Caregivers & Educators

How Schools Can Support Newcomer Youth


Supporting immigrant youth in school settings can be challenging. Successful integration requires the efforts of students, but is also shaped by community members and the culture of the school. Schools play a critical role in the daily lives of immigrant students. In this article, you can explore how educators can better support newcomer youth and their families.


Strategies for Teachers

The role of a teacher is to create a positive classroom by giving students a sense of control, self-worth, and belonging, while creating opportunities for positive relationship building and intellectual stimulation. Here are some strategies educators can implement to help newcomer students feel safe and comfortable enough to learn:  

  • Build predictability and consistency into the student’s day. Youth who experienced forced migration have undergone a great deal of change and have lost routines, competencies, and mastery in how they operated in their home culture. Educators can intentionally design their classrooms to equip newcomer students with tools that allow them to operate in their new environment with returned mastery, which they can use to their advantage toward integration.

  • Encourage breaks and steady pacing. In your classroom, refugee and other newcomer students may be experiencing high levels of stimulation due to their cultural adjustment and resettlement stressors. This level of activation can be overwhelming for youth, and educators should be cognizant of students’ emotional needs. Educators can make sure students know that making mistakes, taking breaks, and acknowledging when they feel overwhelmed are not only okay but are also necessary parts of the learning process.  

  • Create space for the student to self-advocate and self-express. Educators should lean into strengths-based teaching styles that celebrate a newcomer student and their skills. Instead of focusing on their struggles to learn English, affirm their multilingualism. Allow students to tell their story, embrace their culture, and process their past. When educators take an interest in their students by allowing them opportunities to share, it builds trust and helps create a more inclusive environment.


Strategies for Administrators

Administrators hold a lot of power and play a key role in implementing equitable principles and practices in the school setting to improve educational and socioemotional outcomes for immigrant youth.   


Here are four innovative examples of how administrators around the U.S. can help newcomers feel welcome: 

  • Hire refugee family liaisons who serve as cultural brokers for various newcomer communities. Liaisons can support communication between schools and families by speaking to families in their native language, and doing so in a culturally sensitively way. 

  • Partner with programs and institutions to diversify the educator hiring pool. By creating opportunities for people from under-represented groups, administrators not only promote equity, but also impact the experiences of students. It can be transformational for students to have role models from their own backgrounds who support them through the acculturation process. 

  • Empower school staff to provide culturally sensitive services. Partnerships with local refugee service providers and community-based organizations can help! Bringing in local experts who work daily with newcomer populations can provide perspective on what considerations different school staff can take in welcoming newcomers.

  • Provide opportunities for parents and students to become acquainted with the school community and educational practices. Host events to integrate families into the community, and ensure that all correspondence that is sent home is available in the native language of the student.


Strategies for Counselors & Social Workers

For a positive educational experience, one of the most essential factors for a newcomer learner is that they feel a sense of belonging in their new community. Due to the social-emotional nature of this need, counselors are best situated to walk alongside newcomer students as they make friendships, build routines, and discover new learning strategies. Here are several ways counselors can support integration: 

  • Get to know the newly arrived refugee students in your schools. Provide opportunities for them to participate in counseling groups and build their social-emotional skills where they have a safe outlet to share their feelings and thoughts. Reach out to their families and provide relevant resources that can help with school integration. Many refugee families understand the roles of teachers but need guidance on the roles of other school personnel. Reaching out to them can create a bridge toward further communication and support.  

  • Encourage informal groupings.  Peer mentoring can also be less overt through opportunities like lunch groups and community circles that cover various social-emotional topics. For those newcomer learners who may not feel comfortable being singled out and targeted for support, group work can be a less intimidating opportunity to make friends and share in a more communal setting.

  • Facilitate access to therapeutic interventions. The stigma around discussing mental health in many cultures can make it challenging for counselors to encourage therapeutic intervention. For support in these conversations, counselors should work closely with school social workers, who play a key role in connecting students and their families to resources in the community. This may include referrals to therapists, help accessing health care, or even vouchers for supplementary food and clothing where appropriate. Newly arrived families may not know about these resources , and social workers can be a huge asset.

  • Practice cultural sensitivity. Some newcomers may not even have ways to describe or understand emotional states or mental health in their native language and cultural context. To address these barriers, counselors can be strategic by asking families about their own practices when they are feeling sad or stressed. Other cultures often have their own deeply ingrained healing practices that may seem unconventional in the U.S. context but can be useful starting points for learning, relationship building, and mental wellness.