May 13, 2022

Educational Support for Immigrant Students and their Families Begins with Renewed Perspective

By Megan Forbes, MPP '23

It is no secret that childhood educators have faced some of the greatest challenges and heaviest responsibilities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond navigating steep learning curves around virtual classes and technology, teachers were hurled into the deep waters of students' home lives like never before. And as the pandemic brought social disparities into stark clarity, teachers were tasked with how to connect and support students according to their unique needs. Among those challenges was how to best support immigrant students and their families.

In her recent lecture, Teaching in Times of COVID: Preparing Teachers to Work with Immigrant Students, Families, and Communities, Dr. Ana Christina da Silva addressed many questions teachers and schools are still asking. Dr. da Silva's approach to the challenge invites educators to embrace curiosity, rather than grapple for control.

"The gift of chaos," da Silva pointed out (referring to the pandemic), is the opportunity to see the world anew. She urged listeners to "reframe their consciousness" — more pointedly, to reimagine their preconceived notions surrounding immigrant communities.

Addressing the preconceived notion that immigrants are at a deficit is one of da Silva’s primary goals. This perspective is primarily attached to ideas around lacking English language skills but can bleed into presumptions around a lack of familiarity with the dominant cultural rhythms of their cities. Often, lacking these two skills relegates immigrant people into a category of incompetence, and acquiring these skills becomes the naive solution to most problems.

As an alternative, da Silva highlights the vital importance of viewing immigrant communities from an asset-based perspective. Immigrants come bearing gifts of rich multicultural histories, practices, stories, and languages that can expand the wealth of our classrooms and communities at large. We need to make space for those things to enrich our worlds, not discount them.

This shift toward an asset-based perspective leads to better support for immigrant students and families because it values them. Valuing these students and their families, languages, and cultures of origin is vital in building trusting relationships. It allows them to be seen and heard, and how else will schools be able to truly support these families without first seeing and hearing them?

Letting go of preconceived notions and instead listening, learning, and appreciating; this is the “new consciousness,” and the crucial starting point. It is only from this new starting point that educators can enter into what she calls “a pedagogy of possibility,” a new way of imagining teaching and classroom dynamics.  A way that “resists English-only and xenophobia, and focuses on equity and justice,” da Silva shares, and a way that all students and families are more connected, valued, and supported.


Megan Forbes is a first year Masters in Public Policy student studying Social Policy. She intends to pursue family advocacy work focused on equitable public health strategy.