Young immigrants to this country — legal and illegal — often have one common experience: attending an American public school. The right set of supports in and around that school can put a newcomer on a path to self-sufficiency, academic success, and options for the future. Of course, the reverse is true as well.

Immigrant students come to America with an enormous range of backgrounds and education levels; the needs of those who received a formal education in their home country are vastly different from the needs of refugees fleeing a war-torn nation who may have had little or no education and are suffering from trauma.

Although this work is complex and varies depending on the students and host communities, the schools and districts that are most successful in helping newcomers become self-sufficient, successful learners have a few things in common: strong school leaders, a commitment to knowing and understanding newcomer students and their families, effective use of data, and wraparound community supports.

Take Salt Lake City’s Granite School District, which enrolls over 70 percent of Utah’s immigrant students. The district serves about 66,000 kids, and most of its campuses are diverse. As an example, the district realized that many newcomers needed a better understanding of how to “do school” which led to the creation of the Tumaini Welcome and Transition Center, a two-week ongoing class to help new students learn skills such as how to use a restroom, how to open a locker, along with basic English. Students attend Tumaini before transitioning to their home school.

There is no single right answer about how to best support newcomer students, but it is clear that schools must provide more than English language skills to help them achieve academic success and self-sufficiency in their new country.

Read the full article about public schools helping immigrant students by Anne Wicks at The 74.