Supporting Our Immigrant Families

By: Eileen Kugler


The work of schools is to teach children. Yet schools do not operate in a vacuum. They reflect what is happening around them. And in many communities, immigrant families are living in fear, not knowing whether they will be able to remain in the country from day-to-day.

Teachers and counselors reported students weepy or disengaged. In some communities, student attendance dropped off with parents afraid to even bring their children to school.

In my work with diverse schools around the country, I’ve seen an impact that extends far beyond the students who may not have documentation. Even if a student was born in the United States, one or both parents might not have documentation. Even if both parents are legal residents, a close relative or friend is often concerned about immigration status. Even families with legal documentation are fearful of visiting family outside the United States, concerned that reentry requirements are in flux. And in our multicultural communities, even a student whose family dates back generations likely has friends with immigration concerns.

Schools can have an impact on students and their families today by taking intentional action:

Six Things Educators Can Do

* Make school a place where families feel safe, welcome and valued. Principal coffees, parent resource centers, and family-friendly school events send the message that the family has an important place at school. Provide opportunities for safe dialogue.

* Classrooms should be a place of stability and security for students. No matter what else is happening beyond school, students and families should know that teachers, staff and administrators are there every day to teach and nurture every child.

*Provide a nonjudgmental listening ear for families struggling with immigration concerns. Educators can help families sort through challenging issues and prepare documents, such as a Family Plan in case a parent is detained or deported.

*Be a resource, providing families with information about their legal rights and connecting them to social services and professional legal advisors.(Materials of family and school rights can be found on the AFT website.)

*Teach nonpartisan fact-based lessons on immigration, like those found on Share My Lesson.

Eileen discusses these issues in depth in the upcoming article “Supporting Families in a Time of Fear” in the September 2017 issue of Educational Leadership.

Eileen Kugler is a global speaker, trainer and award-winning author on diversity and equity in education.

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