Academic and social aspects of recent immigrant children's school experiences in a public elementary school in a U.S.- Mexico border town in South Texas
Bolt, Alicia Judith
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In this study I examined school experiences of recent immigrant students who came to the Ollin South elementary school in Texas, U.S., with prior schooling in Yolitzli, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Using an ethnographic perspective, I analyzed how children and their parents and teachers described children‟s schooling experiences, challenges, and transition processes. I conducted semi-structured and open-ended interviews with ten students enrolled in 1st through 5th grade in a public elementary school in Ollin, Texas. I also interviewed the parents and teachers of the students to gain a broader perspective of student experiences and schooling processes on both sides of the border. Through four levels of analyses, I identified two main aspects of schooling which shaped student educational experiences and opportunities. The first was the academic aspect, which included differences in language, curriculum, and content areas. Participants revealed that student lack of proficiency in the English language, the different structure of the curriculum, and the different ways of teaching reading, math and science, initially presented challenges to the students coming vi to Ollin South. However, native language support provided by peers and teachers as well teachers‟ and parents‟ active roles in building on student prior learning enabled the children to adapt to and succeed in the new school. The second aspect of schooling emphasized by the participants was the social aspect, which included peer support, friends, and recreational time. Study participants made visible how peer support and making friends became instrumental in new immigrant children learning to navigate the new school and understand academic materials. Children also emphasized the importance of recreational time and made visible how an expectation of unstructured play time brought from Yoliztli could become transformed into structured play activities within a new physical education class structure. Children, parents, and teachers took advantage of the similarities between school contexts, and modified their expectations when confronted with differences. In this way, they demonstrated how knowledge of the differences in the school contexts as well as active roles of people involved in children‟s education can contribute to enhancing immigrant students‟ educational experiences and opportunities for success.