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Humanizing Education for Immigrant and Refugee Youth

Introduction by: Lisa Pamela Lopez-Escobar and Sophia Rodriguez University of Maryland, College Park

Guest Blogger: Anna Cortesio, EdD student, University of San Francisco

March 14, 2023

In this week’s blog, Anna Cortesio, doctoral student in International and Multicultural Education at the University of San Francisco, highlights a new book by Monisha Bajaj, Daniel Walsh, Lesley Bartlett, and Gabriela Martínez, Humanizing Education for Immigrant and Refugee Youth: 20 Strategies for the Classroom and Beyond that features examples of educators and schools with exceptional educational programs for immigrant and refugee students. By shining a light on policies and practices that foster the holistic well-being and academic success of immigrant youth Cortesio offers a glimpse into this new book that could serve as a guide to educators seeking humanizing pedagogies to better support their newcomer students.

We welcome additional comments and reflections, please email us at: or through the Immigrant Ed Next website.

By Anna Cortesio

Issues affecting education for immigrant and refugee youth

Immigrant and refugee youth face a number of structural barriers to accessing a quality education. Many immigrant and refugee youth attend strategically under-resourced schools, and many of their teachers are inadequately prepared to support multilingual students with English language development. Mainstream educational programs and policies are often influenced by deficit views of minoritized students and fail to support the continuous development of their home languages as they develop increasing proficiency in target languages. However, there are some exceptional educational programs for immigrant and refugee youth in the United States, and we can learn from their example. A new book documents how these programs support the academic success and overall well being of their immigrant and refugee students.

Book Overview

Humanizing Education for Immigrant and Refugee Youth features educators forging innovative responses to systemic challenges affecting their students and insights that have emerged from their endeavors. By including voices of educators, administrators, and alumni from schools striving to create and sustain inclusive communities and address the holistic needs of their students, the authors illuminate policies and practices that are relevant to students’ lived experience, affirm their identities, and prepare them to actively engage in social transformation. The authors offer a wealth of practical resources for educators working to co-create more humanizing educational experiences for newcomer youth, and they have created an online space where these educators can connect.

Key contributions

Bajaj and colleagues (2023) advance a framework for CARING schools—schools that are compassionate, achievement oriented (embracing nuanced notions of achievement informed by students’ aspirations), relationship focused, inclusive, nurturing, and genuine.

The schools profiled in the book center relationships, adopt a holistic approach to teaching and learning, and cultivate partnerships with community organizations to expand and enhance the opportunities and resources available to their students. These case studies illustrate the importance of building trust, creating opportunities, and offering support that is responsive to students’ needs. Humanizing Education for Immigrant and Refugee Youth highlights specific strategies that these schools have developed to do so.

The ecological perspective that the authors advance is noteworthy. Educators are often so focused on pedagogical and curricular concerns that we lose sight of the larger socio-historic contexts that shape our work, and that, in turn, our work has the potential to transform. This book addresses equitable instructional practices, school governance, and broader policy concerns.

Why it matters

Humanizing Education for Immigrant and Refugee Youth demonstrates the potential of schools to be democratic learning organizations that facilitate continuous learning among adults as well as youth. Throughout the book, we meet educators whose sense of commitment extends beyond their classroom walls and school campus to include advocacy and engagement with community partners. They embrace culturally sustaining pedagogies that recognize students’ linguistic and cultural resources as assets. They encourage translanguaging, which allows students to leverage their entire linguistic repertoire and multiple ways of knowing, provides opportunities for them to strengthen their literacy skills in home languages as well as target languages, and nurtures students’ multicultural and plurilingual identities.

These schools partner with local organizations that provide services and resources to immigrant and refugee families. Such partnerships enhance a school’s ability to help students address their material needs, access healthcare services, navigate an unfamiliar legal system, and ultimately, enhance their academic achievement.

What’s happening in the world influences migration patterns. As a result, we see shifts in our immigrant and refugee youth student populations from year to year. The dynamic nature of our student body requires us to continuously get to know who they are, where they are from, and what they need to thrive in school and beyond. To be responsive to the ever-changing needs of our students and communities requires a commitment to ongoing inquiry and critical reflection.

Humanizing Education for Immigrant and Refugee Youth demonstrates how some schools engage in a collective effort to fulfill these commitments through democratic leadership models and shared responsibility. Instructional coaching and collaborative professional development initiatives support educators in deepening their understanding of students’ cultures and backgrounds, differentiating instruction, and implementing trauma-sensitive practices. These educators and administrators engage in a collective effort to understand the intersectional identities of our students (which encompass race, ethnicity, religion, dis/ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic circumstances, family structure, caregivers’ level of formal educational attainment, immigration status, educational trajectories, and more) and to create culturally and linguistically sustaining and affirming schools. Hiring alumni and other members of the communities they serve and supporting them in the pursuit of meaningful professional advancement is another impactful practice. As the authors explain, “Students need to see themselves and their community represented among the teaching staff” (Bajaj et al., 2023, p. 91).

Who this book might appeal to

Humanizing Education for Immigrant and Refugee Youth offers resources and inspiration for teachers striving to cultivate humanizing pedagogies to more fully support, engage, and empower immigrant and refugee students. It is also a valuable reference for educational leaders who endeavor to develop and implement more humanizing policies on a wider scale. It would be an excellent choice for teams of educators to read together and reflect upon as they consider ways in which they could better support newcomers in their own schools. The strategies described in this book can and should be adapted to meet the particular needs of specific school communities. The educators and students profiled in Humanizing Education for Immigrant and Refugee Youth leave readers with an invigorating sense of what is possible when we dare to teach otherwise.

Be sure to follow us or tweet about #ImmigrantEdNext

Suggested Citation: Lopez-Escobar, L., Rodriguez, S. & Cortesio, A., (2023, March 14). Humanizing Education for Immigrant and Refugee Youth. Immigrant Ed Next.

Copyright © 2022: Sophia Rodriguez, Immigrant Ed Next-All Rights Reserved

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