Your school may have partnerships with organizations that address basic needs, health care, migrant and immigration issues, refugee services or other topics relevant to families. Learn how those partnerships work and ensure families are connected to those resources where possible.


How a Community School Helps ELLs Succeed

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Working with Community Organizations to Support ELL Students

Working with Community Organizations to Support ELL Students

Young girl playing a violin

When building a support network for ELLs, community organizations can play a valuable role and offer resources that schools may not have at their disposal. Learn how to get started with these tips!

When building a support network for English language learners (ELLs), community organizations can play a valuable role and offer resources that schools may not have at their disposal in order to work with ELLs and their families. While the community schools model is one way that these partnerships can grow and thrive, a school need not be an official community school to have effective partnerships.

Bridging the gap

Organizations that work on behalf of specific immigrant communities, for example, can play an important part in helping schools bridge language and cultural gaps by providing:

  • Interpreters: Many school districts struggle to find interpreters for school events or conferences and to translate important documents for parents, especially for languages that have a lower incidence in the district. Community organizations may be able to provide intepreters, print translations, or recommendations of other translation services.
  • Cultural liaisons: It is important for schools to be sensitive to the diverse cultural backgrounds and customs of all of its students; the customs of ELL students may be very diverse when it comes to religious observances, dietary restrictions, and social expectations. Community organizations with a cultural/national affiliation can provide invaluable insight to teachers, administrators, and staff by offering trainings and workshops that focus on providing information about a specific culture or country. This may be particularly valuable when a new immigrant community begins to grow in an area that has not previously been settled by members of this community.
  • Experts on historical and political background: When welcoming students from a new immigrant community to the school, it may be helpful to learn more about the historical and political background of that community, particularly if that background has shaped immigration or resettlement patterns. For example, when refugees are resettled in a new community, understanding the conflict that displaced those refugees may go a long way in determining how to provide necessary support. This is also an important step in understanding potential traumas or hardship students may be experiencing.

Services and support

The leaders and staff of community organizations may also have many ideas about how schools, businesses, and other groups can work together to support ELL students and their families by offering:

  • After-school tutoring
  • Student internships
  • Medical services
  • Social services
  • Clothing/food drives
  • ESL classes for adults
  • Continuing education programs
  • Immigration information
  • Citizenship classes
  • Information on disaster relief

Note: Many undocumented immigrant families may forego services to which they are entitled due to fear of immigration enforcement, including food stamps, disaster relief, and medical care. In addition, they may not be eligible for other kids of benefits due to their immigration status. Being aware of these challenges can help schools meet students' most immediate needs discretely.

Getting started

If you are unsure of how to start a collaboration with your local community organizations, that's ok! Start by calling some of the organizations in your area and scheduling informal conversations to brainstorm ideas on ways that you can support each other. You may be surprised at how quickly the ideas start coming to you!

For more information, see the hotlinks section of this article, which includes a list of organizations working on behalf of different immigrant communities around the country, as well as organizations focused on the community schools model.

Hot links

Coalition for Community Schools

The Coalition for Community Schools, housed at the Institute for Educational Leadership, is an alliance of national, state and local organizations in education K-16, youth development, community planning and development, family support, health and human services, government and philanthropy as well as national, state and local community school networks.

American Educator, Fall 2015: Community Schools Edition

This edition of the American Federation of Teachers' Fall 2015 publication focuses on community schools, how they work, and how partnerships help schools, students, and families.

Latin American Youth Center

The Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) is a multicultural community-based organization in the Washington, DC area that supports youth and their families in their determination to live, work, and study with dignity, hope, and joy. The LAYC Family of Organizations is a network of youth centers, schools and social enterprises with a shared commitment to helping youth become successful and happy young adults, with the skills they need to succeed educationally, professionally, and personally.

LSNA: A Model of Successful School-Community Partnership

The Logan Square Neighborhood Association is a nationally recognized model of successful collaboration between a community organization and public schools, creating a community-centered school that serves immigrant families.

Girls Inc.

Girls Inc. is a national nonprofit youth organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. With roots dating to 1864, Girls Inc. has provided vital educational programs to millions of American girls, particularly those in high-risk, underserved areas. Today, innovative programs help girls confront subtle societal messages about their value and potential, and prepare them to lead successful, independent, and fulfilling lives.

Massachusetts DOE Resources for Family and Community Involvement

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education offers resources for family literacy and community involvement, providing information about program design and links to other useful Web sites.

Partnership for After School Education

The Partnership for After School Education (PASE), a New York City-focused organization, promotes and supports quality afterschool programs for youth, particularly those from underserved communities, enabling them to identify and reach their full potential.

Californians Together

Californians Together is a statewide coalition of parents, teachers, education advocates and civil rights groups committed to securing equal access to quality education for all children, specifically underserved English Language Learners.



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Engaging ELL Families Through Community Partnerships

Guide for Engaging ELL Families: 20 Strategies for School Leaders

Engaging ELL Families Through Community Partnerships

How can schools develop strategic relationships with community partners? Which issues are best addressed through a community partnership? Learn more from the strategies below. These strategies appear in Engaging ELL Families: Twenty Strategies for School Leaders.

The following strategies offer tips for thinking creatively about how to work with community partners and identify the most effective partnerships for your school community.

Supporting immigrant families

For related ideas, see the following:

17. Build partnerships with the local community

Download PDF versions:

A. What you need to know

Community organizations are a valuable ally in engaging ELL families, whether it's by providing key services such as interpreters and medical care or educational opportunities such as GED, ESL, and citizenship classes.

These partnerships can benefit your family and your partners alike, and they may lead to great opportunities for your students as well!

B. Reflection

Have you built any relationships with organizations in the community? If so, what are the successes and challenges you've experienced? Which social services do your families need most?

C. Strategies

  • Consider offering local organizations free space in your school as a way to encourage them to bring their services closer to your families (Houk, 70).
  • Ask your families which organizations they think would make good partners for the school community and which issues are of concern to them.
  • Find out if your district has a community education department that might be able to support a partnership with a local organization.
  • Invite members from the community to inform parents about their services, such as a local librarian, a nurse, or a firefighter.

Note: When inviting guests from the community to the school, assure parents that identification will not be checked and explain that they do not need to show proof of legal residency to sign up for a library card.

D. Examples

  • Christine Pearsall from New York shares the following on the National Education Association's website: "Our school hosts monthly Latino Family meetings - hosted and conducted entirely in Spanish by Spanish-speaking staff. The turnout is incredible every time. We discuss issues of concern to the parents and community, as well as periodically bringing in outside speakers (i.e. reps. from the library, Census bureau, etc.)." She also recommends using students from local adult ESL programs as translators in these informal settings as "it helps them practice English, get extra credit for themselves" and support their fellow country people (Flannery,
  • Highland Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland was chosen as a Blue Ribbon turnaround school by the Maryland State Department of Education in 2008. Part of its success, according to school principal, was its increased inclusion of the families. According to The Washington Post, "The school positioned itself as the center of its community, offering weekend soccer tournaments, English and computer classes for parents, and an array of other community services, from housing assistance to mental health counseling (de Vise, 2008)."

Resources: Immigration topics

18. Get to know your neighbors

A. What you need to know

Changing demographics can lead to tensions in the local neighborhood. (Think Clint Eastwood's character in the movie Gran Torino.) You may find it very productive to build a stronger relationship with your school's local neighbors, for your sake and theirs as well!

B. Reflection

What is your school's relationship like with the local community? If your local demographics are changing, what is the community's response to that change? What are some of the needs of your local community? What are the social/emotional/health issues your students face that community agencies might be able to help with?

C. Strategies

  • Look for ways that students can contribute to their neighbors (especially those who have young children or the elderly) by doing neighborhood clean-ups and volunteer work.
  • Inform local neighbors about the opportunity to tutor, volunteer, or donate used goods to the school and ELL families.
  • Look for places where interests and activities overlap. Consider posting a community board where everyone can post what they need or can offer.
  • Look for fundraising opportunities, such as a local yard sale that raises money for a new parent center.
  • Tell the community about the challenges your ELL families are facing. For example, if you have a new group of refugees arriving, collaborate with their placement agency to collect household items, furniture, and winter clothing.

D. Examples

  • When the Extreme MakeoverTM show came to Buffalo, NY, the students at Kevin Eberle's school took on an "extreme" neighborhood clean-up and food drive, raking leaves for the neighbors and collecting a record-breaking 85 tons of food. Their efforts did far more to change the attitude that local residents had about the school than any meeting could have done, and they attracted great publicity for the school's students.
  • Following the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the phones at Evans High in Orlando, FL began ringing off the hook and the office was filled with visitors as concerned neighbors asked how they could help the school's more than 600+ Haitian students and families.

Video: How we partner with our neighborhood association



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What Multilingual Health Services and Support Look Like in Brockton, MA

What Multilingual Health Services and Support Look Like in Brockton, MA

Brockton vaccine clinic

Learn how Brockton Public Schools in Massachusetts has made multilingual health services available for its families and how their support network mobilized during COVID-19.

Image credit: Stone, Alyssa. Students and family members wait to receive their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine a vaccination clinic Brockton High School. The Enterprise. Used with permission.

Over the past several years, Brockton Public Schools (BPS) has developed a robust network of support for its multilingual families, including within its nursing department.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, bilingual nurses, English-speaking nurses, interpreters, and family liaisons have all collaborated closely to stay connected with families. Learn more about what this outreach has looked like during the pandemic and what it has accomplished from our interviews with the following BPS staff and leaders:

  • Astride Jeune, BSN, RN (School nurse)
  • Tracy Politano, MSN, RN (School nurse)
  • Stacy Wright, LPN (School nurse)
  • Linda Cahill, DNP, RN (Nursing Supervisor)
  • Marie Jean-Philippe (District Interpreter)
  • Michael Thomas (Superintendent)


This article is part of our series on multilingual outreach and support in Brockton, MA and was made possible with the generous support of the National Education Association.

Multilingual Health Support in Brockton

In order to understand why BPS was able to mobilize its COVID-19 response so quickly, it's helpful to understand the health infrastructure that the district already had in place before the pandemic.

Language access for Brockton's families

BPS' Health Services Department includes multilingual nurses who speak Cape Verdean, Creole, Haitian Creole, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. The district also has a language line that nurses can use to support multilingual communication. Astride Jeune, a Haitian school nurse, says, "As a bilingual nurse, it's my role and my make parents feel there's no barrier."

Ms. Jeune's work with the community started long before becoming a school nurse. When the hospital where she worked closed, she learned about the opportunities as a school nurse and said to herself, "This is a great fit for me. I'm still going to be seeing the community. I'm still going to be mingling with children and giving them all the support that I can, making sure that the community is doing what they're supposed to be doing." It was a good move for Ms. Jeune. "I love it," she says.

Collaboration around communication

While Ms. Jeune's primary outreach focuses on the Haitian community, she also has experience in using the district's language line to support families from other communities. The same is true for all of the other BPS nurses serving multilingual families. According to Tracy Politano, a school nurse who has extensive experience collaborating with community advocates and interpreters, "There's no hassle in getting an interpreter anywhere in this district." The relationships that district interpreters have with families are essential, she says, noting that she collaborates with the interpreters whenever she can. "They have great connections with our families. They know what they need. They know they can come to us for anything, and they are just so helpful," she says.

Ms. Politano says she particularly values her close collaboration with one of the district's Haitian interpreters, Marie Jean-Philippe. "Oh, yes!" Ms. Jean-Philippe says. "Tracy's my best buddy!" Ms. Jean-Philippe notes that she also brings many questions from families to Ms. Politano, who always shares any information she can to support families.

For example, she says, Ms. Politano knows which doctors are most welcoming to multilingual families. "Sometimes I call her and ask her if she knows any good pediatricians," Ms. Jean-Philippe says. "She knows doctors who are very compassionate and committed to helping others."

For her part, Ms. Politano has always seen herself as an advocate for multilingual families. "I've always worked with interpreters who were coming from the hospital," she says. "I was a very strong advocate for always having interpreters available. I worked in a stress lab, and if you're doing a cardiac stress test on somebody, you want to make sure you have an interpreter there so they understand what's going on fully.

"I encourage all my families in my school to reach out to an interpreter anytime they go to their doctors' appointments. I've had some cases where families were never offered an interpreter and I told them they have a right to an interpreter at every appointment that they go to."

Video: Breaking down barriers with multilingual families

Astride Jeune in Brockton, MA explains why her role as a bilingual school nurse is so important for family outreach and how the nurses support each other.

Video: How school nurses collaborate with interpreters in Brockton, MA

Tracy Politano describes how she partners with interpreters to communicate with multilingual families and how she encourages families to advocate for language access in their medical appointments.

Video: Why I love my work with families as a community facilitator

Marie-Jean Philippe, a community facilitator and liaison for Haitian families in Brockton, talks about her role and her work helping her families navigate health care.

Health Outreach During COVID-19

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Health Services' department has taken on a wide range of responsibilities. Early on, one of the district's first steps was to provide a group of nurses, guidance counselors, and adjustment counselors with dedicated cell phones that families could call with questions. The district also established a health call center to field family questions.

In addition, the nurses' responsibilities have included:

  • Contact tracing (often using the language line to connect with interpreters)
  • Sharing safety practices
  • Holding flu vaccine clinics
  • Answering families' questions

All of these efforts have included multilingual resources, outreach, and communication to make information as widely available as possible. The district has been particularly interested in the use of video as a more personal way to reach families. PBS Public Relations Officer Jess Hodges notes, "We were very intentional in wanting to use video so that families would get to know the nurses and feel comfortable reaching out throughout the pandemic. It’s often daunting to contact someone with health concerns when all they are is a name and number on a piece of paper. We wanted our families to see that, while these nurses may not be at their child’s school, they are here to support all BPS families."

For examples of the nurses' multilingual outreach, you can see these videos promoting the school's flu vaccine clinic in the following languages:

COVID-19 Health Updates and Vaccines

At the same time, the nurses (and interpreters) have fielded numerous questions from families about COVID-19 and the vaccines. Ms. Jeune notes that the families she serves have asked her questions such as, "Is the vaccine safe to take? Which one of the three vaccines are the safest? After the vaccine, can we still catch COVID?" She says families have a lot of questions related to vaccinating their children and she expects those only to increase once vaccines are approved for younger children.

This kind of outreach has been happening throughout the district. "The school nurses have been incredible in answering questions and communicating with families in their preferred language throughout the pandemic," says Miss Hodges. "They would explain the quarantine process and provide support where possible."

Getting vaccines into the community

This personal outreach has proven critical in helping families get vaccinated, combatting myths on social media, and lessening the stigma of the vaccine — and it has occured in partnership with the city. "I think the city has done a great job in trying to get the word out and do a lot of outreach and make it easier for folks to get the vaccine if they want it," says Ms. Cahill. "They have a vaccine ambassador to encourage folks...They've had vaccine clinics weekly at the Cape Verdean Association, at Westgate Mall, and at various churches. Education is a huge piece of it."

The district has also partnered closely with the city around other vaccine clinics for the community, as well as for school staff and families. The first clinic that school nurses held was for Brockton first responders and others followed as the vaccines were approved for use among other groups, including students and families. The nurses are now facilitating vaccine clinics for students 5 and older at schools around the district, and they are publicizing sites where families can access testing, vaccines, and boosters.

These clinics have also involved a lot of multilingual support. Stacy Wright, a one-to-one school nurse, notes that interpreters were at the clinics, which made a big difference in helping the clinics run smoothly. The vaccine clinics have been a highlight of Ms. Wright's career. "I have so enjoyed doing the vaccine clinics. It's probably the best nursing experience I have ever had...Everyone is just so warm and welcoming and excited about it, so it's been a really phenomenal experience."

Multilingual resources in the community

To see some of the other multilingual outreach resources in Brockton around vaccines, take a look at the following:

Video: The community spirit at our vaccine clinics

Stacy Wright talks about the warm and welcoming spirit in Brockton, MA"s community COVID-19 vaccine clinics.

Video: What vaccine outreach has looked like in Brockton

Linda Cahill, the nursing supervisor for Brockton, MA, describes some of the ways that the city has supported outreach for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Collaboration with the Brockton Education Association

Another example of collaboration that has supported the nurses' role during the pandemic has been the ongoing work between the school district and the Brockton Education Association, the local teacher's union whose members include school nurses. Both parties have worked closely together around these developments as nurses' schedules and responsibilities have shifted. According to Brockton Superintendent Michael Thomas, "Kim Gibson, our local union president, and I met and we came up with an agreement to allow nurses to help with contact tracing. That was easy to get done and it couldn't take a lot of time and it didn't. So a lot of people had to jump in, and our nurses did that right away, led by Linda Cahill."

The union and district also worked together when, not long after the pandemic began, the Brockton's municipal Board of Health asked the school district if Ms. Cahill could fill in as interim board director for the city. Once again, Mr. Thomas and Ms. Gibson went back to the drawing board and figured out how to make it happen. "The role that she played city-wide has actually really helped us in the school system because it continued to give us information to help us deal with COVID-19," says Mr. Thomas. (He also notes that the work done by Ms. Cahill, who has a doctorate in nursing, and the nurses has benefited the city considering that, due to budgetary issues, Brockton only had one full-time nurse working for the Board of Health at the start of the pandemic.)

In addition, Ms. Politano, who is a union representative, shares that the union has been instrumental in advocating for better ventilation in school buildings. "Kim has worked hard to ensure that every school had adequate air supply and air exchange in every single building. She has the guidelines down to a science and that wasn't easy. We have a lot of older schools in the district, and she made sure every school was safe for our staff and students. It was a huge accomplishment on the union's part."

Community Outreach During COVID-19

In addition to all of these efforts, the nursing staff has been involved with other kinds of community outreach and support during the pandemic, including:

  • collaborating with community health care providers and local clinics
  • staffing Parent Information Centers to help families access medical records
  • connecting families with the district's resources for food and housing assistance
  • doing home visits
  • managing deliveries of food, water, diapers, and other supplies
  • organizing winter clothing drives
  • partnering with hospitals and local universities
  • attending community meetings
  • collecting donations of board games for family game nights
  • collaborating with the police department to share holiday gifts with students

Families have expressed their appreciation for all of the support. "The nurses relate to me the gratitude that our families speak about when they receive food and clothing," says Ms. Cahill. She also notes that the outreach extends beyond the district's families into the community, which has been valuable throughout the pandemic.

A Close Team

Given how much they have been through and how closely they work together, it is not surprising to learn that the BPS nurses speak highly of their team. "We are always checking in on each other," says Ms. Politano. Pointing to Ms. Wright next to her in the interview, she says, "Who else would bring in matching headbands on a hot day today while we are working? It's definitely a family."

The nurses also credit Linda Cahill's leadership for this key support during such a difficult time. "She's always there to support us," says Ms. Politano. "There's times when I go crazy trying to get things for my kids and she's right there behind me.  She's there to make sure it happens and ensure our kids get what they need."

Ms. Jeune echoes this sentiment. "This is a great team. I could not ask for a better team," she says. "I have very good moral support, which is very important...and I'm thankful for that."

Recommended Resources

Learn more about Brockton's COVID-19 response from Debbie Zacarian's article Proactively Building a Rapid Response Team.


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Supporting ELL Success with STEAM and Hands-On Learning (Part 2)

Supporting ELL Success with STEAM and Hands-On Learning (Part 2)

Salina student picking lettuce

Learn how an elementary school serving a high number of newcomer ELLs has succeeded in engaging students with multiple opportunities for hands-on learning.

Photo from Salina Elementary School. Used with permission.

When you visit Salina Elementary School in Dearborn, Michigan, one of the first things you are likely to notice is the dynamic student work displayed throughout the school. Colorful art projects hang on the walls and from the ceilings, and student work is posted along every hallway. Classrooms often have intricate science, social studies, or literature projects displayed prominently in the room.

At Salina, a Title I school, more than 90% of students are English language learners (ELLs). Many of the students are newcomers from the war-torn country of Yemen who are arriving with limited formal education. As part of their approach to providing a safe, supportive, and rich learning environment for their young students, Salina has embraced hands-on learning, particularly with newcomers. In this article, the staff share how they have woven hands-on learning across the curriculum and sustained it during COVID-19 and virtual/hybrid learning.

Special thanks to the Salina Elementary educators who contributed to Part 2 of this series:

  • Cynthia Alvarado, Media Specialist
  • Beth Gorman, Instructional Coach and Garden Supervisor
  • Linda Lock, Art Teacher
  • Susan Stanley, Salina Elementary Principal

To learn more about Salina Elementary and how the school has engaged with newcomer families during COVID-19, see Part 1 of this series, Supporting Young ELLs' Success During COVID-19.

Hands-On Learning with STEAM

One reason that Salina has enthusiastically embraced hands-on learning is that they have seen the power of giving students early successes while they are learning a new language. They have also seen the opportunities hands-on learning gives students to develop their language skills in both their home languages and in their new language of English.

"STEAM-based activities are integral to closing the equity gap for our EL students," says Principal Susan Stanley. "The power to innovate, create, hypothesize, and collaborate does not require the same level of navigating the nuances of new languages that traditional learning requires. With intentional instruction, language barriers are erased. Children spend time exploring, questioning, and making meaning through discovery and collaborating with their peers. Language development is a natural byproduct of this type of learning."

Salina's activities include building and robotics, makerspace, computer coding, a school garden, and an annual STEAM expo where students show the special projects they have created based on their learning. The staff has looked for creative ways to continue hands-on learning during the pandemic.

Here are some examples of Salina's hands-on activities for students:

  • LEGO®: All students participate in LEGO® projects such as problem-solving, model projects in different content areas, and robotics. In addition, Salina Elementary participates in a LEGO® League project to prepare students for the First Robotics program that takes place at Salina Intermediate and Edsel Ford High School. The secondary students serve as mentors for the younger students, which helps them to build a cohesive program. During distance learning, LEGO® League projects were accomplished through family pods since mixed groups were not possible and older siblings mentored younger siblings throughout the process.
  • Makerspace: Salina offers a variety of maker projects at each grade level for students to demonstrate their learning in non-linguistic ways. Staff note, "This really offers all students a chance to shine, especially those whose language skills are still developing." Examples of maker projects include: making game boards, models of story elements, and the Grade 3 State of Michigan artifact project. Salina also has a Makers Club after school with a free choice and exploration format. The school had maker kits delivered to homes while students were learning remotely.
  • One School One Book: In this project-based program, every student in the school gets the same chapter book and the entire school reads the book together at home and in the classroom. The classes then integrate bulletin boards, displays, reading, writing, making robots (this year they are reading The Wild Robot), art displays, directed drawing, math, and robotics. The staff notes, "Even though we were in the middle of a pandemic and in a hybrid model, the kids read and learned and created with enthusiasm."

Community partnerships

Partnerships with local community organizations, companies, and universities have also played an important role in supporting this work, in part because the Dearborn School District has encouraged collaboration with many of the major institutions and corporations in the Detroit area. For example, Ford Motor Company supports LEGO® League, and the Dearborn Rotary supports Salina's Green Schools Initiative. DSHINES (Dearborn Shines for Healthy Kids!), a coalition among the school district, city, local universities, and other community partners, has also supported the school garden.

Hands-on learning with ELLs

The school has had a lot of success using these kinds of activities with newcomer ELLs in recent years, in part because they have seen the power of giving students the chance to feel successful while they are learning a new language. Staff at the school note that they have seen growth in students' language skills, as well as students' ability to demonstrate things they know but do not have enough language to express. These various activities allow students to enhance their oral language, apply vocabulary in real life hands-on settings, and build peer relationships.

Principal Stanley observes, "Students have learned the value of teamwork and effective collaboration. They are able to make observations over time, solve problems as situations occur, and understand that each one of them is an asset to the team and to the project. As they work together, they build healthy relationships where they take risks knowing that they are supported by the staff and by their peers."

Salina increases participation in these activities by encouraging all students to take part in its hands-on extracurricular activities and giving them the support to do so. For example, directions are given in nonlinguistic formats, such as pictures, diagrams, and videos. In addition, Salina staff are always informed about schedules and opportunities for students. They encourage families to become involved with activities and direct their students toward selected activities. Collaboration plays a role too. According to Principal Stanley, "Weekly PLC meetings and planning times allow teachers to coordinate, which the school is able to implement in part because the Dearborn Public Schools district is also committed to the PLC process, which provides opportunities for team collaboration and planning."

Slideshow: STEAM in action at Salina Elementary

The following slides show examples of student projects at Salina on display in the hallways and presented at the annual STEAM expo. These photographs and video stills were taken during the production of our video project, You Are Welcome Here.


Art and English language learners

As noted above, Salina also gives students lots of opportunities for creating art. Art projects are integrated into other content areas and activities such as garden murals, outdoor art, book club collaborations, and Maker Space collaboration. The school has also supported interdisciplinary workshops in Art and Literacy, STEAM, & makerspaces.

Art teacher Linda Lock explains, "Art gives ELLs a place to explore and discover that is engaging and fun. It gives them a place to feel safe, productive, and successful, even with little language. We have many centers available throughout the art studio, from light tables and magnifying glasses to blocks. The students are encouraged to make observations and communicate their ideas by drawing and writing in their sketchbook. They develop fine motor skills as they plan and visualize the steps needed to create their artwork. Being focused on the process of creating as much as on the product helps keep the artistic focus on a growth mindset.

"In the art room all students practice the Studio Habits of Mind. They gain confidence by playing, creating, and discovering with different materials and tools to try and help them express their ideas. Because the room is set up as an art studio, materials and centers are available once basic skills and routines are practiced. This allows the students to build independence in making once they can show (and later describe) the ideas they are planning. Artists create works of art, then reflect on the process by writing artist statements about their work."

The staff also are mindful of embedding language development opportunities in art class. "Scaffolding with pictures, as well as sentence stems and frames, support the young artists in their writing," Ms. Lock writes. "Students often excitedly share the skills and knowledge they learn with each other as they develop a community of creative learners...Being engaged in work you have created can empower and inspire your further learning. This ability to 'see' your ideas concretely enables the young artists' to investigate, describe, and evaluate their process and final artworks."

The Garden at Salina Elementary

Another success at Salina Elementary is the school garden, started three years ago through a grant with the DSHINES coalition, mentioned above. Additional support came from our parent-teacher-student organization and also a local greenhouse, and the school has funded small projects like new seeds and soil.

Students are actively involved in the garden by:

  • learning about different fruits and vegetables
  • deciding on what will be planted
  • preparing the garden beds
  • planting seeds
  • caring for the beds and weeding
  • investigating and observing as the seeds and plants grow
  • journaling about the plants and drawing/label everything in the garden.

In addition, children harvest the food and cafeteria workers have served salads and foods from the garden.

Lead teacher Beth Gorman writes, "Last year, the school started a pizza garden where students grew tomatoes and peppers and basil. The garden also has many herbs. The students pick and smell them and discuss how they are used. Mothers of students will often come by and ask for small bags of herbs to take home. The garden also has a pollinator bed and students have learned about pollinators in the garden, using magnifying glasses to observe butterflies, bees, and grasshoppers as well as other insects like ladybugs and beetles. Other activities include 'Eating the Rainbow' and 'What part of the plant do you eat?' The school is also anxiously looking forward to getting an insect house!"

The Salina Garden during COVID-19

This year, the students started seeds indoors early in egg cartons and then transplanted seedlings after 3 weeks. The school purchased beginning plants and added them in the garden. While students were at home, Ms. Gorman made videos of her gardening at home. Students watched videos and journaled with her over the spring and summer, graphing the height of plants every week. She also documented how she cared for the garden during an unexpected April snow storm.

When asked what students are doing now that in-person learning has resumed, Ms. Gorman shares this update: "We are making up for lost time, trying to get small groups in the garden ASAP. Teachers may also take their classes out any day and anytime for investigating, watering, weeding, or even just a read-aloud. Instead of just a bulletin board for sharing, I created a presentation (see below) and shared with the school. That way teachers could share and make sure all students are part of the garden. Pictures are donated and slides added throughout the gardening season. We will continue and expand this through our summer school program."

Slideshow: Salina Elementary Garden

Learn more about the Salina garden from this Google Slides presentation prepared by Ms. Gorman for the Salina community.


Ideas for Other Schools

When it comes to hands-on learning, the staff encourages other schools to start small, just as each of Salina's projects did. At the same time, however, they note that it's important to not create limitations in terms of what's possible. Principal Stanley says, "My best advice would be to begin with brainstorming which activities educators would like to provide their students IF money and time were no object. Starting big, you create the finish line and then whittle down to the point of entry. Anyone can begin something. Once you begin, it will take on a life of its own and opportunities for funding will present themselves. Create the big picture and go from there." She contiunes, "I have never gotten all the funding needed at one time. Some years, some things just aren't possible but I keep telling myself they are just not possible — YET. I tell EVERYONE I know about what's going on at school or projects we are trying to accomplish. Many times support comes from all areas of my life!"

She also urges teachers to advocate for their students. "Teachers are the best voices for their students," she says. "They know what their students need. The research we have now that is based on best practices was started years ago by classroom teachers who didn't settle for the status quo. They knew there had to be better ways to reach their students. These are the kind of grassroot movements which have informed and will continue to inform programming. What teachers need to do is use the power of their voice."

The role of leadership

Principal Stanley also credits the support of the Dearborn Public School district for all of these initiatives. "We could not do this alone," she says. "It is through their vision we have the support of our outstanding building and grounds who support the garden projects not only at Salina but throughout other schools as well. The district supports our schools and the programs they are creating. Our community partners build upon the foundation set by the district."

Principal Stanley can appreciate the difference this support makes because she knows it's not always available. In districts without this support, she says, "The initiatives were difficult to sustain. They either died after an administrator left or were not able to flourish because it was exhausting going it alone. It takes the support of district leadership to create and maintain these initiatives. Without that, it's like rolling having to roll a huge boulder up a hill each day, watch it come down, and doing the same thing the next. Strong district leadership keeps the boulder on top of the hill."

Videos from Dearborn, MI

You can learn more about Salina in our award-winning film You Are Welcome Here, produced in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers. The film includes a section on Salina's hands-on learning activities and STEAM expo, featured below.

You can also see the film with Arabic subtitles, a preview version, and additional videos from Salina in our related resource collection.

You Are Welcome Here: Supporting the Social and Emotional Health of Newcomer Immigrants



How to Connect Immigrant Families with Legal Support and Advice

Strategies for Supporting Immigrant Students and Families

How to Connect Immigrant Families with Legal Support and Advice

A woman talking on a microphone.

Connecting immigrant families with legal advice and support can have a significant impact on their situation. Here are some tips on figuring out what kinds of trustworthy resources are available for immigrant families.

These strategies are part of the Colorín Colorado resource guide, How to Support Immigrant Students and Families: Strategies for Schools and Early Childhood Programs.

Families have varied wishes for how much information they want young children to know (about their situation), and we need to find ways to support students while also respecting families' wishes. Each family approaches the situation differently, so educators need to ask questions about how families are approaching talking to children.

– Educator, American Federation of Teacher ELL Cadre


Schools can help connect immigrant families with legal advice and support, often presented by a community partner or advocacy organization. This information and support may focus on families’ rights and steps or decisions that could have a big impact on their situation and on their children. Partner organizations can help pinpoint the information that will best serve your population of families.

Seeking legal guidance

This information should not be interpreted as legal advice. Any individual or organization seeking legal advice related to immigration issues should consult with the appropriate attorneys, local government officials, or non-profit organizations specializing in immigration law that can offer guidance. We also remind educators not to provide legal advice.

Provide families with information about trusted legal resources

Download PDF versions:

Why this matters

Connecting families with free or low-cost legal help could have a significant impact on their situation. It is important to note that immigrant families are particularly vulnerable to fraudulent “attorneys” who charge ongoing fees for their services. (See more about scams targeting immigrant clients in the following information.) In addition, immigrant children in deportation or asylum proceedings don’t have the right to publicly-funded court-appointed lawyers.

There may be immigrant organizations offering pro bono legal help that could make a big difference to a family. These organizations:

  • are more likely to have accurate and up-to-date information, particularly as events move quickly
  • may be able to provide advice and materials in their own settings that are not restricted by school district rules
  • may have professionals who can connect families with immediate legal advice.

Note: Here are some tips for figuring out what kind of outreach is allowed in your setting.

Tips for getting started

  • Your district may have guidelines or rules about what is considered legal advice or support. Check those carefully as you get started.
  • Look around the community for trusted resources and partners that can provide pro bono legal advice, such as a legal practice or law school.
  • Look for ways to connect families to these kinds of resources by:

◦ providing translated flyers parents with contact information or legal hotlines

◦ offering information in one-on-one conversations with families

◦ hosting workshops and information sessions for parents

◦ finding out what resources or events may be available through your teacher's union.

Note: The California courts have developed a bilingual resource directory about basic state and federal immigration information, how to find immigration legal help, and resources if children are separated from their parents.

Help for immigrant families: Guidance for schools

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center offers the following additional tips for schools in their guide on helping immigrant families:

  • Help educate families on how to seek competent immigration help and avoid fraud.
  • Encourage all families to get an immigration “checkup” to find out what protections and options that may benefit them.
  • Offer families advice about which documents to keep with them at all times.

Avoiding fraud: Scams targeting immigrants

There are a number of different scams targeting immigrants, often promising to help change immigration status or speed along an application. (These scams can target both documented and undocumented immigrants.) These scams not only cost immigrants large sums of money that will not be recovered, they can actually hurt their immigration cases or lead to deportation. A common problem is the hiring of notarios ("notaries") in Latino communities. While notarios in Latin American nations may have legitimate legal credentials, that is not the case in the U.S. They are not qualified to provide legal help or advice, but often take advantage of neighbors who feel more comfortable working someone from their home country who speaks Spanish.

Learn more about notarios from the following resources and videos, as well as other resources to help immigrants avoid scams from the following resources.

Note: Official government documents, even in the form of hand-outs, may make some families nervous. Be sensitive in how you distribute this information.

Legal resources


FAQs and Background Information

News Headlines

Recommended video 

Video: The truth about Notarios

Video: La Verdad Acerca los Notarios

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Connect families with expert guidance on planning for a possible separation

Why this matters

Many schools are addressing the question of possible separation due to family detention or deportation through the following steps, usually taken with immigrant advocates who can guide parents through difficult conversations with great sensitivity and attention to practical matters. This expertise is essential on legal questions of guardianship and caretaking.

This is a delicate line to walk. A one-size-fits-all approach may not work well and different families will have varying needs depending on their situation.  Nevertheless, a little bit of information and forethought can go a long way in giving children the best chance for a stable situation in the event of separation, especially since children of detained parents can quickly end up in foster care. (See more information on this topic in our sections on emergency contact information and the protocols for caring for children when a caregiver is unavailable.)

What will families be asked to consider?

A helpful overview of this topic can be found in the Protecting Undocumented and Vulnerable Students guide. These steps include:

  • Encouraging families to have a written plan in place in the event of separation: Some schools and advocates are helping parents find guidance on what kind of plans they should have in place in the event of separation or detention. These might include:

◦ designating legal guardians, a particularly important decision for parents of children with special education needs (see related coverage of this issue in The L.A. Times and The Washington Post)

◦ establishing power of attorney

◦ gathering necessary information related to the child’s care (particularly medical information)

getting passports for U.S.-born children from parents’ country of birth, such as Mexico

  • Ensuring that families understand that all plans must be in writing: Many families may not realize that these plans need to be put into writing and will benefit from formal guidance on this issue.

Tips for getting started

  • Consult with legal experts on what kinds of information families need and how best to share that information.
  • “Take the temperature” on whether families are interested in this information; ask parent liaisons before talking with families themselves. Some may want the information, while others will not wish to discuss it or expose their children to the topic. Some settings may have success in sharing this information in a group setting, while others may find more success with private conversations.

Reminder: The importance of sound legal advice

If families are considering giving power of attorney or guardianship of their children to a trusted adult, it is imperative that they:

  • get sound legal advice on how to do so and aren't consulting with fraudulent immigration lawyers
  • understand that all decisions must be recorded in writing
  • understand all implications of those decisions.

Recommended resources

For more recommendations on this topic, see the following:

This article describes a pocket emergency-preparedness-guide for immigrant families created and printed by the city of New Haven, CT.

The Mexican government has also issued a guide on this topic in Spanish.

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Consider creating a policy about "letters of support"

Why this matters

When families experience immigration proceedings such as detention or court hearings, their lawyer may ask them to collect letters of reference to demonstrate the good character of the person and/or family. Individual families may request such letters from administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, parent liaisons, and social workers.

It may be an issue that requires some consideration. In the school district that provided sample guidance below, there was much discussion about whether to provide these letters since the district had a policy of not providing letters for family disputes. After extensive review, the superintendent decided that the district would provide these letters when requested, clearly stating that they were going to do this because it supported families staying together – which has a direct impact on students’ learning.

Tips for getting started

The first step is to determine whether the district has a policy on this issue. If not, since these are legal documents, it is important for schools, centers, and districts to determine how to approach this issue, including whether these letters will be provided.

If the district decide to provide letters in appropriate cases, it will be helpful to have a policy indicating:

  • who will write and sign the letters
  • what kind of information will be included
  • how letters should be requested and processed.

Recommended resources

Recommended videos 

Video: Writing letters of support for families


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Take time to listen to families who want to talk about returning to their home country

Why this matters

Educators are hearing from families who want to discuss important, complicated decisions about whether they might return voluntarily to their home countries, even if their children are U.S. citizens. Schools can play an important role in these conversations by providing families with an opportunity to discuss their options and considerations that might impact their decision.

The challenges of integrating students in a new school system are significant. Dr. Sarah Gallo, a researcher based in Mexico who is working with U.S.-born students enrolled in Mexican schools (which now number more than 500,000), has noted two significant factors in the schooling of this population:

  • Mexican schools do not offer "Spanish as a second language," which means that students are in a "sink or swim" environment for some time.
  • Special education services can differ greatly, and in some cases, be very costly.

At the same time, returning to a home country can provide positive opportunities to reunite with family members and return to a large network of extended family. This toolkit developed with Dr. Sarah Gallo discusses these issues in depth and also provides a list of required documents for families returning to Mexico who will be enrolling their children in school. Many of these recommendations in the toolkit can be applied to other countries as well, although the school registration requirements and documents may vary.

Tips for getting started

  • It is very important to be sensitive to how you communicate about these kinds of resources. It is not appropriate for educators to encourage families to make a certain choice. Carefully consider how to communicate about these issues so that conversations are not construed as encouragement to make one decision or another.
  • If you are already holding events for immigrant families’ questions and concerns, consider including this topic as one of a list of topics addressed.
  • If presenting this information publicly, preface it by saying something along the following lines: "Our goal is not to encourage you to make one decision or another. Instead, we want to make sure you have as much information as possible to make the best decision for you and your family."

Recommended resources

Recommended video 






See our complete reference list for works cited in this article.

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