you to explore this topic further. Here is a selection of resources for supporting students who are recent immigrants.

National Council of La Raza (Includes resources that address improving academic achievement among Latino students) 


National Immigration Law Center (Provides information on helping students apply for services under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program) 


U.S Department of Education (Offers educational resources for new arrivals & DACA students)


Welcoming America (Provides tips on how to welcome refugees in communities)


National Center for Family & Community Connections with Schools (Offers tips on what schools can do to reach diverse populations)


Warchild Learning Resources (Includes modules, information and training for life skills facilitators working with diverse populations) 


Limited English Proficiency (LEP): A Federal Interagency Website (Provides resources for teachers working with English Learners) 




Bershad, C. (2011). Strategies for engaging immigrant and refugee families. Retrieved from: http://www.promoteprevent.org/sites/www.promoteprevent.org/files/resources/strategies_for_engaging_immigrant_and_refugee_families_2.pdf

Cone, N., Buxton, C., Lee, O., Mahotiere, M. (2014). Negotiating a sense of identity in a foreign land: Navigating public school structures and practices that often conflict with Haitian culture and values. Urban Education. 49(3), 263-296

Center for Health and Health Care is Schools. (2011). Children of immigrants and refugees: What the research tells us. Retrieved from: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED509811.pdf

Hooker, S. Fix, M., McHugh, M. (2014). Education reform in a changing Georgia: Promoting high school and college success for immigrant youth. National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. Retrieved from: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/education-reform-changing-georgia-promoting-high-school-and-college-success-immigrant-youth

Hooker S., McHugh, M., Fix, M., Capps, R. (2013). Shaping our futures: The educational and career success of Washington State’s immigrant youth. National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. Retrieved from: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/shaping-our-futures-educational-and-career-success-washington-states-immigrant-youth

Jacobs, P. (2015). An elite group of students accepted to all 8 Ivy League schools have one thing in common. Business Insider. Retrieved from: http://www.businessinsider.com/students-accepted-to-all-8-ivy-league-schools-have-one-specific-thing-in-common-2015-4

Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA). (2015). Immigrant students’ rights to attend public schools. Retrieved from: http://www.idra.org/resource-center/immigrant-studentsae-rights-to-attend-public-schools-2/

McNeely, C., Sprecher, K., Bates, D. (2010). Comparative case study of caring across communities. Center for the Study of Youth and Political Violence. Retrieved from: http://www.healthinschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/CACFinalEvalreport.pdf

Njue, J., Retish, P. (2010). Transitioning: Academic and social performance and African immigrant students in an American high school. Urban Education. 45(3), 347-370

Perry. L.S. (2006). Living in America: Challenges facing new immigrants and refugees. Retrieved from: http://research.policyarchive.org/21623.pdf

U.S Department of Education. (2015). U.S Departments of Education and Justice release joint guidance to ensure English learner students have equal access to high-quality education. Retrieved from: https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-departments-education-and-justice-release-joint-guidance-ensure-english-learner-students-have-equal-access-high-quality-education

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