By Kaylene Kalkbrenner

This year has taken its toll on the immigrant psyche. Students in particular, who are tackling tests, taking in new information, forming friendships, and preparing for their futures are also shuddering under the added stress inflicted by the threat of deportation and disillusionment. And now the recent call to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects nearly 800,000 immigrant students, has made families and students, especially in high immigrant populated areas, afraid to come to school.

Fortunately, community schools can help. The community school strategy draws on the strengths and assets of each student, family and community member, and builds bridges between the school and community partners. On November 14th, the Coalition for Community Schools along with Laura Markham, community school coordinator at Oakland International High School and author of The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of An American Life, were joined on Twitter by a host of fellow community school advocates to swap ideas about how community schools can lead the way to creating environments where immigrant students feel safe and supported.

The collaboration displayed during the Twitter Chat was inspiring. Coordinators and community school partners from across the country found strategies they had in common and shared new ideas for growth. A key theme reoccurring throughout the chat was the importance of interpreters in building trust. Interpreters provide communication between non-English speaking parents and students and the resources they need, such as counseling or at-home training. 

There are also key stakeholders outside the school. Many people suggested creating partnerships with faith based organizations. By visiting your local mosque a few times a month or reaching out to faith leaders in each ethnic community you can start to build relationships of trust and understanding that lead to better support for your students. 

We also discussed the power of storytelling. While this is an incredible tool for spreading understanding of life as an immigrant, it is imperative to be cautious. Student stories often contain trauma and it is important that our students are allowed to process it at their rate. Coordinators and teachers can aid students in taking ownership of their stories by introducing skills based activities, such as creating an “About Me” video or book. Ensure that stories are being processed in a safe environment, as well. Counselors and social workers are excellent people for students to process their stories with. 

We are so thankful for all these incredible insights and hope that you can use them to work towards Safe and Supported Immigrant Students. Below are some of the resources mentioned in the chat: 

For more information or suggestions for our Community School Chats please contact Jennifer Masutanij@iel.org.

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