Transitioning English Learners to Postsecondary Education

In 2000, Christine Vega Villarreal a high school senior in San Fernando, California, was still unsure of what she would do after high school. As a first generation student who grew up with immigrant parents from Mexico, she did not have the necessary tools and resources to support her as she considered her options. Likewise, her high school trajectory, due to “tracking,” did not provide Christine the support she needed while in high school. She faced marginalization due to her English Learner (EL) status and was placed in remedial courses. Christine struggled with meeting expectations regarding academic rigor, and found herself increasingly disengaged in class. She began to skip school. It was through the encouragement of her art teacher and classmates, and after many visits to the counselor’s office, that she was able to be placed in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. She struggled at first but eventually these AP courses made her re-engage fully.

Christine, Alfredo, and son, Janitzio

Christine Vega Villarreal with her partner Alfredo Huante, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Southern California, and their son, Janitzio Huante-Vega.

Christine is a first-generation U.S. citizen. Much like many EL students who are U.S. citizens, immigrants and refugees, Christine faced linguistic and resource barriers that limited opportunities. EL students, in fact, tend to face opportunity and achievement gaps and experience lower college going rates. By the time EL students reach 12th grade most have the necessary English skills for daily life but many lack the language proficiency needed to succeed in college. This expected language proficiency deals with mastery of academic vocabulary, discourse style, formality, and complexity of syntax. To successfully transition EL students like Christine to postsecondary education and training, both secondary and postsecondary institutions must understand the unique challenges EL students face and increase their support mechanisms for EL students. Without this understanding and support, entry into postsecondary education might not result in successful completion.

You may wonder whether Christine’s experience is unique. Data tell us it is not.

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USCIS Awards Citizenship and Integration Grants in 21 States

This information is cross-posted from the USCIS site. Read the full press release and list of providers here.

On Sept. 1, 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the award of nearly $10 million in grants under two competitive funding opportunities to 46 organizations to help permanent residents prepare and apply for U.S. citizenship. The recipient organizations serve both traditional immigrant destinations and new immigrant gateway cities in 21 states. The grant recipients will provide citizenship preparation services to approximately 25,000 permanent residents from more than 50 countries. The recipients represent:

  • Seventeen of the top 20 states with the largest permanent resident populations (California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Virginia, Washington, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Connecticut, Ohio Minnesota and Colorado);
  • Nine of the top 10 metropolitan areas with the most new permanent residents in the past 10 years (New York City; Los Angeles; Miami; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; San Francisco; Houston; Dallas-Fort Worth; and Boston); and
  • Nine of the top 10 states with the most naturalizations over the last 10 years (California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington).

Call to Participate in the Task Force on New Americans’ National Skills and Credential Institute

This blog is cross-posted from the White House site.

As President Obama recently reminded us, “We can never say it often or loudly enough: Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America.” Many immigrants and refugees arrive in the United States having already completed extensive education and job training, or with significant work experience abroad. However, all too often they face challenges to fully utilizing these skills. Yet as the White House Task Force on New Americans One-Year Progress Report highlighted, there are communities that are developing programs to help skilled immigrants return to their careers in their new home.

The Task Force is seeking to support communities that are focused on finding solutions to this challenge through its National Skills and Credential Institute. This peer-learning forum aims to connect a consortium of leaders from state and local workforce areas; adult and post-secondary education systems and institutions; representatives from departments of labor, licensing, and regulatory affairs; immigrant serving organizations; and external technical assistance providers. The goal of this institute is to help communities understand how policies and practices help or hinder credential attainment and recognition, and to assist in developing strategies for how the public, private and nonprofit sectors can strengthen career pathways for skilled immigrants.

The Task Force will host this exciting forum at the White House, in partnership with the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor on June 29, 2016. Communities are invited to submit a letter of interest by May 1, 2016.

To learn more about this exciting opportunity, click here.

Transforming the Lives of Adult Learners at Scale

Last week, I, along with regional representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke as part of a Fresh Federal Perspectives plenary session at the 2016 youth conference hosted by the California Workforce Association in Sacramento. Assemblymember Autumn Burke, a strong advocate for career and technical education, kicked off the session.

Students learning to climb utility poles in outside yard.

Beginning students learn how to safely climb poles. The program has a waiting list of several hundred students, many of whom will wait a year.

There were over 500 youth practitioners and policy makers in attendance. I stressed why partnerships are essential at all levels if we want all youth – not some youth – to have the opportunity to access a path into the middle class. Later in the day, I had the opportunity to meet briefly with the executive leadership of California’s Workforce Board to talk about California’s draft Unified Plan under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Then, I had the opportunity to hear from state administrators and local program leaders in a listening and consultation session at the California Department of Education. WIOA and state funding in California, called the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG), California’s WIOA State Plan, and other statewide initiatives were the key topics of discussion.

Students in Photovoltaics program working in a classroom.

Students in the Photovoltaics program that integrates math, technical and hands-on training learn how to install solar panels.

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DACA Youth Resource Guide

In an effort to ensure that all students have access to a world-class education that prepares them for college and careers, the U.S. Department of Education, in collaboration with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has released a resource guide to help educators, school leaders, and community organizations better support undocumented youths in secondary and postsecondary schools. Those for whom the guide is intended also include Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

The guide includes resources aimed at high school and college students and includes:

  • an overview of the rights of undocumented students;
  • tips for educators on how to support undocumented youths in high school and college;
  • key information on non-citizen access to federal financial aid;
  • a list of private scholarships for which undocumented youths might be eligible;
  • information on federally funded adult education programs at the local level; and
  • guidance for migrant students in accessing their education records for DACA.

The aim of the guide is to help educators and school staff to support the academic success of undocumented youths and debunk misconceptions by clarifying the legal rights of undocumented students. The guide also shares information about financial aid options open to undocumented students, and supports youths applying for DACA consideration or renewal.

More information about resources for immigrants, refugees, asylees, and other new Americans can be found here.

White House Launches the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign

This article is cross-posted from ED’s Homeroom Blog, in recognition of all the immigrants and refugees and their teachers in our programs celebrating Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. Read the full post here.

On Thursday, Sept. 17, President Obama launched the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign, which invites local communities to commit, collaborate, and act on a set of principles to aid new American integration. These principles focus on building inclusive, welcoming communities that advance efforts in the core areas of civil, economic, and linguistic integration. The campaign recognizes the significance of local efforts given that each community has unique circumstances and opportunities. We ask that communities heed the call to create welcoming environments for new Americans in their own schools, neighborhoods, homes, agencies, and institutions. Encouraging broader participation in civic life, providing hubs where skills and job training can be developed, and supporting English language acquisition are clear steps that communities can take to ensure that new Americans feel accepted and supported in the places they call home. Enabling each other to succeed is the cornerstone of all successful communities.

To support these efforts, we will continue to provide critical resources and information to help schools, communities, state and local education agencies, institutions of higher education, and educators better serve this population and their families. One such resource, a Department-sponsored webinar series, focuses on key areas of the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign.

Learn more about how you can welcome, engage, and enhance the lives of new Americans (pdf).

Read the full blog here.

 

Leveraging Local Partnerships to Support Immigrant Integration

June is Immigrant Heritage Month. In recognition of the work the adult education community is doing to support the diverse linguistic and cultural assets of immigrants, OCTAE is featuring the following blog by Nancy Fritz, Assistant Coordinator at the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative.

My journey in adult education began in 1986 when I signed up as an adult literacy volunteer with Literacy Volunteers of America. With a longstanding interest in languages and having previously taught high school civics and history, I immediately loved it and I knew I wanted to work on the field of adult education and enrolled in some graduate classes. Like many ESOL instructors, I pieced together my work through part-time positions for several adult education agencies including at a public library.  Luckily, I was able to obtain a full-time position at one agency as a teacher and then as an Education Director.

For the past 4 years, I have worked for the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative (RIFLI). RIFLI was founded sixteen years ago when libraries began receiving increasing requests from recent immigrants for English as a Second Language (ESL) services. The Providence Public Library (PPL) responded by implementing a family literacy program at one branch library. The program has grown significantly since then and RIFLI now provides classes in six library systems, in the public schools to the parents of children, in businesses for employees, and in our local One Stop employment center.  We offer ESL, Citizenship, Digital Literacy, Transition to College and Career, Math, and Conversation classes.  RIFLI serves approximately 300 adults per year.

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Closing the Equity Gap

“We must close the equity gap for immigrants, refugees, returning citizens, and all adults with disabilities.” – Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier

Rigoberto Alvarado left El Salvador in 1991 in search of a better life in the United States. He needed English and a job. With the help of friends and family, he found an English class at the Neighborhood Centers’ Oakland Adult and Career Education. He started learning English. He found a job he liked in the hospitality industry. But he quickly realized he needed more skills in order to advance, so he returned to Neighborhood Centers to learn about computers and computer applications. Through hard work and dedication to his education, Rigoberto advanced through the ranks to become banquet manager at the Waterfront Hotel in Jack London Square. He now hires and supervises many employees, manages costs and inventories, and strives to create a positive employee work environment. Rigoberto put himself on the path to the middle class.

As Rigoberto’s experience indicates, employment-focused literacy and numeracy, as well as job skills are critical to the prosperity and well-being of individuals. One third of the 36 million adults with low skills in our country are immigrants or refugees like Rigoberto but they have not yet had the opportunities he has had. Our current programs can only offer English language learning opportunities to about 678,000 adult English learners per year. Unless we create additional opportunities for them, these twelve million adults will have a harder time finding a well-paying job than their higher skilled peers.

Making Skills Everyone’s Business – which was released on February 24 – makes a commitment to closing the equity gap for immigrants and refugees and other adults with multiple barriers including adults with disabilities, returning citizens, homeless adults, and emancipated youth transitioning out of the foster care system. Closing the equity gap is one of the seven strategies included in this national call to transform adult learning.

Data from the Survey of Adult Skills support this strategy. For instance, adults with learning disabilities are twice as likely to have low skills but few programs are equipped to meet these adult learners’ unique needs. Twenty-six percent of adults at Level 1 and 9 percent of those below Level 1 reported a learning disability. The figure below, Figure 9 in the Making Skills Everyone’s Business report, demonstrates the challenge.

This chart shows that 8 percent of U.S. adults ages 16–65 answered yes to a question about whether they have ever been diagnosed or identified as having a learning disability; 92 percent answered no. Of those who answered yes, 35 percent had low literacy skills; that is, they scored below Level 2. Of those who answered no, 17 percent had low literacy skills.

Percentage of U.S. adults ages 16–65 at each level of proficiency on the PIAAC literacy scale, by their responses to a question about whether they have ever been diagnosed or identified as having a learning disability

One subpopulation that requires our attention and commitment are older youth and adults in our correctional facilities. Data on the skills of the incarcerated and on returning citizens are forthcoming, as the National Center for Educations Statistics is completing data collection on a representative sample of institutionalized individuals. Conclusive data are available, however, that show that career-oriented education is one of the more effective interventions that contribute to significant reductions in recidivism according to a recent meta-analysis, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education, conducted by the Rand Corporation. OCTAE’s expanding investments in adult and youth reentry education programs and the expanded provisions for corrections education in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act are just the beginning. We need to work directly with employers to create pathways from prison to good jobs.

Partnerships with employers, employment and training agencies, agencies that can support wrap around support services, and integrated education and training programs that simultaneously provide skills remediation and postsecondary education and training are doable and can create real opportunities. But these partnerships and services demand more resources. In addition to demanding resources, we should have the political will to create more opportunities.

When I traveled all across the country gathering input for Making Skills Everyone’s Business, adult learners told me repeatedly that they are ready to take advantage of the opportunities to improve their skills. Let’s work together to make it happen.

Guest Author: Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier is the former Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Dann-Messier launched the national engagement process that resulted in Making Skills Everyone’s Business.

USCIS Listening Sessions on New Americans Announced

The President’s Task Force on New Americans and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) invite you to participate in three listening sessions to discuss federal strategies to strengthen the economic, linguistic, and civic integration of new Americans. Three sessions are planned:

  • Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015 from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern)
  • Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern)
  • Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern)

On Nov. 21, 2014, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum establishing a White House Task Force on New Americans, an interagency effort to develop a coordinated federal strategy to better integrate new Americans into communities. Read more about the Task Force and the call for feedback.

During these listening sessions, Task Force members, including OCTAE leaders, and USCIS officials will provide an overview of the Task Force on New Americans and seek your feedback on best practices or strategies for successfully integrating immigrants and refugees into local communities.

To register for these sessions, please follow the steps below:

  • Visit the USCIS registration page to confirm your participation
    • Click here to register for the January 29th session focusing on receiving communities
    • Click here to register for the February 3rd session focusing on economic and linguistic integration
    • Click here to register for the February 5th session focusing on civic integration
  • Enter your email address and select “Submit”
  • Select “Subscriber Preferences”
  • Select the “Event Registration” tab
  • Provide your full name and organization
  • Complete the questions and select “Submit”

Once USCIS processes your registration, you will receive a confirmation email with additional details. If you have any questions about the registration process, or if you do not receive a confirmation email within two business days, please email Public.Engagement@uscis.dhs.gov.

Note to the media: This engagement is not for press purposes. Please contact the USCIS Press Office at (202) 272-1200 for any media inquiries. If you have questions regarding the engagement or other stakeholder matters, please email Public.Engagement@uscis.dhs.gov.

Call for Ideas to Help Shape Federal Immigrant and Refugee Integration Strategy

Contribute to this Call for Ideas from the White House Task Force on New Americans!  The goal of the Task Force is to develop a federal immigrant integration strategy that allows new Americans to contribute to society to their fullest potential and bring new Americans together with their receiving communities to strengthen communities.

OCTAE’s programs are often the first educational stop for many immigrant and refugee families. Our practitioners can inform the Task Force with real-life stories and examples of specific actions and supports that could help immigrants and refugees integrate into their communities and for their communities to welcome them. The Task Force needs to hear from you.

In a White House blog post, the Task Force posted this Call for Ideas to help shape the focus of the federal immigration and refugee integration strategy and created a specific email account, NewAmericans@who.eop.gov, for gathering stakeholder ideas.  Please send your ideas, big or small, to this email by February 9, 2015