On the Radio: A Discussion About Immigrant Children

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 22, 2008 1 min read
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Yesterday, On Point, a morning news program in Boston, hosted Carola Suarez-Orozco and Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, professors at New York University, as guests. They are authors of the book, Learning a New Land: Immigrant Students in American Society, published recently by Harvard University Press.

Yesterday’s program focused on the challenges that immigrant children face in American society. “Some thrive, some drop out of school, some end up in jail,” said Jane Clayson, the host, while introducing the segment. It aired on Boston’s WBUR, an affiliate of National Public Radio.

What’s unusual about Learning a New Land is that it carefully describes the psychological and social difficulties that immigrant children experience while adjusting to U.S. schools and society. On the radio program, Carola Suarez-Orozco presented a nuanced profile of one struggling immigrant student, who she calls Lotus. School initially provides a “refuge” for the girl after she moves from China to a coastal city in the United States. At first Lotus gets good grades. But the girl doesn’t fare well socially after she is admitted to a competitive high school. Her academic performance declines dramatically. “She becomes a bundle of anxiety,” Ms. Suarez-Orozco says on the program.

Ms. Suarez-Orozco also stresses that many Americans don’t understand how long it takes for immigrant youngsters to learn enough English to understand the nuances of a multiple-choice test or to write a solid essay. She says it can take seven years.

I wrote about Learning a New Land in a Nov. 28 article for Education Week and in a blog entry. I think that profiles of students in the book or parts of the program yesterday could provide a tool for discussion in a high school English-as-a-second-language class about students’ lives.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.