Articulating a Strength-Based Agenda of Advocacy for Young Immigrant Children and Families

Written By Fabienne Doucet and Jennifer Keys Adair

What would it mean to view young immigrant children and their families through lenses of strength, courage, promise, and possibility, instead of deficit, need, risk, and remediation? What if we, as educators, administrators, curriculum developers, policymakers, researchers, and activists, conducted our work on behalf of and with immigrant children and families with creativity, curiosity, and joy, rather than with formulaic interventions, resignation, or saviourism? These are the questions we asked the authors of the Bank Street Occasional Paper Series #39: Supporting Young Children of Immigrants in PreK-3 to consider. As we write in our Introduction, “In dangerous and uncertain times for immigration and immigrants, we hope that this work will prompt teachers and researchers to begin or reinforce their commitments to strength-based classroom practices, programs, interventions, workshops, professional development and studies and to abandon the remnants of deficit frameworks that rely on children and families to change.”

Leading the call for a new discourse about immigrant children that will inspire activists, advocates, and educators at all levels, Martínez’s contribution to this special issue insists that we re-envision young immigrant children as multi-layered, interesting, tenacious, and hopeful. The wide array of topics addressed in this issue, as well as the various audiences it addresses, make it a very practical contribution, in addition to pushing the ways we theorize about and study immigrant children and families. Readers interested in literacy should read the articles by Domínguez, Dávila, & Noguerón-Liu, who tell the story of a public library program that Latinx immigrant families began to describe as a home-like learning environment and Melzi, Shick, and Scarola, and who help teachers envision circle times that are made more culturally relevant by the incorporation of oral storytelling.

Other examples of classroom practices that acknowledge and incorporate the lived experiences of young immigrant children are described in Osorio’s recounting of how a second-grade teacher in a dual-language classroom facilitated children’s desire to process their feelings about President Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants. The rich examples of children’s thinking demonstrate that often the best thing a teacher can do is become a learner welcoming students’ funds of knowledge into the classroom. Alvarez’s piece on how she used project-based learning in her first-grade bilingual classroom, and in Koplow, Dean, and Blachly’s article on their use of art as a vehicle to hold space for young children’s trauma experiences during or because of immigration.

We encourage administrators and leaders to read the article by Barraza & Martinez, a principal and superintendent, respectively, who share the offer culturally sustaining practices for school and district administrators committed to early childhood education with immigrant communities. And we want teachers and other school people looking to make genuine connections to families to read Isik-Ercan’s piece, which advocates for reframing immigrant parents as experts on their own children, and Colegrove’s contribution, which positions parents as partners with teachers in their children’s education.

We are tired of empty promises that just the right educational reform, curriculum, or perfectly prepared educator will transform the lives of young immigrant children.  We have had enough of educational policies that blame people from communities that are marginalized and oppressed for their circumstances, rather than looking honestly at the  institutionally entrenched hegemonic systems that maintain the status quo. And we are absolutely weary of the single story about young immigrant children and families that denies and belies the reality, as Martínez writes, that immigrants are “complex and resilient human beings who live rich and dynamic lives.”

Join us in making education a site of liberation and transformation for immigrant children!