Educational needs of immigrant and refugee students

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This literary review examines what educators are doing to assist the influx of foreign students, what tools they use in class, and how these students perceive treatment by other students in class. In this article, I include examinations from a series of articles that relate to the topic I chose in class, which are the educational needs of immigrants and refugee students. In order to understand what these needs are, I selected articles that address the needs of immigrant and refugee students, and focused on what teachers develop in their classroom to facilitate those needs. This literary review also addresses the effectiveness of dual language programs for immigrant/refugee students, and how educators can reach these students effectively utilizing the dual language model.

Educational needs of immigrant and refugee students: Are teachers meeting the needs of these students?

"An immigrant leaves his homeland to find greener grass. A refugee leaves his homeland because the grass is burning under his feet"- Barbara Law

Teachers in classrooms today face an ever-changing, more difficult challenge than those who taught in previous generations. The culture of students in class changes every year, making it complicated for educators to reach the unfamiliar ground effectively. As an educational society, we have not seen the demographics of students change more since the influx of immigrants in the early 1900's. During the past 20 years, the amount of foreign speaking students in a typical public school has doubled, if not tripled in size (Goldenberg, 2008). According to Kugler, E. G. (2009), the population of immigrant children in the classroom stands at 10.8 million students. With that said, the question remains as to how teachers reach the new immigrant and refugee students. This literature review addresses the needs of the changing environment in which teachers and students cohabitate together on a daily basis, how teachers reach students with language barriers, and complications that both parties face daily.

What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant?

In order to understand the basis for this article, one must first understand the concept of refugee and immigrant. According to Colorín Colorado (2008), refugees are individuals who fled their lands in fear of persecution due to personal, religious or political beliefs, in search of a safe haven. Immigrants are people that migrant to a different country in search of a more suitable job opportunity, living situation, or a desire to move closer to extended family. The major difference in a refugee and an immigrant is that refugees leave their country in a hurry, whereas the immigrant plans the move ahead of time. According to Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, educators define immigrant students as such, "individuals who are aged 3 through 21; were not born in any state; and have not been attending one or more schools in any one or more states for more than 3 full academic years" (SDCOE, 2010).

What parts of the world are immigrants and refugees coming from?

This question poses large relevance to the manner in which teachers address the needs of students arriving from different countries. The needs of these students vary by country and status of which they enter the U.S. During the 1980's, there were a vast number of refugees entering the United States from Latin American countries, some arrived from Asia, and a handful came from the Caribbean islands. Statistics shows that over 85% over refugees arriving from this decade were from Latin American countries (Jensen & Chitose, 1994). During the 1990's, the arrival of refugees came primarily from countries involved in conflicts such as Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan (McBrien, 2005). In 2003, the approved refugee applications came from similar countries to United states during the 1990's influx, Bosnia (3,874), Afghanistan (1,635), Sudan (1,054), while the majority of applicants received were from the country of Somalia (24,458) (McBrien, 2005).

What are the needs of immigrant and refugee students?

Students who arrive from other countries requesting educational services from American teachers have many educational needs. This need varies by culture, and depends upon the services each student received in his/her home country. Many students from other countries have difficulty in reading abilities. This problem worsens when trying to grasp reading concepts in the English language. In researching this, Goldenberg states that students who learn to read in his/her first language are far more effective in grasping English language reading concepts, than those who have no reading ability at all. Teachers must use sensitivity when attempting to help foreign students in their reading ability, as these students will be discouraged if they are corrected too often, or too soon when learning English. Educators must approach instruction of reading concepts to foreign students with caution, and allow for extra time when completing assignments (Goldenberg, 2008).

One critical need that refugee students have when he/she arrives here in the United States is mental health care. These refugee students bring emotional baggage to the classroom, and many teachers and counselors do not have the resources available to assist these students as the language spoken creates a barrier. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a common problem found in refugee students, and affects the student's performance in school (Kugler, E.G, 2009). Due to the residency status of these students, many are unable to receive treatment for this disorder, or are afraid to divulge personal information to others, as he/she fears deportation back to the home country (Kugler, E.G, 2009).

Not only is there a mental health care need within refugee students, but also a need for basic resources available to each family. When arriving here in the United States, students often have difficulty finding a school close to where the family is staying. Once the student finds a school close to home, the next hurdle is the school accepting the documentation on each learner. There are no pamphlets or handouts given to families when arriving in the States, and many do not have any personal contacts each family can rely on for assistance with education placement.

Immigrant students that arrive in the U.S often acquire the English language quicker than their adult parents do. This causes the student to take on the responsibility of an adult, where he/she is often in charge of helping negotiate finances, health decisions, and family affairs (Kugler & Price, 2009).

The needs of immigrant and refugee students are a very multifaceted situation, that teachers cannot handle simply utilizing the ELL classroom resources. These students need to build their knowledge in core content areas also. Educators and administrators must not shelter these students from mainstream classroom culture, as it will hinder their ability to acculturate into English culture. The more exposure these students receive in English on a day-to day basis, the quicker they acquire these skills (Goldenberg, 2008).

There is another need that immigrant and refugee students have when arriving in the U.S. These students understand the role they possess in his/her home culture, yet when arriving in the classroom, there is much confusion as to how these students fit in our society. The parents of immigrant/refugee students may not have the adequate time to ensure that the student knows how to act in the new culture, which leads to confusion and unease for the student. The teacher plays a large role in assisting with finding resources to help familiarize each immigrant/refugee student in understanding classroom roles for students.

Some immigrant/refugee students who travel to United States for various reasons have specific needs when they appear in the classroom. One such group that researchers continue to study is the Hmong-American students that intermix with the mainstream English speaking population. These students have increased in numbers at an exponential rate since 1975, when they first started arriving from their home country of Laos (Vang, 2005). California has a large number of these students in their school system, tallying about 36,000 Hmong students, with about 85% of these having limited English proficiency (Vang, 2005). In order for these students to show success in the school system, educators and administrators must first address needs for the Hmong population.

The need for these students is assistance from translator or teacher that speaks the Hmong language. Hmong students initially received placement in ESL classrooms, as administrators felt teachers might effectively reach them. Administrative staff placed Hmong students in these classes under the assumption that these students do not excel, and with no desire to further their education in college (Vang, 2005). Administrators also felt that these students, although not entering college, needed skills to survive in the workplace. Hmong students received placement in classes that geared the students toward workplace success, with the goal of minimum graduation requirements fulfilled. For administrators and educators in these situations, it is vital that they refrain from grouping students in certain classes, based upon the perceived ability each student possesses. These students must receive objective placement in classes that addresses the Hmong population need.

How do teachers effectively address each of these needs?

In developing strategies that teachers use to help immigrant and refugee students adapt to the new classroom culture, the first thing a teacher must incorporate is effective management skills. Teachers must re-invent styles of teaching in order to reach each foreign-born student, and understand each student's cultural background. It is important for teachers to develop activities that encourage students to learn not only in his/her native language, yet also build on what they already understand (Curran, Mary Elizabeth, 2003).

In a research article found, analysts report that utilizing a dual-language program is helpful for immigrant and refugee students (Goldenberg, 2008). This concept involves students using their home language in the morning to learn subject material, and then in the afternoon using English while learning different content areas (Goldenberg, 2008). This teaching concept is known as a dual language program in many states. Here in Nebraska, the dual language program provides opportunities for both English and foreign language learners.

Where do teachers fail in reaching the needs of immigrant and refugee students?

With the vast influx of immigrant and refugee students arriving in the classroom over the past two decades, the challenge to give these students proper education has proven difficult for many teachers in any grade level. There are several problems when attempting to reach the immigrant and refugee students. The first issue is that the immigration/refugee population is not getting any smaller, and research shows that the amount of incoming immigrants to the number of native English speakers in the classroom grows at a rate of 4:1(Walker, A., Shafer, J., & Liams, M. 2004).

A second issue in which teachers and administrators fail to reach immigrant and refugee students is only teaching English in school, which does not allow assistance in foreign languages in these classrooms. The English only push in schools enables legislation that denies use of any other language than English within the classroom setting (Shunpiking, 1996). This limits the learning environment for those who are limited English proficient, and does nothing to promote success of these students. There are currently sixteen states that have "English only" laws in schools, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia (Shunpiking, 1996).

There is one area in which educators and administrators fail in meeting the needs of immigrant/refugee students that often many in society do not consider. In some areas of the U.S, these students do not receive enrollment in charter schools, yet these schools are often closest to where the immigrant/refugee students live. New York is one of the cities that struggles to ensure immigrant/refugee students have a place in their charter schools. A study done in January of 2010 by United Federation of Teachers found that only four percent of ELL students receive enrollment in charter schools within the neighborhood these students live in. This is in contrast to the citywide average of 14 percent that enroll in charter schools. Charter schools receive on average about 10 percent less students of free/reduced lunches than those schools on the district level.

How do teachers encourage refugee and immigrant students to succeed?

Helping refugee and immigrant students succeed not only takes place in the classroom setting, but can assist refugee/immigrant students and their families outside the class also. Teachers can tap into community resources available to the school that will help each immigrant/refugee family feel welcome. According to Colorín Colorado (2009), there are several things teachers can pursue to help students adapt within the new environment when arriving in the classroom. Below are the methods as listed on their website. The first is the teacher must educate him/herself about the new student. It is important to learn their culture, and from what country they originate. It is helpful for new students lowering their affective filter if the teacher allows each individual to share with the class their experiences. Below is a list by Colorín Colorado (2009), of things teachers should utilize to help welcome new immigrant and refugee students in class:

"Learn as much as you can about refugee students' cultures, and invite students to share their knowledge with their classmates. Develop a list of community resources such as food and clothing shelves, health care centers, and adult ESL classes. Have the information on hand to share at conferences or other family events. Consider what works best for the families - if they live in a concentrated area with a community center you may want to hold the meetings in their neighborhood. Be sure to have bilingual support, food and childcare. Federal funds can be used to provide transportation as well. For older students who need to develop initial literacy skills, work with other staff to provide age-appropriate materials that allows the students to practice their developing skills, but doesn't require them to complete activities designed for young children" (Colorín Colorado, 2009).

Are dual language programs effective for immigrant and refugee students?

The effectiveness of a dual language program in a given school system relies upon the acquired skills teachers possess in the program, and the ability to successfully reach each student. In Texas, administrators tout this program with a mark of success in their school systems.