The Immigrant Student School Climate Assessment

The Immigrant Student School Climate Assessment

Anti-immigrant prejudice is spreading like a virus in our schools, but there is a dearth of research providing insights into the shape it takes or the extent of the problem. In recent decades, our classrooms have become more diverse than ever before as the children of immigrants became the fastest growing sector of the child population—now accounting for 27 percent of all children. These young people are extremely diverse hailing from Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa. As our society has undergone a long-overdue racial reckoning, the diversity of these students’ experiences has often been absent from these conversations. And yet, these young people and their families are subject to comparable under-tows of systemic racism affecting access and opportunity as their non-immigrant ethnic/racial minority peers. Further, in the course of the last half decade they have faced the additional burden of virulent xenophobic social rhetoric and exclusionary policies. Our understanding of how these shifts have shaped the learning environments for immigrant-origin children and youth remain limited, however.

Educational settings are a pivotal site of socialization with cascading effects on children’s well-being, wherein social inequities can be either compounded or disrupted. It is well recognized that children who are members of historically marginalized social identity groups (e.g., Black, Latinx, Indigenous, low-income, LGBTQ+), are disproportionately subjected to inequitable learning environments. For example, lower academic expectations, less supportive relationships, or more conflict with teachers create a toxic school climate that adversely influences student well-being. A growing body of work has documented the commonality of such inequitable school experiences for students from marginalized backgrounds, but the experiences of immigrant-origin students’ school climate remain understudied, especially in relation to their social and emotional well-being.

It has become increasingly clear that student success is associated with learning environments that nurture socio-emotional development (SEL). Social, emotional, cognitive, linguistic, and academic domains of child development are all intertwined, both in the brain and in behavior, and are essential to the learning process. As demonstrated throughout the extant research, however, not all learning environments are created equal, particularly for minoritized populations.

There is also emerging evidence that immigrant-origin students may enter classrooms with certain SEL advantages. Navigating two (or more) languages and cultural spaces provides them with perspectives that their monolingual peers may simply not traverse. In its recent PISA assessment of global competence among 15 year-olds in 64 OECD countries, for example, immigrant students reported greater capacity to understand different perspectives (OECD 2020) when compared to their native born peers. At the same time, however, immigrant-origin students of color face intersecting experiences of social exclusion and stigmatization stemming from racism and xenophobia that have been on the rise both nationally and in school settings.

Effectively providing learning environments that allow immigrant-origin students to thrive requires diagnosing the ways in which these students are perceived and treated across an array of educational contexts. Inspired by the ground-breaking work school climate assessment of GLSEN, Re-Imagining Migration seeks to foster safe, supportive, and inclusive learning environments for immigrant-origin students which make up more than a quarter of our students. Our approach is built upon on decades of developmental research on immigrant-origin children and youth as well as on equitable learning environments for diverse learners.

We began by conducting a systematic review of existing climate assessment tools and approaches reflecting best practices for capturing distinct stakeholder perspectives across the educational ecology. We developed a series of items and refined them after a series of expert reviews and focus groups. The items were incorporated into the YouthTruth survey and were piloted in 8 schools with over 3000 students. We are moving now to conducting the psychometric steps necessary to establish validity and reliability of these items.

This process will yield a culturally resonant and psychometrically sound instrument to enable schools and school districts to take the temperature of their learning environments for the fastest growing sector of their student body. This approach would also lay the ground-work for informing the development and implementation of a school-based intervention program that employs an ecological systems approach to promote culturally responsive, equitable, SEL-informed inclusive learning environments for immigrant-origin children and youth.

Get involved!

We are recruiting graduate students to contribute to this project:

  • Quantitative data analysis skills
  • Qualitative data analysis
  • Grant proposal development

Please tell us about skills you have or how you would like to contribute to the project.

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Moving Stories

In our work with immigrant-origin youth, families and their teachers, we have come to put a premium on “moving stories”—i.e., the stories of movement and change that permeate migration as our shared human experience. Arguably, telling, sharing and remembering family stories is essential for healthy, secure and adaptive child development as well as in the construction of more inclusive learning environments and societies. By engaging in “moving stories,” we interrupt the cycle of silence, celebrating everyday family stories of migration. By exploring family narratives of life before or during migration, we are planting seeds for students to learn about themselves and their families, enriching their linguistic, cultural and family belonging. Recognizing and exploring these narratives is a fundamental tool for helping students better understand and communicate with their families. And by sharing these stories with peers and teachers who respectfully and carefully listen in and validate experiences, students may feel more visible and connected to one another.
In short, then, engaging in the exchange of Moving Stories has the potential to:

  • Provide spaces for mutual understanding—children of their family members; teachers of their students and their families; and peers of one another;
  • Increase self-awareness as well as empathy and understanding the perspective of others;
  • Nurture family relationships and story-sharing habits among children and family members in immigrant-origin communities;
  • Celebrate and ensure the sharing of cultural values, languages, traditions, wisdom and shared experiences that serve to deepen family bonds, cultural roots and positive identity;
  • Empower children and youth to share their family stories and express them through multiple languages at their disposal with their peers and educators; and
  • Promote English and first-language literacy practices by practicing and engaging in storytelling.

We have developed a series of questions with which students can explore with one another narratives of migration in a thoughtful, scaffolded manner (see the Moving Stories Guide). In partnership with Re-Imagining Migration, Moving Stories has been piloted across the country and teachers and students are reporting positive experiences with enhanced insights, positive engagement, and improved classroom relations. During the academic year 2022-23, the curriculum will be expanded and offered across the New York Department of Public Education.

Model of Change

We have established a series of practices designed to scaffold students through conversations with their families and peers to learn and reflect on migration. See the Moving Stories Guide for sample questions and detailed guidelines.

Get involved!

We are recruiting graduate students to contribute to this project:

  • Focus group data collection
  • Teacher interviews
  • Short intervention survey development & implementation
  • Grant Proposal Development

Please tell us about your skills or how you would like to contribute to the project.

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Parental Preparation for The Immigration Status Talk

The goal of this project is to begin establishing this foundational knowledge around immigration socialization related to the legal concept of undocumented status. This research study project consists of a two-phase mixed-methods approach from the lens of caregivers/parents in mixed-status immigrant families and focuses on these adults’ process of immigration socialization preparation. Phase 1 will consist of semi-structured interviews with caregivers in Latinx mixed-status families. Those qualitative findings will consequently be used to adapt an existing knowledge-building and interactive ERS workshop series using stepwise learning, attention to affective concerns of caregivers, and providing vicarious social models with verbal encouragement. In Phase 2, the adapted content will be implemented, and a set of measures will be gathered to capture caregiver/parent skills, motivation, confidence, and immigration-threat to test the efficacy of structured preparation for the delivery of an intervention providing immigration socialization messages for Latinx mixed-status immigrant families. Findings will advance scientific knowledge on immigration-specific family socialization and study the potential moderating role of caregiver-child immigration socialization preparation on parental and caregiver outcomes.

Get involved!

We are recruiting graduate students to contribute to this project:We are recruiting graduate students who are interested in the data collection preparation phase of research including:

  •  Reviewing literature on ethnic and racial socialization and related interventions
  • Caregiver/parent interview protocol development
  • Planning recruitment of participants, and other data collection logistical planning.

If you are interested, please contact sarah_rendongarcia@gse.harvard.edu via email or complete this contact form. Please include the following in your message:

  • Cover letter describing your research goals and why you are interested in working on this project
  • CV or resume
  • Unofficial transcript