A publication of the Association of California School Administrators
A publication of the Association of California School Administrators
The missing piece
Meeting with newcomer parents supports more consistent attendance
By Michelle Remond | November | December 2023
As commendable as newcomer programs for students may be, they might fall short when it comes to laying the foundation for attendance. This happens because a key element to get international parents truly on board from day one is missing: We at school districts let them know about who, when and how of their new school, but we leave out the why and the what for. We assume the American school experience is universal and everyone will naturally understand our messages and know what to do and what is expected from them. This assumption is particularly isolating for the Latin American families because the American and the Latin American school systems are quite different. As could happen to any immigrant or foreigner, if no one guides the Latino newcomer parents during their transition to an American school, they are likely to go through a culture shock and end up feeling frustrated, resentful, disengaged or in need of lots of clarification.
It has been our experience at my district that meeting with Latino newcomer parents before their students start school can bring the missing piece to the picture. A one-hour rendezvous where bilingual school staff meet individually with newcomer families has made a total difference in attendance and parent engagement in such families — a 95 percent student attendance rate and 98 percent parent satisfaction with the school.
The purpose of this Latino newcomer parent meeting goes beyond an orientation to bell schedules, minimum days or parent portal login. It is also the chance to show a few slides on what differentiated instruction means; what a parent-teacher conference is; what Back-to-School night or counseling look like; what kind of school meals we provide or what the PreK-12 grade levels in the United States school system mean. That’s how we create a common vision and make sense of expectations such as consistent attendance, parent involvement or joining ELAC. Taking the time to meet with newcomer families yields to relationship building, embodying a welcoming environment, early intervention and crisis prevention, and connecting students and families to services.
The Latino newcomer parent meeting is also an interview with the purpose of learning more about the family’s context (such as eligibility for McKinney-Vento Act, transportation and schedule challenges, family power dynamics); the student’s previous school experience; personality and talents; and a gentle inquiry about any traumatic experience the student may have gone through before migration or on their way to the United States (or currently). The questions are structured and conducted based on social work interviewing techniques and trauma-informed best practices, so the school’s bilingual staff, who usually meet with Latino newcomer families, are trained to better serve them.
The interview then becomes a valuable tool for referral to services or planning support from day one. Follow-ups and check-ins are still needed, but now the student is not just a new face on campus — the child has a name and caring adults who discuss the findings from the interview and tap into their tiered support system. Also, the parent feels seen and empowered because the interview removed the guesswork on how newcomer families can get involved in their American school.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of meeting right away with Latino newcomer families. This is particularly true for two reasons: One, the school system (along with the legal and the medical systems) can be traumatizing for those who do not know how to navigate them. Newcomer families, especially those who do not speak English, are especially vulnerable.

Two, we must consider the amount of trauma families may have gone through already. As a context, Latin America encompasses more than 25 countries to the south of the U.S. The region has a history of severe human rights violations, from genocide, exploitation and slavery (from the Spanish conquest) to corruption, dictatorships, impunity, drug wars, extreme poverty, forced disappearing, executions, extortion, human trafficking, feminicide, media control and torture. Fleeing from a Latin American country, crossing Mexico and getting to the United States often (but not always) includes some degree of risk of dying of hunger and thirst, becoming lost, being betrayed, sleep deprivation and mutilation.
In-transit immigrants with relatives in the United States are at higher risk of extortion and kidnapping, because the payment would be sent in dollars. Some children — our current or future students — have witnessed their mothers and sisters being raped; some newcomer babies are products of such rape. The situation at the U.S.-Mexico border detention centers is not free of human rights violations, such as disturbing nightly checks, rotten food, exhaustive medical check-ups that lead to medical trauma in children, spending three to five days in la hielera (“freezer”) before being transferred to la perrera (“dog kennel”), persistent state of confusion and wrong dates of release or reunion with relatives given to children, which lead to separation anxiety or attachment problems months later.
If no one guides the Latino newcomer parents during their transition to an American school, they are likely to go through a culture shock and end up feeling frustrated, resentful, disengaged or in need of lots of clarification.
Trauma and adverse childhood experiences will show up in school settings as physical and emotional signs such as defiance of authority, disproportionate emotional reaction to events, fighting violently when teased or criticized, frequent headaches, stomachaches or rashes, and persistent suspensions. The higher the unattended trauma in the student, the more likeliness of chronic absenteeism, and an increased risk of expulsion and dropping out of school. The less accurate information about the school system a Latino newcomer parent has, the more disgruntled and disengaged the parent will be, and the more inclined to keep the student at home so the student feels safe.

After more than 300 interviews with Latino newcomer families over the past three years, I have confirmed again and again that consistent attendance in Latino newcomer students is one of the many positive effects of meeting intentionally with their parents or guardians and making the system visible for them. This key to the missing piece is worth sharing. References Achotegui, J. (2017). La Inteligencia Migratoria. Manual para Migrantes en Dificultades. Nuevos Emprendimientos Editoriales. Barajas-Gonzalez, R.G; Ayón, C.; Brabeck, K.; Rojas-Flores, L.; Valdez, C.R. (2021). An Ecological Expansion of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Framework to Include Threat and Deprivation Associated with U.S. Immigration Policies and Enforcement Practices: An Examination of the Latinx Immigrant Experience. Social Science & Medicine. Aug; 282:114126. Berry, J. W. & Vedder, P. (2016). Adaptation of immigrant children, adolescents, and their families. Childhood and adolescence: Cross-cultural perspectives and applications. 321-346. Cooper, Catherine R. et al. (1999). Cultural Brokers: Helping Latino Children on Pathways towards Success. The Future of Children. 51-57. Cruz, I.M. (2016). Parental involvement: Barrier Hispanic parents face. (Doctoral Dissertation). Dube, S.R., Anda, R.F., Felitti, V.J., Chapman, D., Williamson, D.F., & Giles, W.H. (2001). Childhood abuse, household dysfunction and the risk of attempted suicide throughout the lifespan: finding from Adverse Childhood Experiences. Journal of the American Medical Association, 286, 3089-3096. Fairfax County Public Schools. (2012). Immigrant Parent Involvement in American Schools: Helping Parents Transition from Cultural Supporters to Cultural Leaders. Han, Y. (2012). From survivors to leaders: Stages of immigrant parent involvement in schools. Innovative voices in education: Engaging diverse communities, 171-186. Heffron, L. C., Serrata, J. V., & Hurtado, G. (2018). Latina Immigrant Women & Children’s Well-Being & Access to Services After Detention. Kennedy Middle School Newcomers Academy Program. Winner of 2020 Rusell Kent Award. Redwood City School District. San Mateo County, California. Krauss, R. M., & Fussell, S. R. (1996). Social psychological models of interpersonal communication. Social psychology: handbook of basic principles, 655-701. Harlow, Trina D. (2019). Journey to Refuge: Understanding Refugees, Exploring Trauma, and Best Practices for Newcomers and Schools. NPP eBooks. Kadushin, A., Kadushin, G. (1997). The Social Work Interview: A Guide for Human Service Professionals. Columbia University Press. Macciomei, E. E. (2017). Traumatic immigration experiences and school outcomes among Central American unaccompanied minors. Palo Alto University. Miller, K. K., Brown, C. R., Shramko, M., & Svetaz, M. V. (2019). Applying trauma-informed practices to the care of refugee and immigrant youth: 10 clinical pearls. Children, 6 (8), 94. Welcoming Immigrant Students Into Classroom https://www.edutopia.org/blog/welcoming-immigrant-students-into-classroom-sara-burnett More than 300 oral testimonies from Latinx newcomer interviews. Redwood City School District. 2018-2023. Board report, Community Schools. May 24, 2023. https://go.boarddocs.com/ca/redwood/Board.nsf/files/CS4KMT50C940/$file/Board%20copy_Community%20Schools%20Board%20Presentation%205-24-23%20(1)%20copy.pdf Michelle Remond is a community liaison in the Redwood City School District.