Hooray!!! It’s Real World Wednesday again! This week we have the pleasure of learning from and with Molly McManus.
Molly is a doctoral student studying educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on early school experiences of young children from immigrant and/or marginalized families and immigrant and/or marginalized parents’ experiences supporting the development, education, and well-being of their young children. Molly also holds a BS and teaching credential from California Polytechnic State University and an MA in Human Development, Culture, and Learning Sciences from UT Austin.
Before her graduate studies, Molly worked as a Spanish-English bilingual second grade teacher in Oakland, California. One of her favorite parts of teaching was working with the families of her students and learning about their hopes and dreams for their children. It was in Oakland that she witnessed and began to understand the challenges that immigrant and other marginalized families face early on in the US education system.
In the current political climate, Molly is particularly concerned about potential negative effects of anti-immigrant and deficit attitudes towards immigrants on young children and their families. We asked her, “How do school and teacher attitudes towards immigrant students and their families affect the well-being and academic performance of young children?”
Experiences in early education programs are foundational for all children, and young children of immigrants are no exception. In these programs, children begin to develop beliefs about themselves as learners and as members of their new community. When their formative early years are influenced by experiences of discrimination and/or negative, unwelcoming attitudes from teachers and schools, children’s academic, emotional, and developmental well-being can be compromised.
The degree to which young children of immigrants are welcomed, or not welcomed, into their new schools and programs is also known as their context of reception. Negative contexts of reception have been shown to result in lower motivation and lower academic achievement among immigrant students. Unwelcoming environments can also keep immigrant parents of young children from engaging with teachers and schools and hinders their ability to make the educational decisions that they believe are best for their children.
Alternatively, when young immigrant children enter positive environments they benefit from positive outcomes across multiple domains. These positive contexts of reception include valuing children’s contributions, offering them intellectual, creative, and culturally responsive learning opportunities, and authentically caring about their and their family’s well-being. In these welcoming environments, children are more likely to create positive connections to their surroundings, are more engaged with curriculum, and are more likely to achieve academic success later in their educational careers.
In our current political climate, there seems to be more concern about the damage immigrants can inflict on our schools rather than the ways that schools are capable of harming immigrant students. But the truth is, research shows that immigrant students and young children of immigrants do not have negative affects on our schools systems.
Unfortunately, the opposite is not true. Teachers and schools have the power to create negative, restrictive environments that limit children’s learning and future opportunities. But they also have the power to welcome young children of immigrants into creative and caring environments that value them for the beautiful diversity they bring to our classrooms, schools, and communities.