Educator shares 5 tips for supporting immigrant and refugee students

By Katrina Landa, Ed.D.

In 2016, the United States welcomed 96,874 refugees, including 15,479 from Syria alone, according to the US Department of State’s Refugee Processing Center. Nearly 60 percent of those refugees were children.  As these families settle into the country and children enroll in local schools, teachers face the unique challenge of ensuring refugee students feel welcomed, while also meeting their educational needs. 
As the ESL and bilingual coordinator at American College of Education (ACE), I frequently share my experience in working with refugee, immigrant and foreign language-speaking students and offer teachers these top five tips below. 
1. Establish a safe space in your classroom. You must be vigilant and stop any bullying immediately.

Air pollution leads to lower grades for some El Paso schoolchildren, study finds

El Paso’s poor air quality is driving down school performance for children in neighborhoods with high rates of airborne metabolic disrupting chemicals, researchers say. In a study published in the September issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers at the University of Texas at El Paso and Northeastern University looked at school performance among fourth and fifth-grade public school children in El Paso. They found that children exposed to higher levels of airborne toxins had lower grade point averages,

Related: Air quality one of biggest threats on U.S., Mexico border

Study author Stephanie Clark-Reyna, a second-year doctoral student at Northeastern University who attended UTEP as an undergraduate, said she hopes the research will have an impact on how El Paso addresses its unique air quality issues. “Air quality in El Paso is concerning because of the trucking industry. Last time I looked it up, something like 800,000 trucks passed through a single port of entry in one year,” Clark-Reyna said.

El Paso becoming new frontier for space research, business ventures

Our lives are full of consumer products that can be traced back to NASA: invisible braces, infrared ear thermometers, memory foam and cordless drills. Now one El Paso-area organization has partnered with NASA to make this kind of technology transfer easier. The Space Race challenge offers business planning, networking, mentorship and support to teams who are competing for up to $1.2 million in funding from venture capital investors. The Center for Advancing Innovation, a global public-private nonprofit is facilitating the program with El Paso-based Medical Center of the Americas Foundation. “NASA has a very large number of researchers who are primarily dedicated to solving NASA’s problems, but once that technology has done its job for NASA, by and large, that’s the end of the road, said Jeff Fuchsberg, the director of intellectual property and innovation projects at the center.

Little Free Library movement spreading in El Paso

After hearing about the international Little Free Library project, El Paso school librarian Lisa Lopez found local partners to bring the movement to this border community. There are now more than 100 public boxes stocked with books throughout the city to encourage literacy efforts. Borderzine reporter Andrea Macias has the details of the program in this video report.For more information on the Little Free Library project visit


Early college, endorsement programs enhance Texas high school options

As an eighth grader at Clint Middle School, 13-year-old BobbiAnn Owen decided she would apply to an early college program that is part of Clint High School that allows students to obtain an associate’s degree by the time they graduate from 12th grade. She was delighted when she made the cut. She was one of 70 students accepted to the selective and demanding program out of 159 applicants. Clint school district has 2,907 high school students and all the benefit of applying for Clint Early College Academy before their freshman year. BobbiAnn now, half a year into the program, is making personal sacrifices to excel and remain in the program.

Look at the pros and cons of studying abroad

It was all so enchanting. The cobblestone streets, beautiful European architecture, foreign accents and food … . It was my first time visiting Europe; London and Madrid, to be exact, and I completely fell in love. It was like nothing I had ever experienced in my life, but it sure changed the way I viewed a lot of things.

Does a Buddhist temple have a place on a college campus?

EL PASO — Separation of church and state, unless we’re talking about a Buddhist temple at the University of Texas at El Paso? To celebrate its centennial, UTEP is undergoing a major physical transformation and a very visible part of the makeover is the placement on campus of a Lhakhang, or Buddhist temple. The temple was given to UTEP by the people of Bhutan after it was built for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival that took place in Washington D.C. in 2008. It was later shipped to El Paso and kept in a warehouse until money was raised to place it on campus. The Bhutanese architecture at UTEP is undeniably beautiful and so is Bhutan, it’s people and culture.

Rural schools struggle to roll out online Common Core tests

WASHINGTON – It’s a takeover of public education by the federal government. It’s not rigorous enough. It’s too rigorous. It’s not developmentally appropriate. It’ll require schools to collect data about students, including political and religious affiliations.

First Lady talks education to Hispanic audience

By Percy Luján

NEW YORK CITY — First Lady Michelle Obama, featured speaker at the League of United Latin American Citizens convention, which concluded here this past week, didn’t venture into the national debate about the 50,000-plus Central American children clogging the U.S.-Mexico border. She left that contentious politicized subject up to husband Barack. Instead, addressing 1,200 LULAC members at a unity luncheon here, she chose to talk about education and Latino youth. After commending LULAC for its consistent civil rights advocacy on Latino and black education issues, she shifted, “While all of you are proud of what you did, you are by no means satisfied.”

A U.S. Department of Education study released in April showed the high school graduation rate for Hispanic students nationwide was 73 percent, 13 points lower than for white students in the school year ending in 2012. For African-American students it was 69 percent.

Alicia Keys says reading the script for “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete” was heart wrenching. She was a co-producer of the film that tells the story of two boys growing up in the Bronx. (Alejandro Alba / SHFWire)

First lady, Alicia Keys screen movie at White House as part of education push

WASHINGTON – Michelle Obama brought a backup to a film screening at the White House Wednesday as part of her campaign to encourage children to go to college. Singer and songwriter Alicia Keys co-produced the film, “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete,” which a group of teachers and other educators watched and discussed. Keys and a teacher led a discussion of the film, and Obama talked to the crowd about her reaction to the film. “The minute I got through watching this movie, I said, ‘I’m going to screen it at the White House,’” Michelle Obama said. “This is the movie that should begin the conversation that is already happening on what it is we have to do to invest in kids in this community.”

The film tells the story of two grade-school boys who are living with the day-to-day struggles of fending for themselves in the Bronx.

The children (little eagles, I presume) are in a semi-line and wearing school uniforms. (Cheryl Howard/

First degree, second degree, third degree

EL PASO – Interrogation. Education. Why does a good one cost so much when we pay teachers so poorly? If education is only about training for a job, why not revert to the apprentice system? What are we teaching our children and is that what they are learning?

El Dorado High School's faculty consider that dual degree classes help raise the academic level of all students because it sets the bar at a highest level. (Nicole Castillo/

High-school students load up on academic work to get college credit

EL PASO – The sound of the alarm going off at 5 a.m. every morning is an all too familiar sound for Bryce Neria and his fellow classmates as they prepare for a 12-hour day of schoolwork. High school students aware of the importance of a college education now have a new opportunity to get a leg up on advanced studies while still in high school. A dual credit program allows current high school students to take advantage of an early college education while in high school. Neria says he doesn’t mind the rigors of the program. “Its absolutely worth it!

Zen Telegrams

Teaching and Learning and Caring Blog

EL PASO — It started at the dinner table. It was a Tuesday. Tuesdays were a “try a new recipe or fancy up an old one, invite people over, and sit down at the dining room table, light the candles” ritual.  Josie, Raymundo, and Yolanda were there. My daughter asked us to choose a book to take with us into a post-apocalyptic world or to the proverbial desert island where we would be stranded and alone for an unknown length of time, perhaps forever. I remember only my own answer to the question.

‘Even Start’ brings literacy home

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Every morning as Mayne Beceria gets ready for school, so does her young daughter Melanie. Too young for kindergarten, the dark-haired, giggly girl goes to a special school — Johnson City Even Start. “Oh, Mommy. Let’s go to my school, Melanie’s school!” Melanie tells her mother.

Tackling the pounds—Changes in state policy fight student obesity

EL PASO — Not too many years ago, students eagerly awaited the bell that signals lunchtime, anticipating french fries, a can of Pepsi, and a chocolate chip cookie. Now, however, those same students have been challenged to abandon some of the junk foods they crave. In 2007, revisions were made to the Texas Public School Nutrition Policy to create a weapon to battle obesity in children. Texas public high schools have had to start abiding by laws that mandate healthier lunch foods, as well as changing vending machine products on their campuses. “Our snack bars are all run by the district cafeterias and have to abide by the changes in the law,” says Dr. Carla Gonzales, Chapin High School Principal.

What a plant knows, how a plant grows

Teaching and Learning and Caring Blog

My parents weren’t farmers, but I don’t remember NOT knowing what a young tomato plant looks like.  There was a tomato plant growing outside Old Main, probably from a tailgate party earlier in the semester.  I asked if anyone had noticed it.  I asked and I asked.  I sent students out to look for it.  I took them there and said, “Here it is.”  They said, “Where?”  I couldn’t believe it.  Most students didn’t know what the plant that grew such a common vegetable looked like.  How had this knowledge been lost or never acquired?  Their grandparents or great grandparents were likely farmers. Growing vegetables is a lot like teaching.  You plant seeds and water and hope.  Some seeds are planted too deep and never germinate, some too shallow and blow away, some in poor soil, some too early in the season, some too late.  And the miracle of growth, when it happens, is enough to bring a smile to even a wrinkled old teacher—I mean farmer. It’s been many years since I had a real garden.  I call it my “zen” garden, by which I mean raised planting beds of different shapes designed around a small pomegranate tree ensconced in a reclaimed tire. There are two places to sit (or contemplate) and a rock wall with marbles and glass embedded in cement.  More artwork is planned.  I don’t plan to rake rocks or anything like that. In reality the crops are all over the front and back yards in planting beds, in containers and in plain dirt.  They include: squash, corn, cucumbers, chile, okra, eggplant, tomatoes, collard and mustard greens, snow peas, spinach, watermelon, pumpkin, basil, mint, and cilantro.  The beans and carrots and green onions haven’t come up, and I had to pull up the radishes that were being devoured by bugs, and finally killed by my daughter who mixed a concoction of vinegar and vodka to kill the bugs but ended up killing the whole plant.  The fig tree had to be radically pruned after the extremely cold week in winter.  Each plant has its own challenges and potential rewards

This year gardening is even more rewarding because I have someone to share the joy with.  Raymundo has helped with all the heavy work:  tearing down an old fence and playhouse, building raised beds and hauling garden soil.  Together we have planted and watered and watched.  Some cherry tomatoes are already turning orange.  The snow peas have finally flowered and are making little pods; we had to add additional support for the fragile plants.  One zucchini will be ready in a few days and the pumpkins need thinning.  Raymundo is eager to learn about every plant, its peculiarities and pests, like white cabbage butterflies that lay eggs on the undersides of leaves.  I am eager to teach him what I know and both of us have more to learn; every season (or semester) brings new lessons.

Proposed Texas education cuts imperil Latino students’ future

Impending massive budget reductions in flat-broke Texas are about to slam education’s door on its Latino youth, who at 2.34 million now comprise about half of its public school students. Experts and community advocates across the state agree on the danger it portents to the state’s economic future as well. Once among the nation’s wealthiest, the Lone Star State has become the Loan Starved State. It is grappling with a budget shortfall somewhere between $15 billion and $27 billion. The proposed solution by Gov. Rick Perry, with traction offered by conservatives within the GOP-controlled legislature, targets the schools.

Immigrant high school graduates seek a pathway to U.S. citizenship

EL PASO, Texas — Many of the 65,000 illegal immigrants who graduate from high school in the U.S. every year live under the entrapment radar, risking deportation at any time as they attempt to attend college or serve in the U.S. military services. According to statistics from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), most of these students in all grade levels have been raised in America, in American public school systems, American cities. Many only speak English and the American culture is what they know.  They have little left of their culture of origin. “It’s a very sad experience to forget where you came from because you’re accustomed to life here.  You could hardly remember that you came here from another country,” said a student who wishes to remain anonymous.  The student at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) is an illegal immigrant because, like the thousands of illegal high school students who graduate every year in the U.S., this student was not brought to America by choice.  The parents made that choice. “It’s a difficult situation.

Resources are not the most important factor in student achievement

Spending two hours at the school to see the challenges faced by rural schools in Mexico opened my eyes to reflect on my own teaching experience. What I saw was that education as the great equalizer is often unequal in the resources available to a school, but poor schools often equal equal academic success.

Maestros de UTEP apoyan labor de homólogos de Centro y Sur América a través de donativos

EL PASO, Texas — Maestros de Centro y Sur América —17 en total— reunidos el 10 de agosto en El Paso, agradecieron un donativo de materiales y útiles escolares realizado por homólogos locales que cursan maestrías y postgrados en la Universidad de Texas en El Paso (UTEP). La entrega de lápices, libretas, cuadernos, libros bilingües y otros implementos serán destinados a niños de El Salvador, República Dominicana, Guatemala, Honduras y Nicaragua que carecen de esos materiales y estudian en condiciones inadecuadas. “Estoy altamente agradecida a nombre de nuestro país porque allá tenemos algunas precariedades con la adquisición de recursos y didácticos para los niños”, dijo, María Luisa Lagual, de República Dominicana. Y agregó: “Me siento feliz porque además estamos aprendiendo mucho y fortaleciendo lo que ya sabemos para perfeccionar la enseñanza en mi tierra”. El reconocimiento fue secundado por todos los educadores presentes en la reunión.

Deportation looms over some young Americans

NOGALES, Ariz. — U.S. citizens can be deported, so says the law, if their non-citizen parents are deported and they are under 18 years of age. That’s what almost happened to Maria, one of my students, and her 10-year old brother. Keeping her spot at our school was so important to them that when her mom was deported they decided to leave Maria, then a high school junior, and her brother here. Her mom was making pretty good money cleaning the houses of Anglos in Nogales, Arizona, where a domestic cleaning-lady employment underground thrives.

Research and Education Now Cross-connects Beyond Borders

EL PASO – The University of Texas at El Paso and other research and educational institutions across the U.S. have teamed up with universities in Mexico to make it easier and more affordable for them to access the state of the art Internet research capabilities available in the U.S.

The jointly constructed optical infrastructure between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez is called Cross Connect. “We have designed an innovative way for exchanging teaching and research information,” says UTEP Vice President for Information Resources and Planning, Dr. Stephen Riter. According to Dr. Riter, this started more than five years ago when UTEP used money from the National Science Foundation to begin a link of networks from El Paso to Ciudad Juárez. UTEP established a relationship with the Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juárez to help enhance research tools for students in Juárez. Students in Mexico now have the ability to use video conferencing and educational demos to boost their educational experience.

DREAM Act: Hope for Undocumented Students

Lea esta historia en español

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Irene Castellon, 19, is a bright, beautiful young woman studying Spanish at East Tennessee State University. She hopes to use her Spanish degree to help Latino Americans make a better life for themselves. Yet a year ago, college wasn’t an option for her because of her immigration status. Currently, undocumented immigrants in the U.S. cannot receive financial aid for college.

Lundy Elementary Proudly Speaks Both English and Spanish

EL PASO, Texas — As El Paso continues to grow in population, so does the dual culture and bilingual language of the region. Because the U.S. is quickly becoming a bilingual country, many El Pasoans now realize the importance of teaching their children both English and Spanish, regardless of their ethnicity. Lundy Elementary School was one of seven new schools that started the implementation of the Dual Language Program this past 2009-2010 scholarly year. Even in that short amount of time, the program has blossomed, attracting parents and their children from both the Spanish dominant and English dominant speaking spectrums.

“In my school, and most of the schools in the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD), we have two different classes, one is English, and the other one is in Spanish,” said Ina Lachmann, principal of Lundy Elementary. “We populate it with half of the children who have a dominant language in Spanish, and the other half who have a dominant language in English.”

By putting both groups of children together, they learn to read, write, and speak 50 percent of the time in both languages through the Dual Language Program.

Overwhelming at First, College Life Makes You Grow Up

EL PASO, Texas — I had a revelation today as I left the office of my advisor earlier this morning. I was walking out scrambling through my degree plan, which he had given me, when it all sank in. I will be done with school for good and finally have my college degree! This was surreal to me, as cliché as it sounds. It seems like just yesterday I was filling out my application and waiting for the acceptance letter from UTEP.  Soon, I will be exposed to the real world, exposed to life.

What’s a Prof to Do When Students Text and Surf in Class?

EL PASO — I do not want to be a technology police officer in the classroom yet I sometimes feel like one. I am troubled by the number of students using cell phones to text and laptops to surf the web during my lectures. This seems to be even more of an issue in larger and bigger classrooms. As UTEP’s student population grows (over 20,000 at the start of this academic year), each semester there seem to be more students enrolling in my lecture classes, and more instances of technology disrupting my classroom teaching. Early in the semester, actually on day one and week one of each class, students and I go over the course syllabi and we review the goals and objectives for each class. This is the time where I usually explain expectations in my courses, including the use of technology.

Jump Headlong Into the New World of Multimedia…

… and gain knowledge of critical new media tools for professional advancement. Join the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the UTEP Department of Communication for a day of hand-on skills training in multimedia technology at the UTEP campus Feb. 20. Journalists, non journalists working in media and students will all benefit by learning Final Cut Pro video editing, how to create a blog on WordPress, Photoshop essentials, how to maximize social networking tools, and telling stories using audio.