Early last month, the U.S. Department of Education released a new resource guide for early learning programs and elementary schools working with immigrant families.
A few days ago, I printed it out to review at my desk. I read the big, bold title: “Building a Bright Future for All.” Then I eyed the cover photo of diverse children sitting with legs criss-crossed on a classroom carpet.
A federal resource to support immigrant children and families, time-stamped January 2017.
The irony was arresting.
Because it’s impossible for anyone who cares about these kids to ignore the elephant in the room. Just days after the guide’s release—a swan song from Obama officials—Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. He promptly sent shockwaves through vulnerable immigrant communities across the country with executive orders to freeze funding to sanctuary cities, build “the wall,” and increase deportation personnel. The cheerful, simple tenor of a “Bright Future for All” seemed like a sunny, distant memory, dissonant and detached from current reality.
Because for the thousands of educators across the country, “illegal immigration” is not some abstract, distant notion or fodder for ego-driven, theoretical debates on Facebook. These are cherished children and valued community members in live, living color.
I used to teach second grade. You can’t do that job—at least not well—without your students and you becoming a little family. They’re who you spend your days with, who you pour your care into, who you are rooting for, who you want to see flourish.
More than ever, we need to equip the teachers and education leaders most proximate to students with concrete guidance for the days ahead. These adults are on the frontlines of American civil society, first responders to scared, confused, and grieving children and families on a daily basis, still tasked with advancing academic learning, while working through their own mélange of emotions. We are asking a lot of them. They deserve—and need—as much support as we can manage.
The new federal resource is a critical, timely curation of information to equip those in early learning and elementary school settings. It is divided into two sections: 1) a resource guide for state and local officials followed by 2) a handbook for parents of immigrant children.
The resource guide articulates set of recommendations with ample research citations for education leaders working with children of immigrants. For early learning programs, these include:
- Implement strategies to increase immigrant family enrollment.
- Promote healthy child development.
- Encourage family and caregiver engagement.
- Build staff capacity and knowledge.
Similarly, for elementary schools, these include:
- Create open and welcoming environments.
- Partner with and engage immigrant parents, guardians, and families.
- Use effective instructional strategies and address socioemotional needs.
- Build staff capacity and knowledge.
These are broad principles, but each is followed by a wealth of more specific, fleshed out sub-recommendations. For example, to build more effective instruction in elementary schools, the report details the need to: ensure strong transitions from early learning programs to elementary school; offer wraparound, community-based supports; foster student leadership and peer-to-peer learning in the classroom; integrate oral and written English language instruction into content-area teaching; provide structured opportunities to develop writing skills; provide small group interventions; and offer after-school enrichment activities. Further specifics accompany each one of these sub-recommendations.
In addition, the guide provides a thorough “resources list,” which includes nine pages of links to various policy statements, fact sheets, webinars, reports, mobile apps, and other websites. The breadth and specificity here is helpful, including: “Talk, Read, and Sing Together Every Day” tip sheets for families, Head Start’s Dual Language Learner Toolkit, the Department of Education’s English learner toolkit, The Preschool Years website from Colorín Colorado, and Immigo, a free mobile app developed by National Council of La Raza and the Immigration Advocates Network to share updates on immigration issues.
The second part of the resource, the parent handbook, provides an accessible overview to equip families to advocate for themselves. In this season, it is vital for families to understand their civil rights in accessing education for their children. The handbook details how schools are required by law to provide information to parents in a language they can understand, including for registration and enrollment, reports cards, parent-teacher conferences and more.
School districts may not deny enrollment to a learner if the child or parent choose not to provide a Social Security number or lacks a birth certificate. Schools may not deny education to children whether they are present legally or otherwise.
There’s much, much more in the document. But, taken together, the resource represents a holistic foundation for localities across the nation to drawn on. Other key, newly-released resources include a federal fact sheet to clarify the U.S. Department of Homeland Security policy that restricts immigration enforcement at “sensitive locations,” including schools and daycares. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) also recently released an immigration enforcement guide that reviews parents’ rights and advises families on actions to take before, during, and after immigration raids.
When I was done reading the federal guide, I flipped back to the cover and read the title again: “Building a Bright Future for All.” This time, I heard it differently. What first struck me as naïve, tonal mismatch, I now heard as a covert act of resistance.
I envisioned a network of professionals across the country standing strong, not cowering in the face of divisive, destabilizing policies and rhetoric. Nurturing, protecting, and defending the students before them. I now heard it as a reluctance to back down and lose hope.