Supporting our students and immigrant families in turbulent times…

I’ve been in several buildings in the past months and I have seen first hand and heard from teachers in the field, that our students and immigrant families are stressed with the recent increased enforcement of immigration policies.

…And ‘stressed’ is putting it mildly.

No matter what your political affiliation is, supporting our students and making sure they feel safe in their learning environment is a primary concern for any educator. If children, even the big ones, being scared for their family’s security doesn’t tug at your heart strings then at least an understanding of the impact of stress on the learner’s brain should give us pause.

This issue became even more apparent when I attended a recent “Immigration 101” session held at ASC. Families of immigrants were in attendance to hear about their rights and how the latest immigration policies and enforcement are impacting families of students in our community. The thing that stands out when you are in a room full of immigrant families is the level of concern these parents and guardians have for their children. Many families are facing the realities of being torn apart by detainment or deportation. There was talk of creating a safety plan should a parent or guardian be picked up or detained by ICE. Sadly, many families have reached the conclusion to leave their children behind should the parents be deported.

I myself, cannot imagine the daily stress of not knowing if my parents were going to be home when I return from school. Some students, students who are here legally, born in the United States, have been asked by their peers “So when are you going back to (fill in the blank with assumed country of origin)?” Even when these questions aren’t intended maliciously, our students still suffer anxiety. Some high school students who are on a path to graduation and college are having to make difficult decisions. One student is facing a decision to continue on the education path he has worked hard to achieve in order to stop school entirely to work full time so money can be saved for his possible deportation.

So what can you do? What can any of us do? 

Dr. Catherine Carrison, EPS ELL Department Manager, recently gave a talk at the Evergreen Faith Based-Coffee. She shared the following advice to community members:

faith based coffee ELL

  •  Educate yourself so you can tell the “Counter Story” of our children and their families. People who don’t know our families like we do may not know or realize the value our immigrant families add to the fabric of our community. Emphasize the assets our diverse students bring to our classrooms. The media and politicians have their versions of who our students are, but we know them best. Knowing a student means caring about him or her as a human being, a person with a name and a story, not just a statistic.
  • Advocate for multilingualism and multiculturalism. Emerging bilinguals in our schools bring many assets to our classrooms and our community. Diversity in our classrooms promotes diversity and creativity in thinking and innovation. An important new study by economists Quamrul Ashraf of Williams College and Oded Galor of Brown University help us understand the economic benefits of a diverse population. “Cultural Diversity, Geographical Isolation and the Origin of the Wealth of Nations,” recently released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research. It finds that “the interplay between cultural assimilation and cultural diffusion have played a significant role in giving rise to differential patterns of economic development across the globe.” To put it in plain English: diversity spurs economic development and homogeneity slows it down.
  • Promote a message of advocacy and compassion for our children and their families. Be a “safe place.” This goes beyond our schools being safe-havens where ICE raids cannot legally occur without prior consent. This speaks to our attitudes and mindset about how we consistently work to build a sense of community and trust within each of our classrooms. Some great resources on restorative practices and mindfulness have been implemented in our buildings and the impact is evident. Learn more about these resources by contacting Carl Smith, EPS Special Services Assistant Director.
  • Pay attention to your government – WA State has more ELLs than all but seven other states (137,000+ or 10%). The old adage goes: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”. Use your voice and your vote in local elections and government agencies to promote your concerns and values.
  • Volunteer at your local school! As educators we obviously are not ‘volunteering’ our time but we can encourage more diverse community members to be in our classrooms. Contact your community liaisons to recruit  volunteers that can be models for diversity themselves and bring in community members to get to know the diverse learners in our classrooms.

Learn more about information for families and educators by following the links below:

Information for Families of Immigrants

Information for Educators about Immigrant Students

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