The day after parent-teacher conferences, a second grade teacher wondered about the father of a student, “Why did he address me as ‘teacher’? What if I call him Mr. Computer Programmer?” She was specifically addressing me, because I was both the school’s bilingual paraprofessional, and- as a Pakistani- shared a similar South Asian culture. I could hardly convince her that, in reality, the father was conveying his utmost respect as the South Asian culture affords for those with the title of “Teacher.” That same night, a female teacher felt disrespected when a male parent hesitated when shaking hands. It was incomprehensible, for the teacher, that certain cultures maintain physical barriers between men and women.
Like their parents, children of immigrants are also misunderstood- even by senior educators. For example, a new Indian immigrant student was stressed and anxious to do his best. As he had been the top student of his class in India, he wanted to replicate that success in the American school as well. In order to ensure that he understands all the information, he constantly emailed his teachers about the course material taught in the classroom. Since he communicated in crude and basic English, his emails angered one senior teacher. She found his way of writing disrespectful. Instead of acknowledging his courage to communicate with limited vocabulary, she was upset at the way he tried to communicate. It was difficult for her to understand that his poor grades affected his self-esteem.
However, this only addresses the academic aspect. To guarantee success, the psycho-social aspect of immigrant children also needs to be addressed for overall well being and complete acculturation process in the host country. America is a diverse nation with a larger immigrant population. In 2010, “there were 39.9 million foreign-born people in the United States” (Facts, 2012). Census data shows that immigrant children comprise approximately 20% of the U.S. child population”- with the figure expected to increase to 30% by 2015. Currently in the United States, one of five children under the age of eighteen — a total of fourteen million — is either an immigrant child or a child of immigrant parents (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 2001). These statistics therefore urge policy makers on the state and federal level to consider obtaining the services of culturally sensitive persons, in particular school social workers who can understand the problems of immigrants’ children.
According to the National Center of Cultural Competence, “cultural competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency or among professionals and enable that system, agency or those professions to work effectively in cross-cultural situations” (Definitions, n.d.). Standard Nine of National Association of Social Workers also emphasizes the importance of cultural competence. “School social workers shall ensure that students and their families are provided services within the context of multicultural understanding and competence.” However, despite of all the factual statistics about the immigrant population, educational policy makers are failing to fulfill the needs of these children on a deeper level.
One research study done in New Jersey schools confirms that the stress related to pre- and post- immigration is huge. For example, some of the consequences of separation from one parent during the immigration process include feelings of loss, anger, aggressive behavior, depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder (Immigration, 2012).
Other factors include leaving the extended family network, friends and familiar places and adjusting in a new environment; limited understanding of English; adjusting in an alien culture; and emotionally dealing with overall traumatic experiences on a daily basis. Working as a bilingual paraprofessional for different age groups, I feel that trauma is more intense for adolescents as compared to very young age group. Once, a 13-year-old Asian immigrant with very limited English vocabulary broke down one day, out of frustration, emotional pain and helplessness and started weeping like a child. Indeed, Middle School in not easy to handle both academically and emotionally.
Sometimes immigrant children who are proficient in English go through issues other than learning the English language. These children deal with the problem of living in conflicting cultures of mainstream and family. Such kids are at increased risk of substance use, school failure and dropout, criminal activities, and psychological problems. Even if they excel in the area of academics, the stress related to immigration sometimes is never resolved (McCarthy, n.d.).
Because of the challenges, immigrant children require special education needs and services that not only help them in the area of academics, but also understand their emotional, social, and psychological problems. It is important that multicultural and diverse school districts utilize the services of culturally-competent social workers for the well being of the immigrants’ children. Therefore, the role of the School Social Worker is important in making connection between school, home, and community. This connection helps ensure that the student is “mentally, physically and emotionally present in the classroom” (NASW, 2012).

Gohar Taj (MSW) is a drug substance abuse therapist.

Works Cited

“Definitions of Cultural Competence.” NCCC: Curricula Enhancement Module Series. National Center for Cultural Competence, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <>.

“The Facts on Immigration Today.” Center for American Progress. The Center for American Progress Immigration Team, 6 July 2012. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <>.

“Immigration, Children and Families: What Professionals Need to Know.” Immigration, Children and Families: What Professionals Need to Know. N.p., 2012. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <>.

McCarthy, Kristin. “Adaptation of Immigrant Children to the United States: A Reviw of the Literature.” Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. Princeton University: Center for Economic Policy Studies and the Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <>.

“NASW Standards for School Social Work Services.” Ed. Jeane W. Anastas. National Association of Social Workers, 2012. Web. 26 Nov. 2012. <>.

Suarez-Orozco, Carola, and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco. “Children of Immigration.” Harvard Educational Review. Harvard University Press, 2001. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <>.


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