Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children


How can preschools be more accessible to immigrant children?

Four communities — Dearborn, Mich., Atlanta, Ga., King County, Wash., and Houston, Texas — have come up with good answers, according to a new Urban Institute report, “Expanding Preschool Access for Children of Immigrants.”

“Historical barriers to preschool access, including language accessibility, cultural responsiveness, and affordability, have led many immigrant families to miss out on this important experience,” a related article explains.

“But new evidence from four communities shows that policymakers and teachers remain central in expanding preschool access for children of immigrants—and they can be successful in doing so.”

The report points to common themes that emerged across the four locations, including the need to:

• address language barriers

• inform parents about their preschool options

• manage logistics such as scheduling and transportation, and

• expand access by forming partnerships with other organizations and providers such as religious organizations and health care providers

The Urban Institute article makes 10 recommendations, among them:

• build trust

“Parents seek safe and welcoming preschool options, and parents’ trust in programs grows when they are invited into classrooms, engaged in developing programming, and invited to help shape efforts to improve quality and expand access.”

• start small

“Though mature at the time of our study, all programs began with a small dedicated staff and a commitment to serving all children. As immigrant families enrolled, those parents became ambassadors for the programs, and immigrant enrollment increased rapidly.”

• support the whole family

“Preschool focuses on the growth and development of young children, but the four sites reached out to parents and siblings as well. Staff connected families to community resources and collaborated with immigrant and refugee institutions,” and

• commit to continuous improvement

“The study sites regularly gauged families’ satisfaction, adjusted program features, and sought new resources to meet evolving needs. Families could sense this commitment and felt welcome to participate in the process.”

The Urban Institute also calls on programs to be mindful, as they work with parents, that the country is in “a period of changing immigration policy and enforcement” and that “these changes are likely to shape future efforts to serve children of immigrants.”

Despite the changing context of national immigration policies, however, “the enrolled parents we spoke with unanimously advised their peers in other communities to enroll in public pre-K and stakeholders agreed.”

“By improving the fit between programs and communities, stakeholders can provide a strong start for children of immigrants and become trusted institutions in immigrant communities,” the Urban Institute says.

The report ends with the voices of parents and early educators.

One parent shared “the importance of preschool to children’s long-term growth and development, saying, ‘You come from another country to succeed, so your children don’t live what you are living. It’s your responsibility to have an objective for them so they can succeed in life.’”

The early educators said:

“As soon as those kids walk into your classroom, they are your children.”

“They are your family forever. I think that’s important to remember.”

And finally:

“When you’re committed and demonstrate that passion to support [pre-K] families, it is contagious.”