Philadelphia has one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the nation. More than half a million now call the city home. Given that, the city should take a closer look at how it helps immigrants to adjust, especially children having a hard time in new schools.
It's natural for people to want to be "surrounded by people who look like us," says Ludy Soderman, director of the city's Multilingual Family Support Office. Immigrant children are particularly sensitive to being different and often are too shy to take part in classroom activities.
The schools must work harder to stop the harassment of immigrant youths, says Helen Gym, a board member of Asian Americans United. After two dozen Asian students were attacked at a South Philadelphia high school in 2009, Gym helped organize multiracial/multilingual leadership programs that other schools should replicate.
"I not only helped train staff and students on bias harassment, language access, and racial discrimination, but also instituted new policies that required investigation, language access, connection to victim support, and resolution," Gym said.
Teachers should be the eyes and ears that notice when immigrant children are having difficulty at school. But parents have a larger responsibility. They must talk to their children regularly to learn what they are experiencing. They need to know who their children are interacting with to help them steer from danger.