How to Help Your Child Succeed as a Newcomer

A parent guide addressing a new student experience in U.S. Schools

Imagine yourself having to migrate to another country at an early age, with the pressure of having to learn a new school and language. When newcomer students learn that they will soon migrate to a new school in the U.S., they most likely feel uncertain and nervous about their future experiences.

When my mother first told me that I would soon be moving to the US, I remember thinking about what my new surroundings would be like. Specifically, what school would be like.

a picture shows keyboard and sentence the school system and newcomer students

I was lucky to be the second child in my family to join my father in the United States. My older brother had left about 1 year earlier. In conversations with him, I had an idea of how different things were. For me, this was the first time I was leaving my community and my mother behind to come to live with my father. The plan was that I would join my dad, a stepmother, and my older brother.

Who is a newcomer?

In American schools, a newcomer student is a child or teenager student that has recently arrived in a place or joined a group. Newcomers come from around the world to join family members or friends. Kids speak hundreds of different languages, with Spanish representing the most spoken language among newcomers. Some speak various languages and learn English as an additional language.

The first time a new student arrives in the US, they are impressed by the new surroundings. Everything may look very different depending on the country the student comes from. One difference often noticed by newcomers is how big and elaborate schools in America are. Once in their new school, newcomers have to figure out how to make new friends, learn new rules, procedures, and routines that tend to be very different from what they are used to. Services for newcomers begins when students start school. Identification as an ESL student is done by administering a language proficiency test.

Making Friends

Making new friends can be a challenge at times because it depends on the time of the school year a student arrives, considering the beginning and middle of the school year. At the beginning of the school year, he/she might have a more positive experience in making new friends. At this point, everyone is new in the school and starting from fresh.

Meanwhile, when a student arrives at a new school in the middle of the school year, making friends might be challenging. At that point, all attention is on the newcomer, and making connections can become a bit of a challenge. It is often difficult to figure out who to be friendly with; however, teachers are a great resource to connect students with other kids. 


One consistent pattern across schools in the US are the various school rules and policies that exist. Students must follow such rules for safety reasons and to help maintain orderly conduct. Some rules may relate to arriving on time, asking permission to use the bathroom, forming a line, or no talking during class. Rules might change depending on the classroom but for the most part, are very similar. 

Rules are normally part of the school code of conduct booklet. The code of conduct provides a list of rules and consequences that administrators follow when a student breaks  rule. Consequences vary for students in elementary and middle school. Attendance is are that is addressed and covered under a school’s code of conduct. 


There are various daily procedures that students experience in a school. Arrival and dismissal times follow specific procedures and guidelines. Parents and students should learn to navigate these procedures to ensure arrival and dismissal goes well each day. Breakfast and lunch also have their own set of procedures that a student will learn during the first days of school.

The cafeteria is one of the most important new routines a student will need to learn. Each school runs its cafeteria a bit differently depending on available resources.

Homework Policy

In schools homework policy may vary from class to class. A student should inquire about homework policy to know how often homework will be assigned. It might also help to inquire about any available resources that the student can use to complete homework. Some helpful resources include google translate or online resources.


The first few days of school expose new students to a daily routine. There are routines to navigate the school and routines within the classroom. Students may want to take notes about a school and classroom routine. This includes understanding how the schedule rotation works. A schedule is what indicates when classes begin and when to switch to other classes, lunch, or dismissal. A daily schedule is normally posted on a school website and given with an agenda.

A daily schedule also includes when the bell rings. A bell ring indicates a student should switch classes or go to lunch unless told differently. Although a bell schedule seems complicated at first most students learn the bell schedule within a week or so.

How are students taught English?

Newcomers are taught English in different ways. In the United States, schools implement different types of English language instruction programs to teach English. Schools with a higher number of newcomer students offer newcomer English learner programs to help accelerate English language proficiency. Some newcomer programs are only available in specific schools and vary in instructional practices. Stand-alone English learner programs allow schools to service a higher number of students maximizing resources.

Language Acquisition Instruction in Elementary School 

In elementary grades, schools may implement a wide variety of instructional strategies and language instruction programs. In these programs, students are either clustered with native English speakers or spread out in multiple classrooms to receive language instruction. Some instructional strategies teachers use to teach English are total physical response, use of the student’s primary language, and incorporating multiple modalities such as listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Some newcomer students are pulled out of class to receive English language instruction in listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Others might provide in-class one-on-one or small group instruction during specific times. The use of small group instruction allows students to engage and practice the language contributing to literacy development.

Language Acquisition Instruction in Secondary School

Most newcomer programs in secondary schools are stand-alone programs. A stand-alone program focuses on English language development instruction and content area instruction. Some content areas sometimes offer support using a student’s native language. The goal of a newcomer program is to accelerate literacy and content-area learning simultaneously.

In secondary schools, English learner programs are sometimes offered as ESL level 1 classes for newcomer children. During ESL 1 class, English learners receive basic social English language skills. The language taught in an ESL level 1 class begins by teaching colors, numbers, and basic social language. 

How are students taught Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies?

Learning academic content as a newcomer can be challenging but not impossible. Schools may take a different approach to teaching content courses. Such an approach depends on the school’s resources. Some school districts provide translated materials as much as possible. Others might provide modified materials without sacrificing content.

In some schools, ESL teachers support content areas by re-teaching the content area curriculum using simpler language that students can understand. Co-teaching among ESL and mainstream teachers is an instructional technique that schools are using. During co-teaching an ESL teacher provides content and language instruction at the same time.

What can parents do to support

Family engagement is an important factor that contributes to literacy and language development. Encourage your child to stay calm and ask for help when necessary. Learning a language takes time. This means that language learning won’t happen overnight. In the beginning, students should dedicate longer periods of time to homework and learning. Completing homework may mean using a bilingual dictionary or electronic translator to figure out what to do for each assignment. Do not worry about perfection instead focus on what you are able to do.

Most teachers are aware that homework is very difficult for new students. A student’s attempt to complete homework will show a student’s effort. Discuss with your child’s ESL teacher to ask about the services that are available in the school. Newcomer families can help by providing a designated learning area in the home. If the school uses an online English learning application or website be sure to make this part of the daily homework routine.

Another way parents can help is by staying in touch with the classroom teacher. Some teachers send weekly or monthly updates that parents can sign up for via email or communication apps. Be ready to provide an email address to your child’s teacher to sign up for updates. 

How can teachers help newcomer students in the classroom?

Classroom and ESOL teachers of newcomer students should always keep in mind how difficult it is for new students to manage a new school environment. Teachers can help make students safe and comfortable in a new environment. Begin by learning to pronounce the student’s name correctly and introducing the student to a good role model in each class. These are two essential steps to take that can help ease stress levels experienced by new students in school.

Use an interpreter to communicate immediate information related to school routines and daily activities. If an in-person interpreter is not feasible, consider using the language line to communicate with the student. A highly recommended application is the talkingpoints app . The talkingpoints app allows teachers to communicate with parents and students in any language for free. The application is available as an app or on the website. The app translates text instantaneously between teachers and students.

Teachers can implement some strategies that support language growth. Allow the student to listen to stories during story time, track text during silent reading time, and facilitate hands-on activities as much as possible.

Newcomer Student Resources

There are several resources that students can use to overcome challenges in a new school.

Bilingual dictionary: A paper bilingual dictionary is one resource students can use. A bilingual dictionary can help to translate basic words. An upgrade from the bilingual dictionary is an electronic bilingual dictionary. Students sometimes use this digital resource to communicate with teachers and others.

An online translation tool like Google Translate is often used by mainstream teachers to communicate with students. Google Translate online allows anyone to type a text in any language and instantly translate the message into other languages. Additionally, Google Translate offers another feature that allows an individual to translate a document into other languages while they pretend to take a picture.

Another online tool that’s helpful is Microsoft Word. I personally find Microsoft Translate to provide a more accurate translation for Spanish. The translation tool in Microsoft is available for the latest models. One advantage of Microsoft is that it works offline without the internet.

Interpreting Apps

There are various applications that facilitate interpretation. These apps allow individuals to speak to the app and in return, the app translates what’s spoken. Lastly, there’s also the talkingpoints application. The talkingpoint app is an application that teachers, social workers, administrators, and others can use to exchange information. Educators use talking points to communicate the different types of information such as deadlines, grades, field trips, reminders, or announcements.

I hope that this post gives you an idea of how to best support your newcomer in a U.S. school. Please share any other ideas that can help newcomers in their journey.

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