Academic journal article School Community Journal

School Community Engaging with Immigrant Youth: Incorporating Personal/Social Development and Ethnic Identity Development

Academic journal article School Community Journal

School Community Engaging with Immigrant Youth: Incorporating Personal/Social Development and Ethnic Identity Development

Article excerpt


It has been projected that 33% of all school children will be from immigrant households by the year 2040 (Suarez-Orozco et al., 2010). For school personnel (e.g., administrators, counselors, teachers) working with immigrant youth and adolescents, understanding ethnic identity development is an essential cultural competency. In this essay, the authors outline how the family, peer, and school contexts can influence a student's ethnic identity, along with suggested activities that utilize ethnic identity development to enhance student personal/social development. Greater personal/social development of individual students and greater integration of marginalized ethnic groups can contribute to a healthier school community. Informal methods of evaluating outcomes are also identified.

Key Words: immigrants, youth, ethnic identity development, ethnicity, personal, social, cultural competency, family, parents, peers, schools, students


School staff members in all areas of the U.S. are now more likely to work with students from immigrant families. There were 13,716,000 children (age 17 and under) of immigrant parents in the U.S. in 2008-2009 (Urban Insti- tute, 2012). From 1970 to 1997, the percentage of children of immigrants in U.S. school systems rose from 6.3% to nearly 20% (Ruiz de Velasco & Fix, 2000), and it is projected that one third of all children will be from im- migrant households by 2040 (Suarez-Orozco et al., 2010). According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2007 almost 69% of Latino and 64% of Asian-origin school age students (or 7.2 million students across the country) used a language other than English with their families at home (Aud, Fox, & KewalRamani, 2010). Traditional settlement areas like New York and Los An- geles will continue to receive newcomers to the U.S., while newer immigrant communities are emerging in less urban areas from North Carolina to Nevada (Hakimzadeh & Cohn, 2007).

Thus, adults employed at schools (i.e., administrators, counselors, teach- ers, staff) will need to be familiar with the characteristics and concerns of these students, whether the receiving schools and communities are accustomed to working with immigrant families or are relatively new to the process. Williams and Butler (2003) listed concerns of immigrant students when arriving in U.S. schools, including typical adolescent developmental concerns, learning Eng- lish, finding social support or networks of acceptance, confronting U.S. norms for racial labeling, acquiring new styles of learning, coping with posttraumatic stress, and understanding different cultural scripts. These stressors have impli- cations for academic persistence (Perreira, Harris, & Lee, 2006; Rumberger, 1995; Suarez-Orozco et al., 2010) and social and interpersonal adaptation, as well (Berry, Phinney, Sam, & Vedder, 2006). Support for these tasks is essen- tial for building a healthy school environment where students can feel accepted and appreciated in all aspects of their identity and can put their energy and fo- cus on academic and personal growth.

However, some school personnel may not have acquired expertise with im- migrant families in their training programs or prior work experiences (Williams & Butler, 2003). Multicultural courses in counselor, teacher, and adminis- trator preparation may not address issues specific to immigrants, such as the acculturation process or ethnic identity development of children and adoles- cents. In addition, student personal/social outcomes may be emphasized to different degrees in counselor, teacher, and administrator training programs. Conscientious school staff members may be seeking new ways to improve their effectiveness in integrating students from immigrant families into the school community at large.

The purpose of this essay is to help the school community improve its ability to work with students from immigrant families to enhance students' personal/ social outcomes. …

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