Academic journal article Childhood Education

Immigrant Parents: How to Help Your Children Succeed in School

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Immigrant Parents: How to Help Your Children Succeed in School

Article excerpt

One of the top reasons immigrants give for coming to the United States is a desire to provide better educational and economic opportunities for their families and children. Immigrants voice this sentiment regardless of their educational level, financial standing, or country of origin. Immigrant children express the same intentions about education and being successful in life as do non-immigrant children. Fuligni (2001) studied the educational aspirations of 10th- and 12th-grade students of immigrant parents and found that 86.9 percent of them say that "going to college is necessary for what I want to do in the future," "I need to get good grades in school in order to get a good job as an adult," and "doing well in school is the best way for me to succeed as an adult" (p. 61).

Immigrant children, however, often experience cultural and linguistic differences as well as struggles with differences in school systems and academic programs. In addition, they frequently face tremendous psychological challenges as outsiders. These children may need more help at home and in school so that they can be successful. The most important thing parents can do to help children reach their potential is to get involved in their education. Research on achievement gaps has shown that students' home environments play a substantial role in academic performance (Schaller, Roch, & Barshinger, 2006).

Problems That Immigrant Parents Face in Helping Children Succeed in School

In 2002, 21 percent of all U.S. children lived with immigrant parents (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2005). Immigrant parents, of course, vary from group to group and within groups. The variations within immigrant groups from the same country of origin can be based on education and social class, the immigration experience, religion, and individual differences. Well-educated, middle-class families are vastly different from preliterate families, refugee parents are different from planned immigrant parents or undocumented parents, Buddhist Vietnamese are different from Catholic Vietnamese.

In fact, family characteristics account for 75 percent of the differences in student test scores (Hernandez, 2004). Most of the immigrant parents in the United States have little education and limited income and live in low-income environments (Dorner, Orellana, & Li-Grining, 2007; Hernandez, 2004; Zuniga & Alva, 2007). In 2002, 27 percent of immigrant parents had only a high school diploma and 32 percent of children lived in families with an income of $39,600 or less for a family of four ("One out of five," 2007).

Most immigrant parents are very enthusiastic about supporting their children's success in school. However, many of them have limited knowledge or information about how to help their children succeed in school. Immigrant parents with limited English and who have issues with cultural differences sometimes feel helpless. They often sit quietly during parent-teacher conferences, listening to the teacher and looking at a report card and folder with the child's name on it. The parents may understand some of the explanation but are unsure how to respond because of the language barrier. They may try to translate the words they want to say into English, but ultimately decide not to speak up because of shame or embarrassment at their limited English abilities. For many of these parents, their attempts to be involved in their children's education are ineffective or impossible, so they do not participate unless there is a problem (Sohn & Wang, 2006). Although English-speaking immigrant parents may not face language barriers, many still face cultural barriers stemming from different school practices and expectations in their native country (Joshi, Eberly, & Konzai, 2004).

U.S. teachers and immigrant parents may have differing beliefs and expectations, and differing perspectives about school systems, educational programs, and students' academic achievement. …

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