Working with Immigrant Families
A guide to working with immigrant families.
Molly Sponseller, Clare Doyle, Katie Saine, Skyler Kidwell and Claire Garrett
"Everyone smiles in the same language."
Parents May Feel Disconnected
One immigrant parent states, “We don’t understand English. We don’t know a way to see what’s happening.” (Feinberg, 2017)
"In 21 states, the limited-English population grew by more than 25 percent over the last decade, and during that same time period “61 counties crossed the threshold of having a population of more than 5 percent limited-English speakers,” according to the Census." (Trenkner, 2012)
Many immigrants feel like a burden and view American society as unwelcoming. They may isolate in their communities due to unwelcoming "English Only" culture.
The Solution: Communication
Parents voiced that it was helpful for them to have personalized forms of communication with resources to avoid misunderstanding and language barriers. Often times this comes in the form of translators. This will allow parents to clearly articulate their wishes for their family and children.
It is also helpful to provide resources for immigrant families to learn English and overcome the language barrier. With regular initiatives to learn the language, it typically takes immigrant families three years to attain fluency (Trenkner, 2012)
TEDx: Breaking the Language Barrier
Books that support learning about the language barrier between people.
How Do You Say I Love You
By Hannah Eliot
A book for young children that teaches language diversity. In reading the book the audience learns how to say "I love you" in various different languages.
The Day Saida Arrived
By Susana Gómez Redondo
The Day Saida Arrived is a book about overcoming language barriers and fostering friendship.
Click to Download
A Study on Language - How to improve support for immigrant families and eliminate the language barrier.
Social and Emotional Support for Families
Social and emotional support for immigrant families transitioning to a new setting.
Why is Social and Emotional Support Important?
Displacement can cause a lot of physical and emotional challenges. For children especially, they might not know what or why certain actions are taking place. Feelings of uncertainty, disempowerment, and fear can lead to difficulty transitioning to a new environment.
Mental health problems tend to hold a stigma around them. In many cases, trauma falls into this category. Some immigrant families might experience anxiety, panic attacks, or depression. Mental health problems, if avoided can lead to physical health problems.
It is important to think about the social and emotional well-being of students and families to bring back a sense of community that might have been left behind and in help adapting to a new setting.
Resources: (Hess, 2017)
Working with Immigrant Families
This video addresses some of the difficulties that immigrant families face, how to address them, and how to address them in clinical practice.
How to Provide Social and Emotional Support for Immigrant Students and Families
Encourage teachers and staff to listen to students.
Allow students to express and share their feelings and experiences.
Provide age appropriate ways to express and manage stress.
Give students what they need to express themselves and develop social skills.
Take note in change in behavior.
A stressful experience can lead to negative behavioral outcomes.
Make connections to curriculum.
Make real world connections.
Teach with Empathy
Pay attention to what students do and do not say about immigration.
Students might not be able cope with their experiences and emotions, so be respectful and mindful of how they feel.
Children's books about social justice, equity, celebrating diversity, and mental health.
I Am Enough
It features an African American girl who celebrates herself by perceiving the ways she resembles beautiful things in the world around her -- including people who look different
The Name Jar
The Name Jar explores questions about difference, identity, and cultural assimilation.
The Day You Begin
School-age children encounter and overcome feelings of difference from their peers.
How to address questions about mental health, working with cultural liaisons in the community to connect with families, and culturally responsive support for families?
Dr. Robyn Hess is a Professor of School Psychology at the University of Northern Colorado. One of her recent projects has focused on serving refugee families and students in rural school districts in Kentucky, Nebraska, Colorado, and Minnesota; through that project, she and students have interviewed teachers and families in districts that had a track record of success in supporting refugee students.
Cultural Awareness for Teachers
A resource for teachers to look into how to teach in a culturally responsive way while engaging students of different ethnic backgrounds
A Culturally Responsive Approach to Understanding Immigrant Origin Children
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy
Children's Literature: My Name is Sangoel
This book is about an immigrant child and the struggles he faces when no one at school can pronounce his name. Click the button below for a culturally responsive lesson plan on this piece of literature.
Teacher's Role in the Classroom
Different ways for teachers to help support immigrant students and families.
Teacher's Role in Supporting Immigrant Students an
Create a connection with both the student and family.
Teachers should communicate with the families and discover what form of communication works best. If language is an issue, the teacher can write an email that can be translated or if the school has access to a translator that should be utilized. The teacher can provide the parents with pictures of their child or even have a face-to-face conversation if possible. It is important for teacher's to offer resources and make the families feel as involved and as welcome as possible.
Provide Diverse Curriculum
Regardless of an immigrant student in the classroom or not, teachers should provide multicultural and diverse curriculum and resources to students. Teachers can incorporate the discussion of immigration. They can talk about different cultures by providing students with media and books. By including multicultural curriculum it will help make the immigrant students feel more welcome into the classroom, and be more culturally aware.
Create a positive classroom environment
Creating a positive classroom environment is a critical step in making the immigrant students feel apart of the classroom community. Since language can be an obstacle for the students, the teacher should provide diverse posters and pictures in the classroom to help the non-English sparking students understand English. Teachers can also separate the classroom into smaller groups so the immigrant students can be less stressed and have their voice be heard. The teacher's role is to welcome all of the students, and have the classroom be a fun and safe place for them to go to during the day.
Be educated on the Immigration system
As a teacher, it is their job to be educated on the policies and laws for immigration students in the education system. The teacher should explain to the co-workers and administration the rights of the students that it involves. If the teacher is educated on the immigration policies, they can help serve the families better. The teachers can explain to the families the steps they have to take. By being educated on the policies and system, it can help the families be more at peace and feel more connected with the school and teacher.
Written and Illustrated by: Anna Kim
This book is about a new girl, Danbi, who is from Korea and does not understand the games, food, or language that American students use. She found a connection with some of the students and made new friends that helped her learn how the classroom operates.
Written and Illustrated by: Yuyi Morales
This book is about a mom and her baby coming to the United States from Mexico. She documents what their journey is like and how they had to adjust to the new life in America.
Importance of Relationships with Students
More Children's Literature about Immigration
Multicultural experiences about how children face immigration.
Topics may include immigration, social justice, equality, and diversity.
Website to find more multicultural reading materials.
You can also go to your local library to find materials.
In-person or online resources may be available. As well as chapter books, picture books, magazines, graphic novels, audio books, etc.
Dayton Services for Immigrant Families
Services provided in or nearby Dayton, Ohio to support immigrant families. Click on the star icon to be taken to the resource's webpage.
"Welcome Dayton is a community initiative that reflects our country’s core philosophy: people with diverse backgrounds, skills and experiences fuel our nation’s success. The Welcome Dayton effort promotes immigrant integration into the greater Dayton region by encouraging business and economic development; providing access to education, government, health and social services; ensuring equity in the justice system; and promoting an appreciation of arts and culture."
Ohio Opportunities for New Americans
"The Office of Opportunities for New Americans is part of the Development Services Agency and focuses on making sure new Ohioans are job ready by coordinating existing efforts at the state level, communicating with immigrant support groups and by identifying and tearing down barriers that prevent or impede immigrants' integration into society and economic success."
Catholic Social Services
"Catholic Social Services Refugee Resettlement Program is the only refugee resettlement agency for the Greater Dayton area, assisting those arriving in our community with housing, finding employment, and accessing services such as healthcare, education, and English classes."
Feinberg, R. (2017, March 16). To Help Immigrants Succeed, Parents Work With Schools To Overcome Language Barrier. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from
Trenkner, T. (2012, January). How Language Fits Into the Immigration Issue. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from
Suárez-Orozco, Strom, and Larios. (2018). A Culturally Responsive Approach to Understanding Immigrant Origin Children. Retrieved on September 27, 2020.
Dessources, Jeffery. [TEDx Talks]. (2018, May 8). TrillEDU: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy... | Jeffrey Dessources | TEDxNewJerseyCityUniversity. [Video.] YouTube.
Relationship Centered Schools[Video file]. (2017, February 15). Retrieved September 28, 2020, from
Colorín Colorado. (2019, December 20). Ten Strategies for Supporting Immigrant Students and Families. Retrieved from
Burnett, S. (2015, January 27). Welcoming Immigrant Students Into the Classroom. Retrieved from
Colorado, C. (2020, September 4). How to Provide Social-Emotional Support for Immigrant Students. Colorín Colorado.
Hess, R. (2019, December 20). Social and Emotional Support for Refugee Families: A School Psychology Perspective. Colorín Colorado.