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Children, Families, and Immigration: Using Books to Support and Educate

Post submitted by Kimmie Fink, Welcoming Schools Facilitator

It’s a challenging time for teachers. In the last few weeks, as executive orders to fund a border wall with Mexico and suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program have been handed down, educators are again in the position of not just explaining new rules and policies to students, but supporting those who are understandably worried for themselves and their families. Teachers must be prepared to address bias-based bullying, advocate for refugee and immigrant children and families, and create classroom environments that honor all identities.

That might seem like a daunting prospect, especially for elementary school teachers. High school students may be better able to articulate their thoughts and fears through academic conversation or writing, but elementary students experience the same anxiety without that kind of outlet. Fortunately, elementary educators have a “go-to” strategy for difficult situations: read-alouds. For teachers wanting to address issues concerning immigration as they pertain to children, Welcoming Schools has developed the following list: Books for Students: Children, Families, and Immigrants.

For younger children, consider sharing books about immigration and refugees with message of inclusion. The Color of Home, by Mary Hoffman, tells the story of first grade Somali refugee Hassan. Hassan struggles to adjust to a new language, culture, and home but finds an outlet through painting.

A chapter book, such as Julia Alvarez’s Return to Sender, is an excellent option for intermediate readers. Alvarez’s novel centers around the challenging friendship between the son of a farmer and the daughter of a migrant worker.

Inclusive read-alouds serve a dual purpose. They provide children with both mirrors and windows. Students should see themselves reflected in literature, and they should also have the opportunity to learn about those who are different. Read-alouds like those featured by Welcoming Schools simultaneously validate the experiences and identities of minority groups and provide opportunities for developing empathy and understanding. These days, all our students could use a lot more of that.

HRC’s Welcoming Schools is the nation’s premier program dedicated to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools in embracing family diversity, creating LGBTQ-inclusive schools, preventing bias-based bullying, creating gender-expansive schools, and supporting transgender and non-binary students.