Over the past 10 years, Maine schools have seen an increase in the enrollment numbers of immigrant children. They arrive with different levels of literacy and varied English fluency. Some children have had some form of education, but others have had practically none since birth. Some may have post-traumatic stress syndrome and require psychological support.
When children arrive in the U.S., they are generally placed in whatever grade matches their chronological age, to leave no child behind. But this doesn’t always work for immigrant children, and their needs often go unmet.
The children must learn English, reading, writing, and other subjects – all at once. It is a challenge for everyone, including the children themselves, their parents, teachers, and school administrators. “Unfortunately, unlike most of their peers, many immigrant children miss the important step of acquiring strong literacy skills by the third grade, and may never catch up with them.
And children who don’t read at grade level tend to drop out of high school. So it’s not surprising to learn that only 18% of immigrant kids opt to go to college, and of this 18%, less than one-third make it through to graduation.
Children of immigrants have curriculum gaps caused by their language limitations. So we must help our children become fluent in English. For some Americans, summer school is a way to keep their children busy during summer, or maybe offer them moments of fun that they couldn’t afford otherwise. But for immigrants, summer school is everything. It’s the hope of sending a first-generation student to college, of breaking through a cycle of family poverty, of ascending to a higher socio-economic level.
So it’s important that school districts and teachers and bus drivers understand – before deciding whether or not to have summer school, or accepting or refusing a summer teaching or driving job – the importance of making summer school possible for immigrant kids. This extra programming can make the difference in the lives of many. School district leaders should prioritize making sure quality summer school programming is part of their annual budget.
Summer school provides an opportune environment where immigrant children can work hard to catch up, with the support of dedicated teachers. It’s an opportunity for children to improve their English grammar, reading, writing, and comprehension, which will help them avoid accumulating further gaps the following academic year. It’s with this additional support that immigrant children will not fall behind; this is how no child is left behind. We can use summer schools as a tool in the hands of parents, teachers, and schools to help immigrant children succeed in their studies and settle in their new culture and therefore in their future.
Journalist Jorge Ramos once said, “The greatest nations are defined by how they treat their weakest inhabitants.” Let’s make our summer classes an asylum or island refuge where our New Mainer kids can work toward a cheerful future.
Nsiona Nguizani is the president of the Angolan Community of Maine. He arrived in the U.S. in 2012, and is now a permanent resident. In Angola, he built a successful career as a project manager for organizations such as UNICEF, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the European Union. Before moving to the U.S. he was the national representative of Comité d’Aide Medicale and traveled between offices in Paris and Luanda. When he arrived in the U.S., he was obliged to start all over again, and earned degrees in Accounting and Economics. He is currently employed as cultural broker for the City of Brunswick.