Throughout the Pathways to Success research project, participants were asked for suggestions or recommendations that would lead to increased success for immigrant youth in high school. The suggestions are organized by stakeholder group: youth, parents and family, schools, school boards, the provincial educational system and the community. They are the culmination of all the information gathered during the interviews, the focus group meetings, and the community forum.
What immigrant youth in high school can do to improve their own success:
- Patience and perseverance and most importantly, being unafraid to ask for help. Although the process may take some time and courage, immigrant youth must develop goals and reach out to others for the support they need to accomplish those goals.
- Make friends strategically. Immigrant youth should associate with peers who share similar goals and values. They serve as a support group by helping the youth maintain focus and providing motivation when faced with challenges.
- Get involved. Immigrant youth should explore the extracurricular activities available in their school. This will help with meeting new people and getting accustomed to the country’s culture.
- Maintain Self-confidence. Immigrant youth should believe in their own skills and abilities when faced with challenges. Often overlooked, optimism is an important factor in succeeding in school.
- Communicate with parents. Even though families are often stressed themselves, immigrant youth must preserve their connection with their parents. At home, they are their support group.
What native students can do to help immigrant youth:
- Being friendly and open-minded. Students should approach the newcomer, involve them as much as possible, and be empathetic about their experiences.
Parents and Family:
What parents and family members can do to get more involved with helping immigrant youth succeed in school:
- Get involved: Parents should try to attend parent-teacher conferences regularly, talk to guidance counselors, join the parent council, or volunteer in the school. They must also take steps to inform themselves about their child’s education.
- Encourage youths in school. Parents should inquire about how their child is doing in school, take an active interest in their child’s education and pass on to them the value of an education.
- Be understanding. The research participants spoke about the difficulty parents have in accepting the changes in their children as a result of living in a new country and experiencing a different culture. Parents should try to be understanding about these changes and communicate with their children throughout this process.
What individual schools can do to accommodate to immigrant youth:
- Develop peer mentoring programs. Research participants discussed the benefits of matching the immigrant youth with another student who can understand their challenges. Mentors can reduce isolation and introduce the youth to new people and activities.
- Increasing openness and understanding. Students, teachers and principals should take part in educational activities that can prepare them for a more diverse student population. They should be aware of their impact on immigrant youth and practice openness and understanding to make them feel comfortable.
- Develop communication strategies and partnerships with parents. Parents may be excluded from their children’s high school experience when they are not aware of how they are to communicate with teachers and principals or if they face language barriers in communicating with them. Schools need to develop strategies that will enable parents to participate more and to inform them regularly about their children’s education.
- Increase social opportunities for immigrant youth. Immigrant youth need to be aware of and have access to social opportunities with other students within the school. This will help them develop stronger social networks, understand the culture of their new country and orient them to the type of activities that are available to them.
- Develop leadership opportunities. Immigrant youth must be encouraged to assume leadership roles to increase their involvement and opportunities within the school. This can also provide valuable growth and learning for both immigrant youth and native students and can increase full student representation in decision making.
- Develop a welcoming, representative environment. Schools should be a place where all students feel represented and valued. Steps should be taken to incorporate these qualities into schools so that they are structurally, behaviorally and visually more welcoming.
What school boards can do to make meaningful changes in the learning environment:
- Hire qualified, quality teachers. Hiring practices should prioritize teachers who understand diversity issues and the various needs of their students, and teachers who are representative of the student population. Current teachers should be properly trained on diversity issues and be acknowledged and supported for their commitment to these efforts.
- Increase multi-cultural training of teachers. Teachers are not always prepared for working with diverse populations, or properly educated on the issues and realities that accompany immigrant youth when they arrive in a foreign country. Mandatory training for teachers should be incorporated into all schools.
- Increase subsidies and make them more available to immigrant youth. Make sure that immigrant youth are aware of subsidies for books and extra-curricular activities.
- Provide orientation for the parents. An orientation will ensure that parents are well informed when their children enroll in school.
Provincial Education System:
What system-level changes should be made regarding the success of immigrant youth in high school:
- Increase funding for partnerships between schools and community organizations: Partnerships between schools and community programs such as the YMCA settlement services are of great value to immigrant families. Strengthening these partnerships will benefit schools, families and communities.
- Incorporate a more comprehensive ESL program: Research participants suggested changes to the current ESL curriculum, such as positioning grammar as a central component of their ESL learning priorities in order to improve their written and verbal skills.
- Value quality education for all youth: Ideas about quality education should consider what each child requires in order to complete high school successfully. This should be an ongoing message within government and communities especially for youth who experience an “education gap” from going in and out of school in their home countries. Strategies should be explored so that these youth are not pushed out of the high school system before they are ready to leave.
- Develop support for parents: There should be a designated contact that can ensure families get the information they need when they arrive.
- Offer more support, programs, and time for immigrant families: After families arrive, they should be given more support in transitioning their children into school.
What communities can do:
- Be more welcoming: Communities should work to increase understanding of immigrants and to welcome them as an important part of the social, cultural and economic make-up of the community.
- Acknowledge the potential and skills of immigrants: Communities should be open to the skills, abilities and credentials of immigrants and support them in finding employment.
- Adapt to the changing population: Communities should be open, flexible and adaptive to the immigrant population.
- Increase immigrant-friendly policies and representation of immigrants in the community: Immigrants should be adequately represented in decision-making roles in communities to ensure appropriate input into policies and other decisions that affect them.
- Make immigrant youth aware of positive role models: Communities should help connect immigrant youth with positive role models that can provide them with mentorship and confidence in themselves.
This research illustrates the complexity of the immigrant youth experience and how little is currently being done to accommodate their situation. Immigrant families generally have high expectations of what a foreign education can provide for them. Yet, there are many challenges preventing the fulfillment of these expectations. The active participation of schools, school boards, communities, etc. can greatly reduce this and consequently ease high-school drop-out rates and increase the success of high schools.
by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
B.A. Applied Psychology