From Home to School: Helping Immigrant Families Prepare for the American School System
Immigrants and refugees face complex challenges as they work to adapt to life in a new country. For those settling in the United States, a major hurdle is beginning to understand the school systems. Often bureaucratic and heavy with paperwork, these processes are typically new for families. And when those families aren’t fluent in English, the difficulty increases. One-on-one specialized support helps immigrant and refugee families and their children transition to life and school in the United States. Neighborhood House provides this support through the Home Visiting program, a subprogram of the Parent and Early Childhood Education (PECE) program.
Child Development Specialist Tracy meets individually with dozens of families each year as part of the Home Visiting program. Parents and their children ages 2 to 6 can participate in the free program and typically do so for a year.
During home visits, parents learn how they can support their child’s learning both in school and at home. Tracy explains, “My hope for parents is for them to feel empowered enough to embrace their roles as their child’s first and most important teacher.”
Through tactile activities focused on key early childhood development areas, children are guided on a path to future educational success. And Tracy makes learning fun. “I want students to develop a positive attitude toward school and view teachers, school, and learning as sources of joy,” she says. When students develop these attitudes at a young age, they maintain their academic interests as they grow.
Common areas of focus in a home visit include language development, child nutrition, kindergarten preparation, school choice, literacy, and safety. Parents are encouraged to bring their specific concerns to Tracy who can then tailor home visits to the family’s particular needs.
Adjusting to the American School System
Home visits are especially helpful for immigrant and refugee families adjusting to a new country, a new culture, a new language, new customs, and a new school system.
Unfortunately, relocation isn’t always just a fresh start. “Oftentimes, relocation comes with painful separations, trauma, and fear, especially for refugee families,” explains Tracy. And although schools may hope to be a welcoming place, there are unintended ways they can be alienating and further exacerbate trauma. With English being the primary language and a lack of multilingual mental health resources for children, immigrant and refugee families can’t always fully participate in their child’s education and development. “I worked with one mom who came from a culture where people didn’t write things down often or fill out forms, so she struggled with signing papers her child came home with or mailing in required school forms,” Tracy explains.
Home visits aim to be an intermediary between immigrant and refugee families and the American school system. The program is a resource for families to learn and adapt to new school processes and expectations, while also helping families advocate for themselves in their schools.
One Less Challenge
Because immigrants and refugees face complex challenges adapting to life in the United States, home visits aim to be a resource that alleviates at least one of those challenges: adapting to a new school system. And because every family is different, one-on-one support is needed to ensure that every parent and every child has the tools they need to succeed in school. The home visiting program’s goal is to improve outcomes for young children and lead to a lifetime of academic success. As Tracy explains, “Being able to survive and thrive in the American school system goes hand in hand with being able to survive and thrive in America as a whole.”