America was founded as a nation of immigrants. With the exception of Native Americans, who predate recorded history, Americans are descendants of people born elsewhere. Over the past 500 years, millions of people from different countries have come to the United States seeking freedom, peace, and the opportunity promised by the American Dream. Between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries people came to America seeking everything from greater physical space to freedom from political or religious persecution. During this era there were also thousands of Africans arriving to America in chains. They were sold as slaves to plantation owners. In the twentieth century millions of Europeans sailed to America seeking better opportunities. Although many laws have been implemented throughout the years to regulate entrance to this country, people continue to come in great numbers seeking similar dreams. In fact, over one million immigrants enter the United States each year (PBS, 2009). Passig describes the four main difficulties experienced by immigrants upon entrance to the U. S. as the language barrier, social difficulties, emotional imbalance, and mental difficulties. Most immigrants are not fluent in the English language. This heightens their feelings of loneliness and alienation. The added pressures of learning a new language and deciphering America’s behavioral patterns and social norms can pose many emotional and mental difficulties for immigrants. Passig’s research suggests that the ages between 11 and 22 years are not optimal for coping with these difficulties. It is believed that teen immigrants have more difficulty coping with immigration than adults because they are simultaneously coping with the physiological and psychological changes resulting from age-related development (Passig, Eden, & Heled, 2007). According to the U. S. Census Bureau, around 400,000 people try to enter the United States illegally each year. Of this group, about 10 percent are minors. Many endure hardships Teen Immigrants 1 coming to America. A 19-year-old high school student who emigrated from Mexico described his illegal journey to the U. S. in an interview published in The Grady Journal: “I walked a ton and we suffered because there was no water and it was very hot”, “A man who came with the group died on the way, but when we crossed the border I was happy. My American dream had become reality. ” (2009). A 16-year-old student also interviewed in The Grady Journal shared her family’s experience working with coyotes to come to America from Mexico when she was eleven years old. Coyotes are American citizens that charge money to bring foreigners into the U. S. Coyotes have been known to drop immigrants off in the middle of nowhere, keeping their money and leaving them to die. The student described walking through the desert four days. She also said the coyotes were bad to her family and did not even provide them with water to drink. She recalled feeling sad, scared and worthless during her. However, she considered herself and her family members to be lucky to have survived the journey since thousands of immigrants have died while trying to enter the country illegally. Teens such as these suffer to make it safely to the U. S. nd later struggle to fit in to a new culture (2009). Regardless of their method of journey to the U. S. , teen immigrants face a wide range of acceptance, rejection and disregard. They leave behind friends, family and all aspects of life in their native countries in the hopes of making better lives for themselves in America. For many immigrant youths, the transition to high school is the most challenging of their obstacles. Besides learning a new language, immigrant teenagers have to make friends, and adjust to the different technology that is used in American schools. Many immigrant teens also struggle with conflicts posed by their parents’ desire for them to remain faithful to native cultural traditions and their individual desires to acclimate to the cultural traditions of American teens (Sridhar, 2008). For many teenage immigrants, American schools are their first experience with formal education. In most developing countries poverty and cultural tradition limit the opportunities of female youths to obtain a formal education. Many families, especially those with many children, can not afford the incidental expenses associated with educating their children. The cost of voluntary contributions, uniforms, books, and bus fares can make even free education expensive. When the costs are weighed against the limited opportunities for educated females to obtain paying jobs, most families choose to keep daughters at home. There she is able to contribute to the household by cleaning, cooking, collecting wood and water, and looking after younger children. According to the UNICEF League Table of Girls Out of School, the percentage of primary school age girls out of school in the region of Sub-Saharan Africa is as high as ninety- four percent, with a regional average of fifty percent. The regional average of Middle East and North Africa, as well as, Asia and Pacific is twenty-two percent. When these numbers are compared to the seven percent regional averages of the Americas rand Europe, it is clear to see the disparity amongst nations (UNICEF, nd). In a January New York Times article, Jennifer Medina discusses the educational impacts of teenage immigrants in New York City schools. Medina estimates that of the 150,000 non- English speaking students in the city, more than 15,000 have had little or no formal schooling, and are often illiterate in their native languages. Stephanie Grasso, an English teacher in the South Bronx, explained to Medina that many immigrant teens have not learned do not have a notion of what it means to be a student. In addition to the expected challenges immigrants face, these children have the added disadvantage of having to learn how to be a student – how to ask questions and understand things for themselves (Medina, 2009). The State of New York has established a formal classification for teenage immigrants new to the educational experience – Students with Interrupted Formal Education. Statistics from New York City’s Department of Education show a fifty percent increase in the number of Students with Interrupted Formal Education over the past ten years. In 2007, the graduation rate of these students was a mere twenty-nine percent against the city’s overall sixty-two percent average. A study was performed during this same timeframe, through which Elaine Klein, a linguistics professor at City University of New York, followed ninety-eight Students with Interrupted Formal Education. Within twelve months, Professor Klein reported that only forty- eight of the students had remained in school. The other fifty students had either returned to their home countries, left school for unskilled jobs, or disappeared. The State of New York does not offer any additional financing for Students with Interrupted Formal Education. In 2008 New York City provided $2. 5 million to fifty-three schools with a large population of these students; however, this only equated to $165 dollars extra per student. As a result of these limited resources and the negative impact these children have on school ratings, many school administrators are allowing these children to fall through the cracks. A principal at a Queens high school was quoted as saying “Look, you have to understand my position: what this group does for my school is bring down my numbers” (Medina, 2009). With many administrators adopting a similar attitude to that expressed by the Queens principal, many are left to ponder the question of who is going to serve these children. To address this issue, Norma Vega, a New York City social worker and former principal, established Ellis Prep School. Ellis is an acronym for English Language Learners and International Support. In addition to the State’s standard per-pupil funding, Ms. Vega was able to secure a four year, $200,000 grant from the Institute for Student Achievement, and $76,000 from New York City. In addition to teachers, Ms. Vega’s staff includes academic coaches to sit at students’ sides in class to walk them through lessons. Ellis students are organized into small groups, compiled in such a way as to provide newer students the benefit of working with more experienced students on which they can rely for explanations and translations. The Ellis curriculum includes English, math, history, science, and electives including violin and dance. Ellis has the same graduation requirements as other high schools. Although it is too soon to report on the success of Ellis’ academic program, Ms. Vega is confident that it will better serve Students with Interrupted Formal Education than the traditional public school system. Ms. Vega has said, “If they were all sent to regular high schools, they would simply be lost” (Medina, 2009). Interviews with teenage immigrants prove that aside from all the obstacles they face, teen immigrants find plenty to be happy about. One freshman immigrant from Mexico joked that what he liked most about this country are the cute girls. Many others appreciate the better schools and jobs. One student summarized his American experience simply: “I like freedom. ” (The Grady Journal, 2009). References Barnard, A. (2009). Voicing pain through performance. (2009, Apr 13). New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2009 from https://www. nytimes. com/2009/04/13/nyregion/ 13websloan. html Blasingame, J. , & Lipski, L. (2004). [Review of First crossing: stories about teen immigrants]. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48, 2, 74-175. Retrieved October 23, 2009 from https://mylibrary. wilmu. du:2053/ehost/pdfvid=4&hid=102&sid=3df20c5c-59de-43ac- a978-c24333faeb49%40sessionmgr104 Medina, J. (2009). In school for the first time, teenage immigrants struggle. (2009, Jan 24). New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2009 from https://www. nytimes. com/2009/01/25/ education/25ellis. html Passig, D. , Eden, S. , & Heled, M. (2007). The impact of Virtual Reality on the awareness of teenagers to social and emotional experiences of immigrant classmates. Springer Science + Business Media, LLC. Retrieved October 23, 2009 from https://mylibrary. wilmu. edu:2053/ehost/pdf? id=5&hid=102&sid=3df20c5c-59de -43ac-a978-c24333faeb49%40sessionmgr104 Sridhar, P. (2008). Teen immigrants face unique challenges. Medill Reports, Northwestern University. Retrieved October 23, 2009 from https://news. medill. northwestern. edu/ washington/news. aspx? id=90033 The Grady Journal. (2009). Immigrants struggle to fit in at U. S. high schools. Retrieved October 23, 2009 from https://www. gradyjournal. com/? p=3176 UNICEF. (nd). League Table of Girls Out of School. Retrieved October 25, 2009 from https://www. unicef. org/pon96/leag1edu. htm Teen Immigrants 7
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