On May 7, Bank Street released the new Occasional Paper Series #39—Supporting Young Children of Immigrants in Pre-K–3—which contains nine powerful essays that call for early childhood educators to make shifts in their practice to create more equitable and just learning environments for young children of immigrants.
In a deeply polarizing political climate, this timely issue of the Occasional Paper Series builds a strong case for the changes that need to happen to improve early schooling experiences for children of immigrants in the United States. According to guest editors Fabienne Doucet and Jennifer Keys Adair, creating meaningful learning spaces for this historically marginalized group demands that educators and practitioners focus on the strengths and potential of young children of immigrants, their families, and their communities.
“We need more policy and practice that begins with a strength-based understanding of families and communities instead of deficit-oriented ‘fix the child, fix the family’ assumptions,” said Adair. “This policy and practice can come from research that engages with families and communities instead of determining in advance what they need and want.”
The editors note in the introduction that “deficit views” can negatively affect the learning and development of young children and greatly hinder their social and emotional well-being and later success in school and life. The essays explore unique perspectives on how educators, caregivers, and administrators can find ways to validate the diverse and often-intense real-life experiences of young children of immigrants to open up meaningful opportunities for their learning.
For example, in the essay “Building Safe Community Spaces for Immigrant Families, One Library at a Time,” Max Vázquez Domínguez, Denise Dávila, and Silvia Noguerón-Liu describe the community-based, culturally responsive literacy program they instituted at a public library to support Spanish-speaking immigrant families in a safe, welcoming, and home-like environment. In another paper, “Over the Hills and Far Away: Inviting and Holding Traumatic Stories in School,” Lesley Koplow, GSE ’79, Noelle Dean, and Margaret Blachly, GSE ’05, discuss the social, emotional, and academic benefits of a school-based approach that supports young children who come to school with traumatic immigration histories.
Other topics explored in this issue’s papers include how teachers can increase parent involvement as a tool to encourage deeper learning experiences for their children, how principals and school administrators can build learning environments that are sensitive to the needs of immigrant families, and how educators can use oral storytelling in their classroom routines to help children build connections between their lives at home and school and to enhance their reading readiness skills.
The issue as a whole puts forth a wide range of thoughtful ideas on how best to address the inequities and disparities that young children of immigrants face in their classrooms and schools. The guest editors hope this issue will prompt educators to recognize the harmful effects of deficit-based thinking and work to replace these attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors with a positive focus on what young children of immigrants and their families bring to the table.
“We hope to broaden the vision for what practitioners and policymakers believe is possible for the young children of immigrants and their families,” said Doucet. “When policies and practices are narrow and deficit-oriented, they can limit the social, emotional, and academic health of these populations because as research has confirmed again and again that things perceived as real will be real in their consequences. When we perceive immigrant populations as lacking, we look for confirmation of these lacks and we miss all of the examples of strength, resourcefulness, and promise they carry with them. Each article in this special issue is a testament to and a celebration of what is possible when we shift our perceptions from deficit to strength.”
To read the full issue of Occasional Paper Series #39, please click here.