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Newcomer Support in U.S School

Challenges and Solutions

Imagine having to migrate to a new place where you must learn a new culture and language at the same time. Well, that’s the life of newcomer students who must figure out many different things while they keep up with academics and their social and emotional well-being. In this session, I discuss the challenges and some strategies to support newcomer students.

Who are Newcomers

A newcomer student is a child or teenager new to a U.S. school in either elementary, middle, or high school. New students arrive in U.S. schools every day. They are welcomed regularly by teachers and administrators at the beginning, middle, or towards the end of the school year.

Newcomer students come from all over the world. However, the vast majority of students come from Latin America. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese are the top three languages spoken by immigrant students and often newcomers.

The challenges they experience may vary depending on their documented or undocumented status. Some newcomer students are often eager to be in a new place, but others may feel lonely and homesick. These students often leave immediate family members, friends, and an entire community behind.

Experience in a New School

One of the most unique aspects about newcomers is what they experience when they start school in the U.S. They are impressed by the new surroundings because everything may look very different depending on the country the student comes from. In a new school, newcomers must figure out how to make new friends and learn new rules, procedures, and routines that tend to be new.

In a new school, students may experience various challenges. One of the first challenges faced by these students relates to registration procedures. Grade-level placement is often a complicated process for families and is often questioned by teachers.

Newcomer students need support in US schools because they face different challenges as new school members. Some kids arrive at school at the beginning of the school year, but a more significant number of newcomers join US schools at any time during the school year. Schools and teachers can help students overcome the challenges they face by providing specific support to their learners. 

Challenges faced by newcomer students in US schools

Newcomers face several challenges once they arrive at a US school. Each challenge influences a student’s well-being emotionally and academically. Language barriers, cultural differences, academic differences, and social and emotional challenges are some challenges newcomers face. 

Language barriers

Not being able to communicate is a challenge newcomers face when joining a US school. Among newcomers, the educational background of students varies extensively. The three categories below describe the types of newcomer students you will encounter in elementary, middle, and high school.

Some students are fluent in English. These students may speak English and may have a solid educational background. When students know some English, they can understand what’s being said to them but may not be able to speak at the same proficiency level. 

Among newcomers, there are non-English speakers. Students who speak NO English may or may not have a solid educational background. In some cases, these students may have little formal education. Furthermore, they may be unable to read or write their native language. 

A language barrier is the most noticeable barrier a newcomer faces upon arrival to a US school. The inability to communicate is a struggle that students try to overcome daily as they try to make new friends and understand what’s happening in a new secondary or elementary school.  

Cultural differences

In addition to learning a language, a newcomer family will also need to learn a new culture. Some newcomers come to the US as early as preschool or in early elementary grades. Culture is the one thing they must figure out and learn. 

Cultural differences can challenge newcomers because they may not know enough about the American culture. Students need to adapt and learn to navigate a new environment.  Learning a new culture is no easy task.   

Academic differences

Upon arrival, a newcomer student will most likely notice how different a US school may look compared to other countries. A student will also find academic differences in how we learn and teach. For instance, some countries may spend a lot of time memorizing learning. How we assess and grade may also differ from how it is done in other countries. 

Academic differences include having to learn how to be a student. Understanding how to return homework, how tests are graded when to ask questions in class, how to take notes, and much more. 

Social and emotional challenges

A concerning challenge that newcomers face relates to their social and emotional well-being. Having to leave family, friends, and their country behind influences a student’s emotional state. Although newcomers are excited to travel and meet others in a new country, they are most likely nervous about the new experience. 

Social challenges connect to their inability to communicate and socialize because of their limited language skills. 

Each of the above categories comes with challenges requiring consistent instruction and support. Among these students, there are refugees and students with interrupted education. Wikipedia defines a refugee student as a displaced person unwilling or unable to return to their country due to fear of persecution. A refugee student may also be a student with interrupted education. Students with interrupted education are students who have not been able to receive formal education.

Importance of providing support to newcomer students

Supports for newcomers are important because they provide students with services that help set students to succeed in their new learning environment. These supports can positively influence multiple educational areas of concern for newcomers. 

Providing support to newcomer students in US schools is extremely important for various reasons. Support can lead to improved academic performance. When students feel supported and integrated within their schools, they are more likely to feel motivated and engaged with their studies. This can result in better grades and a more positive attitude towards learning.

Supporting newcomer students can increase graduation rates. When students feel included and supported, they are likelier to stay in school and complete their education. This can lead to better job prospects and a brighter future.

In addition, providing support to newcomer students can result in better social and emotional outcomes. Moving to a new country and starting a new school can be a daunting experience, but with the right support, students can feel confident and secure in their new environment. This can lead to a more positive sense of well-being and mental health.

Additionally, supporting newcomer students can help to reduce drop-out rates. Students who feel overwhelmed or unsupported may be more likely to drop out of school. By providing resources and support, schools can help ensure that newcomer students stay engaged and in school.

Finally, promoting diversity and multiculturalism in schools is important for creating a more inclusive and tolerant society. By supporting newcomer students, schools can help celebrate and embrace different cultures and backgrounds, leading to a more positive and harmonious school community.

Strategies for supporting newcomer students in US schools

The support of newcomers may vary depending on the student’s educational background and language abilities. The next session highlights how to support newcomers in US schools. 

Building strong relationships with newcomer students and their families means

To help students succeed, schools must connect with newcomer families to help them feel welcome and comfortable in a new environment. This includes communicating with families to help them understand the new school environment. Offering support so families know they can ask for help as necessary.

Schools should also try their best to understand their unique needs. This can happen by asking key questions to understand the student’s educational background and academic needs. Are there any medical, emotional, or special education needs the student may have? Each need area should be addressed to help families succeed. 

Providing English Learners (EL) support

Under federal law, Title III mandates special services for English learners. This should include assisting students who are not native English speakers to help them improve their language skills and succeed academically.

There are various educational program models that US schools use to provide the English language. Teachers are responsible for providing language and content instruction to all students, including multilingual learners. This language instruction can be embedded within content for all students. However, for newcomers, language instruction is an absolute need.

Some school districts offer a newcomer program that offers English learner support. However, when a newcomer program does not exist, teachers must accelerate English language instruction in listening, speaking, reading, and writing to support newcomers. At first, newcomers need to learn the basic social language, which can then be used to target academic learning. This instruction should also include foundational reading development skills.

Support is also necessary during English language arts, math, science, and social studies content instruction. Some schools opt to provide push-in support during content learning, while others may offer content learning using the student’s native language. Supports may look different depending on the student’s educational background and needs. 

Offering culturally responsive teaching

Culturally responsive teaching practices incorporate diverse cultural perspectives into the curriculum and instruction to ensure all students feel included and understood.

This refers to the idea that all students should see themselves represented in the daily instruction and throughout the day. Hence, culturally responsive teaching respects and embraces other people’s cultures. Students benefit from feeling connected to the learning and from being able to share their own experiences with classmates and teachers. 

Creating welcoming and inclusive school environments

A welcoming and inclusive environment refers to developing a safe and welcoming environment where all students feel valued, respected, and supported. This idea connects with culturally responsive teaching because it focuses on making students feel part of the learning environment. 

My school district welcomes new students by providing an interpreter who shadows the students on the first day of school. We do this to ensure that a newcomer receives a full explanation of the school’s daily activities and schedule. This is a service that students appreciate and benefit immensely from. 

The following topics are addressed when an interpreter shadows a newcomer student:

  • After-school clubs and sports options
  • Attendance policy (note when a child is sick or absent)
  • Back to School Night information
  • Cafeteria and lunch routine
  • Course schedules (e.g., number of classes, teachers)
  • Dress code (winter clothing, physical education uniforms)
  • Discipline and code of conduct policy
  • Homework policy and purpose

Other topics the interpreter can cover:

  • Immunization policy
  • Parent-teacher conference dates and purpose
  • Physical layout of the school
  • Progress report and report card descriptions
  • Special education services
  • Subsidized lunch applications
  • Summer school availability
  • The role of guidance counselors and other non-teaching staff Transportation options to and from school

Providing academic support

Academic support for newcomers refers to offering services such as tutoring, homework assistance, and academic guidance to help students succeed. This support can help students keep up with their new learning environment and assignments. 

Offering social and emotional support

Social and emotional support involves providing resources and support to help students navigate the social and emotional challenges they may face. This can include counseling, mental health services, and peer support programs. Teachers or school office personnel can provide families with social and emotional support services in the area to connect families with community organizations. 

Many students experience stress after having to change their educational learning environment. Making new friends and learning a new school system can be a challenge. Some students stress over this and can often internalize this experience. 

Some may also be teased by others because of their lack of understanding or language skills. Social support should help integrate students into the new community and make them feel welcome in the school. 

Practical Strategies and Ideas

Learn the Student’s Name: Start by learning how to pronounce each student’s name correctly. It’s a simple yet powerful gesture that shows respect for their identity.

Multilingual Support: If possible, provide access to multilingual resources or offer support from bilingual staff. This helps students understand and complete assignments.

Buddy System: Pair new non-English speaking students with a buddy who can help them acclimate to the school, explain routines, and answer questions.

Cultural Exchange: Encourage students to share their culture and traditions. This can be done through presentations, special events, or cultural exchange programs.

Language Support: Offer English as a Second Language (ESL) programs or language support to help students improve their language skills.

Peer Involvement: Encourage peer involvement by fostering a culture of kindness and acceptance. Teach students about the importance of inclusivity and empathy.

Regular Check-Ins: Have regular check-ins with non-English speaking students to ensure they are adjusting well and to address any concerns or challenges.


In conclusion, supporting newcomer students in US schools is essential for ensuring their academic success, emotional well-being, and social integration. It is also important to promote diversity and multiculturalism within schools and build a more inclusive and tolerant society.

It is great to see that you are committed to supporting newcomers. Share this resource with others to increase awareness about newcomer support and needs. Leave a comment about your experience working with newcomers.


Bridging Refugee Youth and Children Services – Welcoming and Orienting Newcomer Students to US Schools 

US Department of Education – Newcomer Toolkit 

CAL Resource Center – Helping Newcomer Students 

Colorin Colorado – How to Provide Social-Emotional Support for Immigrant Students 

NEA – Helping Newcomer Students Ease Trauma and Stress 

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