Thursday, September 07, 2006

Preparing Latino Immigrants for School

Interesting article in the NY Times today about the Long Island Children's Museum, which holds programs for immigrant parents and kids to prepare kindergartners for school in the U.S. The population of Latino immigrants is booming in Long Island, and this program seeks to ease the transition into school for both kids and parents. The article focuses primarily on the issue of parent involvement, with a number of advocates arguing that programs like these are necessary to get Spanish-speaking parents involved. From my experiences working with Latino parents of middle schoolers in Queens, having programs for parents in Spanish makes all the difference in terms of parent involvement. My after-school program got a lot more parents to events once we started having bilingual programs, and the primary schools in the area with Spanish-speaking parent coordinators had amazing parent involvement.

It seems to me that programs specifically for new immigrants can be really helpful for parents and kids. The school system is confusing, particularly for parents new to the country. Starting school in a new language is really tough for kids, so any help with the transition should go a long way. Opponents of the program are worried that it isolates immigrant kids:

For all its benefits, some critics have said the program promotes the isolation of Hispanic children. It causes them to cluster together even before they arrive in kindergarten, and so immigrant youngsters unwittingly hold themselves back, said the Rev. Allan B. Ramirez of the Brookville Reformed Church in Glen Head.

Obviously, it's important for immigrant kids to interact with native speakers - it helps them adjust to the U.S. and learn English faster. But I'm not sure I agree with the argument that promoting group identity among Latino kids is a bad thing. I don't know Long Island, but I imagine that immigrant kids there experience some of the same intolerance and anti-immigrant sentiment I witnessed in Queens. Having friends from the same background helps kids deal with these issues, and I also think that immigrant kids learn faster by comparing things they are learning in the U.S. to what they know from back home.

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