“Everybody’s Classroom”: Research & Social Action Project
I have spent the 2020-2021 academic year working on my project titled “Everybody’s Classroom” to investigate and help combat the inequity faced by immigrant students. Even though the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees deems education essential for rehabilitation and success for immigrants and refugees, immigrant students in the United States face barriers to their education through school systems and environments that are exclusionary towards and discriminatory against immigrant students, parents, and communities as well as teachers that are unequipped to meet their needs. When investigating how schools fail their immigrant students and what can be done to combat said failures, my research found that immigrant students face inequities due to two main categories: inequitable resource distribution and lacking cultural proficiency. The later category can be subsequently categorized by lacking networks and relationships between immigrants and educators and inadequate teacher preparation programs that do not equip teachers to meet all their students’ needs. Both of these main categories of inequities faced by immigrant students were addressed in my social action project. My project worked to help combat inequitable resource distribution by executing a needs assessment with a local non-profit organization that works with immigrant youth to help offset these disparities. This project also worked to combat lacking cultural proficiency by presenting students at the aforementioned non-profits with opportunities to share their stories and experiences on journalism platforms to help increase the cultural proficiency of their broader communities.
Given the inequities faced by students who are immigrants from countries where English is not the primary language, how can education systems and community partners ensure that teacher trainings and relationships between schools and immigrant communities most benefit the emotional, social, and academic success of students who are immigrants to the United States from countries where English is not the primary language?
Research suggests that immigrant students face systemic and individualized inequities as it pertains to success and support within the United States Education System. Without the necessary cultural proficiency and responsiveness, teachers whose experiences differ from that of their students are unable to understand and subsequently meet the needs of said students. Both insufficient teacher training programs and limited, or all together lack of, networks between the educators and immigrants limit teachers’ abilities to bridge the debts and remedy the inequities between students, which, in addition to inequitable resource distribution, disproportionately and negatively impacts immigrant and other minority and marginalized students and their success.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, education is essential for social and emotional rehabilitation of children in new cultures who have experienced unique trauma such as immigrant children (McBrien). However, immigrant students face challenges and barriers to academic success and development as well as trauma and associated risk factors that differ from that of their teachers and classmates (McNeely; McBrien). School system privileges certain characteristics, experiences, and identities which disproportionately disadvantages minority students including immigrant students. The subsequent distribution of resources and power of educators and policymakers likewise disproportionately benefits students who are not immigrants (Domina). When teachers aren’t equipped to critically and actively confront the inequities that immigrant students face and don’t have the same experiences as nor the cultural proficiency to understand the experiences of their students, immigrant students (who often do not have the same socioeconomic advantages of their peers born in the U.S.) struggle in the United States education system.
- Education systems and their educators are responsible for the environments established within their jurisdictions. Thus, by gaining a better understanding of the inequities that immigrant students face and the means by which to begin to remedy these disparities, educators and education systems can better implement measures to support the success of their immigrant students.
- Troy Boddy, Director of the Montgomery County Public Schools Equity Initiatives Unit: Interviewed October 21.
- Through his work as a former public school teacher and with the Equity Initiatives Unit, Boddy uses research regarding the inequities that students, including immigrant students, face to create programming and policies to make the Montgomery County Public Schools more equitable.
- Bren Elliott, D.C. Public Schools Chief of School Improvement and Supports: Has not responded to inquiry for interview.
- Elliot works within the D.C. public school system to create programs and policies to address and remedy the inequities that minority and marginalized students face within the school system.
- Immigrant Communities (leaders, parents, students)
- With a greater understanding of the inequitable systems within which immigrants are educated, members of immigrant communities and immigrant communities as a whole can better advocate for and support immigrant students within the United States Education System.
- Lupi Quintero-Grady, President & CEO of the Latin American Youth Center: Has not responded to inquiry for interview.
- Quintero-Grady works with immigrant students to help them overcome the barriers and struggles that they face at school. By better understanding the disparities between the struggles of immigrant students and those of non-immigrant students, Quintero-Grady will be able to better advocate for immigrant students and help immigrant students advocate for themselves.
- Law and Policy Makers
- The fundamentals of educational policy involve “understanding and manipulating unequal educational categories” (Domina, 325). When educational policies have the potential to be manipulated to benefit already advantaged students, it’s essential that we harness this opportunity to understand inequities and to make research-based decisions to move the power and resource imbalances to more equitably benefit disadvantaged students such as immigrant students.
Appraisal of Past Solutions
- Teacher Preparation Programs
- While teachers must be prepared to teach diverse classrooms with students whose experiences differ from their own, most current teacher training programs are not sufficient to give teachers the skills and knowledge necessary to lead or teach diverse classrooms. Most of these state and school district programs fail to address the cultural proficiency and anti-racism necessary to support marginalized and minority students, including immigrant students.
- Relationship Cultivation between Students and Teachers to Train Teachers
- In the Montgomery Public Schools System, the Equity Initiatives Unit worked with a local elementary school to implement a club where students are given the opportunity to help train their teachers by telling them about their personal experiences. This program helped strengthen relationships between teachers and marginalized students, increase the cultural proficiency and awareness of teachers, and open pathways for students, including immigrant students, to advocate for themselves.
- Specialized Support for Immigrants
- Some U.S. elected officials claim that, for the benefit of the U.S., immigrants must be financially self-sufficient: including resources within the education system. However, research finds that increased proportions of immigrant students and subsequent resource distribution does not negatively impact any group of students (Pivovarova and Powers). Thus, supporting immigrant students only serves to improve classroom environments and the United States as a whole.
- Removal of Immigrants from Public Schools
- In 1982, a Texas law attempted to limit education to school aged youth based on their immigration status. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this law unconstitutional as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (“Access to Education”).
After researching and gaining a greater understanding of where schools fail their immigrant students, my project will address the two main themes:
- Inequitable resource distribution
- Inadequate cultural proficiency of teachers
To address the first theme, I will work with the Latin American Youth Center in Washington, D.C. to fulfill a resource-based needs assessment using grant money from the American University Center for Community Engagement and Service’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Grant to provide more resources for immigrant students. To address the second theme, I will work with Inés Rénique, the associate producer of the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU, American University’s NPR affiliate radio station. With Ms. Rénique, I will attempt to establish interview opportunities for the students at the Latin American Youth Center to elevate the cultural proficiency of listeners, specifically teachers and peers.
Ultimately, I was able to achieve both of these goals and consider this project a success. With the help of George Garcia, the Director of Education and Workforce at the Latin American Youth Center, I was able to allocate $902 from the EagleEndowment MLK grant to fulfill a needs assessment created in partnership with the Latin American Youth Center. This needs assessment was able to provide school supplies for students such as notebooks and highlighters, art supplies for student’s arts and crafts bags, and technology such as a wifi hotspot and headphones to help students thrive in their online environments. With the help of Inés Rénique, I was able to set up an interview opportunity for students to be interviewed about their academic experiences during the COVID pandemic on the Kojo Nnamdi show. After working with Mr. Garcia, we were unfortunately unable to find students available for interview at the time the Kojo Show was being recorded. However, merely providing students with the opportunities to share their stories and respecting their needs warrants a success for the second portion of my project.