Knocking Down Barriers to Inclusion: School Social Workers, Advocacy, and Equity for Immigrant Students

By Sophia Rodriguez, Benjamin Roth, and Leticia Villarreal Sosa


Authors: Sophia Rodriguez, University of Maryland, College Park; Benjamin Roth, University of South Carolina; and Leticia Villarreal Sosa, Dominican University.

Immigrant students face numerous barriers to equity in public K-12 schools. Extensive research has enhanced our understanding of these barriers, their impact on immigrant children, and how educators and administrators address them. Schools are complex organizations with a range of personnel who ideally work together inside and outside of classrooms to ensure that all students have access to quality education. A complete picture of how schools are supporting immigrant students—and why, at times, they may fall short—must therefore explore how all school-based actors contribute to advancing equity.

This issue brief summarizes findings from a study of school social workers to explain their role and contribution in the collective effort to advance equity for all. 

Report co-author Sophia Rodriguez, commented:

'From this research, we've learned about the multiple ways that school social workers advance equity for immigrant students. Consistently, we have heard from these critical actors about how immigration enforcement and the uncertainty of policies impact immigrant students and their families every day. While larger federal and state policies remain precarious at best for immigrants, our research shows that school social workers play a critical role in advocating for immigrant students at school and community levels. Through the relationships and collaborations that they build within and outside the school with community organizations, school social workers reduce inequalities for immigrant families. Continued work is needed to learn about how to increase their ability to broker resources for immigrant students and increase systemic, transformational change in schools. As our research shows, social workers often engage in equity work on their own and instead need to be supported through school, district, and state policies as they build bridges between students, families, and schools.'

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Download the Full Brief in Spanish