After-School Programs for Immigrants

As a new citizen to this country, you face many challenges that natural-born citizens can only imagine: having to speak your second language on a daily basis, living in culture that may seem foreign to you, and having to learn a whole new set of social rules. As an adult, though, you’ve probably developed coping skills over the years which help to take the edge off of having to make major life changes. What about your children? How are they handling the changes? Obviously you want the best for your children because you may have moved to this country just to give them better opportunities and a better chance at succeeding in life. You don’t have to do it all alone, though. In fact, neither do they.

WHAT ARE AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS?

After-school programs are programs which your children can go to after school where they can get help with their homework, improve their English comprehension and learn how to adapt to American culture. According to Nathanial Riggs, Ph.D., a post-doctoral research fellow from the University of Southern California, “participation in high-quality constructive learning activities during after-school hours can lead to positive social and behavioral outcomes.” Dr. Riggs has done extensive research on the effects of after-school programs on Latino children of immigrant families and has contributed to the Harvard Family Research Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

There are a variety of after-school programs offered in most communities, some of which are designed exclusively for immigrant families. One of these programs, Families and Schools Together (FAST) is a nationwide after-school program which focuses on parental involvement and building communal relationships with other immigrant families. This friendly group reaches out to you in such ways as making personal visits right to your home and inviting the entire family to come to the program where you can eat, play and network with other families just like yours. Since building relationships within the community is a vital part of immigrant culture, you’re sure to find this program particularly enjoyable. If you’d like to learn more about FAST and find a group in your area, you can visit their website at: www.familiesandschools.org.

CAN AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS HELP IMPROVE MY CHILD’S GRADES?

We realize the importance of letting both you and your children maintain and celebrate your native culture while learning English and adjusting to the American school system. A major concern for you right now may be your child’s grades. If their grades are slipping, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t working as hard. The case just might be that what appears to be poor academic performance is actually caused by language barriers in the classroom. A great way to get those grades back up (without lecturing your children) is to enroll them in an after-school language workshop. According to Dianna Townsend, Assistant Professor of Literacy Studies at the University of Nevada, “academic word knowledge has the potential to increase access to academic texts — for English language learners.” Language workshops use culturally rich games, music and art to help illustrate the meanings of words in a way that makes sense to English language learners. When children begin to understand English better, they’ll have an easier time reading and understanding their textbooks. That’s when you’ll start to see their homework scores climb higher and higher!

DO AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS TEACH PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY?

For the parents of Hispanic teenagers, you may have more on your mind right now than anyone. Not only do you face the challenges of acclimating yourself and your family to a whole new country, you also face the challenges of trying to protect your teens in 21st century America as well as trying to instill the proper values in them. What a task! That’s where after-school programs can be a lifesaver. Dr. Antonia Villarruel, a professor from the University of Michigan, created a program designed specifically for the 13-18 year-old Hispanic age group. As you may already know, Hispanic teens have some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections in the United States. As a parent, this can be pretty frightening. You may have already tried to find an effective way to talk to your kids about safe sex- but how do you know if you got through? The message behind Dr. Villarruel’s program, ¡Cu­date!, is to practice safe sex. ¡Cu­date! uses games, open discussions, music and videos to get through to teens in a way which they can understand and relate to. ¡Cu­date! also embraces essential aspects of Latino culture when delivering their message to teens, which makes responsibility and personal safety seem much more appealing. According to Dr. Villarruel, teens who participate in the ¡Cu­date! program are significantly less likely to engage in sexual behavior and unprotected sex than teens who participate in traditional sex education programs.

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone. You can find an after-school program in your community to help your children successfully transition into life in America without the fear of losing your culture. These programs will give you and your children that sense of community you’ve been searching for. You’ll be filled with pride as you watch your children learn and grow while embracing their cultural heritage. You’ll smile as you see them learning positive life skills as well as social skills while thriving in a new country. Don’t wait any longer. Find an after-school program today!

To download a copy of The Afterschool Action Booklet and find a program in your area, visit www.afterschoolalliance.org/myCommunity.cfm.

(Se puede obtener este librito en espanol.)