7 Key Newcomer Support Strategies for Navigating School
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NOTE: This article was originally published by edWeb based on content shared during a webinar about successful newcomer support strategies for K12 educations.

Settling into the U.S. as a newcomer is challenging. It requires learning and adapting to new systems and institutions, especially schools. Navigating the transition to school calls for inclusive and welcoming practices that immigrant families can also inform.

In the edLeader Panel “Strategies to Help Newcomer Families Navigate School,” America Lopez, Community Health Worker for Volunteers in Medicine and a former school parent liaison, shared her role as a community leader and advocate in shaping ways schools embrace and empower newcomer families.

Building a Community of Knowledge

Lopez knows the struggles immigrant families face with school. As a newcomer, she was overwhelmed when enrolling her daughter in kindergarten. She relied on a friend to guide her through the process. The experience launched Lopez’s efforts to support parental involvement among newcomers similarly, beginning with informal outreach events to activism in schools.

She shared strategies that, based on her experience, schools might implement to support immigrant families.

Create Informative Communications and Resources

Design accessible materials to provide vital information about systems, practices, and policies. Lopez introduced a sample welcome card (translated into other languages) with school registration information—a contact person with a phone number, a “conversation starter,” and a note about language support.

An image of a school letter, demonstrating how information resources are an effective type of newcomer support.

Produce a comprehensive induction manual with vital information for families including phone numbers, grade assignments, details on the legal implications of not attending school, etc.

Become a Familiar Community Presence

Attend community events to learn who aids families and explore partnerships with those entities to reinforce school-based support.

Establish School-Based Gathering Spaces

Sponsor events that bring together families and teachers while giving families a view of the school’s physical structure. A school can also offer space—the gymnasium for an immigrant center or the sports field for a community pickup soccer game.

Engage Families with Curiosity and Openness

Be curious about families’ lives. Ask questions about their backgrounds, interests, experiences, educational perceptions, and who supports them (i.e., other family members).

Make Language Support a Priority

Ensure language access and support across engagement efforts. Recognize that families come from different countries and others in their school or district may not speak their language. If so, search for someone who does or partner with a receiving agency or family to offer interpretation and translation services.

Announce Change

Announce changes (schedule shifts, new grading systems, etc.) in understandable ways and with essential information before they occur. Schools can refer families to community partners for additional guidance where needed.

Involve a Parent Liaison

Hire a parent liaison, a bridge between families and the school who enhances communication and partnership. The liaison advances new support strategies, influences principals, launches programs and services, partners with other liaisons to inform district best practices, and advocates for newcomer inclusion and empowerment.

Advocacy and Organizing: Empowering Immigrant Families

As Lopez became more entrenched in school and work with families, she began to empower parents to share and act on their concerns and needs. This work was prompted by immigrants’ struggles with online learning during the pandemic. Lopez discovered that children in several districts were not participating in the online environment because families did not understand how the platforms (not in Spanish) worked.

An organizing group of which Lopez was a member invited a school leader to a meeting to listen to parents’ online learning struggles. The group then presented at a school in another district to rally for parents with similar challenges. The school listened: It hired translators and provided closed captions. Empowered parents realized that what they say matters.

Schools, emphasized Lopez, should provide spaces for parents’ voices—online meet-up groups, family surveys, affinity groups, etc. Districts can attend gatherings to hear family concerns, needs, and desires to construct supportive school communities that parents help shape. Such efforts are empowering and further engagement.

To embrace newcomer families, schools would do best to recognize and build on their experience and knowledge, making them powerful change agents.

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