Promoting Secondary School Transitions for Immigrant
Adolescents. ERIC Digest.
by Lucas, Tamara
Immigrant students constitute an ever increasing proportion of the school-age
population, particularly those enrolled at the secondary school level.
For students at this level, the difficult transitions of adolescence combined
with the challenge of learning to express thoughts, develop a personality,
and master academic content in a language they are still learning can be
overwhelming (Spenser & Dornbusch, 1990). The inability to communicate
ideas and feelings confidently can result in confusion, frustration, anger,
and alienation. In addition, immigrant students must balance the value
systems of their native culture, ever present at home, with those of the
dominant culture, which prevail at school.
This Digest highlights three ways educators can help immigrant secondary
school students through these critical transitions and provides brief descriptions
of three programs that are working to facilitate these transitions.
PROVIDE ACCESS TO INFORMATION
Learning the rules and practices of a new school system is challenging
for immigrant students and their parents, and they need information to
become successfully integrated into the U.S. school system. This information
can be provided in many ways.
* "Intake centers or parent information centers" are located at schools
or district offices and are often staffed with bilingual professionals.
These centers register, assess, and place students in programs and provide
oral and written information to their parents in their native languages.
Such centers may also convene ongoing parent meetings.
* "Workshops and seminars" inform families about school rules, procedures,
grading, extra-curricular activities, and special support services; expectations
regarding attendance, homework, and family involvement; and college preparation
and career guidance.
* "School documents and orientation materials" should be translated
into the home languages of immigrant students. However, because some students
and their parents may not be literate in their native language, schools
should not rely solely on written documents. In Prince George's County,
Maryland, school staff have developed a video in several languages about
school procedures, expectations, and opportunities, for parents to view
while their children are being enrolled at the intake center.
* "Structured relationships with school staff" through teams, clusters,
schools within schools, student buddies, and counselors are also key for
providing information to immigrant students and helping them get involved
in school activities.
SUPPORT ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND ACADEMIC DEVELOPMENT
At the secondary level, immigrant students must learn English, master
academic content, and earn high school and college credits in order to
pursue challenging careers and higher education. Schools take a number
of approaches to help students attain these goals.
* "Newcomer schools" are special schools for recent immigrant students
(see Chang, 1990; Friedlander, 1991). A major purpose of these schools
is to support the adjustment of recent immigrants into their new society
and school. This includes, but is not limited to, English language development
and, in some cases, continued native language development. In many newcomer
schools, students attend classes for half a day and then a regular middle
or high school for the other half; in others, students attend all day for
6 months before they are enrolled in mainstream schools.
* "English as a second language (ESL) programs" usually consist of a
series of courses designed for students with varying levels of English
proficiency--beginning, intermediate, and advanced. They may also include
special courses for low literate students, students with limited prior
schooling, and those who are beyond the advanced level but are not ready
for mainstream classes. Students may take a combination of ESL, sheltered
content, and mainstream classes, depending on English proficiency, native
language literacy, and academic background.
* "Sheltered English content programs" teach challenging academic content
(e.g., math, science, social studies) in English. Instructional materials,
teacher presentations, and classroom interaction are adapted so that learners
can understand them and participate. (See Short, 1991, for ways these adaptations
can be made.) The quality and effectiveness of these programs depend on
the ability of teachers to provide instruction in English that is accessible
to English learners without oversimplifying the academic content.
* "Bilingual education programs" acknowledge and build upon students'
ability to speak, read, and write in languages other than English. At the
secondary level, these programs usually consist of content courses in the
students' native languages, enabling them to study academic content at
their appropriate grade level. Some programs emphasize continued development
of the native language, but most are designed to promote the transition
* "Alternative schools" are designed for students who are unable to
take advantage of newcomer programs or special curricula in regular schools
because of factors that affect their ability to attend and complete school,
such as the need to work and support families. In these schools, students
can begin studying in the late afternoon and take academic classes that
grant graduation and college credits.
PROMOTE ACCESS TO POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION
Immigrant students face many obstacles in making the transition to higher
education and need guidance to negotiate the system successfully. A number
of programs provide basic information about preparing for, selecting, and
applying to colleges, and help students throughout the process. Academic
support services such as tutoring, summer schools, weekend programs, and
academies improve students' academic and English language skills. Linkages
with higher education institutions, through mentoring by college or university
students and college visits, can help students learn about and envision
themselves attending a university.
Because education is more necessary than ever for success in today's
workforce, all students should be encouraged to pursue higher education.
However, whether or not students are immediately college bound, all of
them need a secondary education that is academically challenging and develops
the required knowledge and skills necessary for success in the labor market.
Unfortunately, many English language learners are placed in vocational
education classes that are not academically challenging. Effective pathways
to the world of work include career exploration, career guidance, career
academies, cooperative education, youth apprenticeship, school-based enterprises,
entrepreneurship education, internships, youth service, service learning,
and work-based mentoring.
The International High School at LaGuardia Community College in Queens,
New York, is a 4-year comprehensive high school designed for limited English
proficient students who have lived in the United States for less than 4
years. The school's mission is to enable all students "to develop the linguistic,
cognitive, and cultural skills necessary for success in high school, college,
and beyond" (International High School, n.d.). Designated as an alternative
high school within the New York City school system, it is different from
most newcomer schools because it is not temporary (students attend all
4 years) and does not segregate newcomers entirely. Because "all" of the
students are recent immigrants, they are central, not peripheral, to the
school. The school has been completely restructured to promote collaboration
and develop relationships within the school community. Content is taught
in 12 interdisciplinary clusters, each linking four subjects (math, science,
social studies, and language arts) around a theme. Groups of approximately
75 students work together in a cluster with 4 to 8 staff members, with
whom they stay for an entire trimester. Students can use their native languages
socially and in class and can choose to develop them by taking courses.
They have access to all of the college's facilities, can interact with
college students, and can take college courses for credit. A career education
program is built into 2 of the 12 interdisciplinary clusters, to ensure
that students know how to make the transition beyond high school. All students
go through an internship sequence during their tenure at the school.
AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), initiated in San Diego,
California, works to place under-represented students from linguistic and
ethnic minority groups in rigorous academic classes while providing a system
of support and advocacy, which includes explicit instruction in skills
that are essential to academic success. It aims to prepare these students
to perform well in high school and to pursue a college education. Students
are enrolled in a course during the school day that teaches strategies
for interpreting and analyzing texts, writing essays, taking tests, and
approaching faculty for assistance. In addition, teachers and aides tutor
students outside of class in academic subjects. School staff also provide
extensive personal and social support by communicating with the parents,
counseling students with personal problems, helping students through the
college selection and application process, bringing college and university
representatives to the school, and arranging visits to college and university
Project Adelante was established at Kean College (New Jersey) to inspire
Grade 6-12 Hispanic students learning English to work toward the long-term
goals of high school graduation and college entry. Students are encouraged
to remain in the program from the time they enter until they complete high
school. Students attend a Saturday academy in the fall and spring semesters
and a 5-week summer academy on the Kean College campus. The program includes
academic instruction, career and personal counseling, peer tutoring, mentoring
by Hispanic professionals, and family involvement. Transportation is provided
for all students, and parents are encouraged to attend classes. The academic
curriculum is thematically organized, based on a whole language approach,
and is taught by teachers from the participating school districts. Three
counselors are on the staff to teach classes and meet with students in
individual and group counseling sessions throughout the summer, fall, and
spring sessions. In addition, the counselors establish an important link
with the parents by organizing meetings and activities to help them understand
and encourage their children (Center for Applied Linguistics, 1994).
To enable immigrant students to make smooth transitions into, through,
and beyond secondary school, our schools must commit to functioning as
communities, building bridges to students' families and to other organizations
outside the school, providing students with information about the broader
U.S. culture as well as the culture of the school, and developing curricula
and instruction that incorporate students' experiences, knowledge, and
skills. The development of English language abilities, academic skills,
and content knowledge, accompanied by support for native language development,
can provide the foundation for the future success of immigrant students
in secondary schools and beyond.
Center for Applied Linguistics. (1994). "Project Adelante: Moving onward
to a better education." Washington, DC: Author.
Chang, H.N. (1990). "Newcomer programs: Innovative efforts to meet the
challenges of immigrant students." San Francisco: California Tomorrow.
Friedlander, M. (1991). "The newcomer program: Helping immigrant students
succeed in U.S. schools." Washington DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual
Education. International High School. (no date). "Excerpts from Project
PROPEL Handbook." Long Island City, NY: Author. Lucas, T. (in press).
"Into, through, and beyond secondary school: Critical transitions for immigrant
youth. Topics in immigrant education series." McHenry, IL and Washington,
DC: Delta Systems and Center for Applied Linguistics.
Short, D.J. (1991). "How to integrate language and content instruction:
A training manual." Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Spenser, M.B., & Dornbusch, S.M. (1990). Challenges in studying
minority youths. In S.S. Feldman & G. Elliot (Eds.), "At the threshold:
The developing adolescent" (pp. 123-46). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University