Home visits utilized to enhance relationships for newly arrived students

According to experts, having in-person visits with newcomer students and their families outside of the classroom can establish meaningful connections between educators and families who are new to the country. This was discussed in a recent webinar hosted by the Institute for Educational Leadership and Welcoming America.

However, panelists emphasized that these visits should be arranged in advance, voluntary for both parties, and take into consideration the challenges that the families may be facing, such as language barriers and unfamiliarity with the American education system.

In some localities, the expectations between schools and families may differ from the expectations between schools and families in the local community, according to Gina Martinez-Keddy, the executive director of Parent Teacher Home Visits. Parent Teacher Home Visits is a nonprofit organization that advocates for supportive and intentional parent-teacher home visits.

Communities experiencing increased immigration are calling for guidance on best practices for welcoming students and their families into school settings.

In FY 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that there were 155,020 accompanied and unaccompanied children along the Mexico-U.S. border. The Los Angeles Unified School District enrolled over 13,000 international newcomer students in the 2021-22 school year, as reported by the district’s governing board. In Chicago, the district welcomed approximately 5,300 new English language learners (EL) in the 2022-23 school year, according to the district.

To support students who are new to the country, school districts like Chicago Public Schools, Georgia’s Cobb County School DistrictFlorida’s Broward County Public Schools have opened welcome centers with staff members to enroll students, familiarize families with the school systems, and provide additional support.

In June, the U.S. Department of Education published an updated toolkit to help schools and communities meet the academic, social-emotional, and mental health needs of these students. The toolkit includes resources for various situations, such as engaging newcomer families and providing professional development opportunities for educators.

However, a report by Next 100, a think tank for policy leaders, found that state guidance on enrolling newcomer students is lacking. The report states that only 22 state education agencies (43%) provide guidance to districts on collecting information about newcomers’ prior academic experiences during the enrollment process. 

Next 100 recommends that schools establish a process for evaluating how a student’s completed courses align with the district’s course offerings. This will help educators determine the appropriate course placement and awarding of course credits for each student. 

During the webinar, panelists stressed the importance of educators adopting an asset-based mindset when welcoming families new to the country. Instead of focusing on the challenges, educators should recognize and build upon the strengths of each student.

“You’ve got to go in with joy and love for the families and for the students,” said Carrie Richardson, a 3rd and 4th grade newcomer teacher in Denver Public Schools. “You have the student in common with the family, so you already have a point of connection. And so when they see the connection that you have with their child, then they’re going to be able to open up and trust, as well.”

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