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Program to help immigrant children learn focuses on parents

Oct 6, 2016

The Next Idea

A child's first day of school can be both an exciting and stressful time for a parent, especially for those who are starting out in a new country. The Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) has created a program to help immigrants adapt to their new community and prepare their children for school.

The story of ACCESS was published in "ACCESS to School," a book written by four authors, including Amanda Morgan.
Credit Courtesy of ACCESS

 Amanda Morgan works in the School of Social Work at Michigan State University. She helped to develop the Parent and Child Interactive Learning program for ACCESS. She told Stateside that one of the largest predictors for a child’s success can be their mother’s reading level.

“In Detroit, we noticed that there were high rates of illiteracy among adults,” Morgan said. “And the children that were entering kindergarten all over Detroit were not ready for school.”

Morgan said that the 10-week course instructs parents on how to better prepare their kids for entry into kindergarten – a task that Morgan describes as being “particularly challenging” for immigrant parents.

“What ACCESS aimed to do was to look at the unique challenges that faced immigrant communities and build a program from the ground up that was two generations,” Morgan said. “[Parents learn] how to become their child’s first teacher in the home.”

Through the program, parents get ideas for activities around the house that don’t require costly materials, like identifying shapes on cereal boxes and counting the steps on a staircase with their kids.

Thoraya Alhaggam emigrated from Yemen to Michigan seven years ago and is a parent involved in the program with ACCESS. She told Stateside that the program better prepared her in getting her kids ready for an education.

“It helped me to understand [my] children better. It helped me to have the confidence to teach my kids,” Alhaggam said, who has a five-year-old and a six-year-old at home. “If I don’t know how to help them, I have the resources to ask.”

Morgan said the other parents they work with echo these feelings of confidence.

“The empowerment that they get from this program and the confidence that they receive… especially as a part of helping their children and being involved in their education, is significant.”

Going forward, Morgan hopes to see the program replicated with immigrant populations across the United States. She joined Alhaggam on Stateside to talk about the program’s impact in Michigan.

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