Recent years have seen intensified outcry and advocacy against the conditions within detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border, horrifically exhibited in widely-circulated images of children lying under foil blankets in uninhabitable environments, separated from their parents. While this inhumane practice was one of the driving factors in the election of President Joe Biden, these camps remain in operation under the current administration.
Yet the maltreatment of immigrant children and the children of immigrants is not isolated to the walls of these detention camps. Although population studies show that 14% of the United States population is made up of foreign-born individuals, many of whom come from origin countries where English is not the native language, the public education system does very little to accommodate students who speak English as their second or third language.
Recent statistics show that over 17% of kindergarteners in the public education system identify as English language learners, the largest proportion being Spanish speakers. In order to properly assist these students in achieving their highest potential, namely through increasing high school graduation and college matriculation rates, we must provide these students a suitable educational environment that meets their specific linguistic needs.
Locally, Boston Public Schools are prioritizing the education of English language learners through programs tailored to the needs of this student body. Curricular opportunities like language-specific sheltered English immersion offer students the environment to learn bilingualism under the guidance of properly trained educators. Unfortunately, programs like this are not implemented nationally. Many schools simply provide these students with accommodations, which, while somewhat effective, are not enough to help them successfully advance through the education system. Strikingly, English language learners are often incorrectly labeled as students with disabilities.
In order to bolster full support and ensure the highest levels of success, contributions must be made to the students’ personal and academic lives. Informing and educating immigrant families will help foster a sense of confidence in students and could help cultivate feelings of belonging. In addition, rather than forcing cultural assimilation in schools through a lack of diverse thought and perspectives presented in the classroom, educators and curricula writers must work to ensure that there are an array of learning opportunities available for students of all backgrounds.
The benefits of support for immigrant students in the public school classroom are far-reaching. Not only would better support systems assist students on the individual level, they would also reinforce efforts to diversify classrooms, colleges and the overall workforce. High school graduation rates for English language learners are far below those of students who learned English as their first language. This overarching systemic issue cannot be addressed unless students are provided with the academic support that they deserve. The United States is a country founded upon immigration, and we, as a nation, cannot maintain the essence of what it means to be an American without aiding students in their respective educational paths toward success.