On Feb. 26, more than 400 Long Islanders representing a wide cross section of professional services, along with advocates, organizers, and elected officials, gathered at Hofstra University for our summit on immigration. The program included seven breakout sessions, each of which focused on an important aspect of immigration—healthcare, immigration law, media, education, economy, government, and advocacy.
The breakout groups were tasked with developing action steps to make the most of the opportunities that President Obama’s administrative relief program would bring to Long Island and to help shape the future of immigrant integration and inclusion in our region.
In an effort to share the results of the summit and its breakout sessions with all the attendees, those who were unable to attend, and the greater Long Island community, Long Island Wins is creating working groups based on many of the sessions. These groups will continue the conversations started at the summit and to develop tools and resources that will help them implement the actions steps.
The education session was among the liveliest and most well attended sessions at the summit. Co-facilitated by Jason Starr, Nassau County chapter director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Lucinda Hurley, executive director at Nassau BOCES, the session examined the opportunities and challenges faced by many school districts in meeting the needs of Long Island’s immigrant children.
Representatives from some school districts talked about the need for more ESL (English as a second language) classes. There were also concerns that students were not being placed in the appropriate grade levels, particularly the newly arrived children from Central America, many of whom came to Long Island last year to escape violence in their home countries and reunite with family members already living here.
Those who have had experience working directly with immigrant children spoke up for how hard working and bright most of them are, and several success stories were shared. They also talked about the importance of “coaching” rather than “pushing” students to succeed.
The role of parents was deemed a critical factor as well, and some conversation was dedicated to how to better engage immigrant parents and get the most out of that engagement.
The education session concluded with these four action items:
Establish an English Language Learner (ELL) Collaborative. The goal is to develop a model for ESL curricula that can be adopted by Long Island’s numerous school districts and which aids in learning and encouraging young students to pursue the American dream. A separate plan would address the unique ESL needs of older students.
Increase engagement between students, administrators and teachers, and non-profit organizations. This includes sharing best practices and resources among teachers, counselors, social workers, etc.
Increase public education. Many insisted that parents, not just children, are in need of public education opportunities. There were also calls for increased education for native-born children of immigrant parents and for teachers in how to effectively engage immigrant students. A strategic partnership with public libraries was suggested.
Develop a working group. In planning the summit, Long Island Wins had intended from the beginning to develop working groups to build on the conversation started in each breakout session. Feeling that the time allotted for the session was not enough to create the change needed (a sentiment shared in other sessions), attendees in the education session came to that same conclusion independently.