Study: Kentucky's Immigrant Youth Face Tough Transition To Adulthood

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jun 29 12:38:47 UTC 2008

Study: Kentucky's Immigrant Youth Face Tough Transition To Adulthood

Posted: 5:28 AM Jun 27, 2008
Last Updated: 5:28 AM Jun 27, 2008

  Louisville, KY – In Kentucky, as across the nation, children in
immigrant families are a growing part of the population and future
workforce. However, as the number of immigrant youth has increased in
recent years, programs and services that would help them succeed in
school and become productive adults have not kept pace, according to a
new issue brief released today by Kentucky Youth Advocates.

The report, Making their Way: Helping Kentucky's Immigrant Youth
Successfully Transition into Adulthood, found that language and
cultural barriers are leading more immigrant youth to drop out of high
school and enter a cycle of low-paying jobs and unemployment.
According to the brief, 41 percent of Kentucky's older immigrant
youth, aged 16 to 19, speak English "not well" or "not at all." These
youth have limited time to gain proficiency in English before facing
standardized testing, college and job applications. The result is a
drop out rate that is nearly five times higher (43 percent) than the
rate among U.S.-born Kentucky youth.

"Kentucky's immigrant youth are an important resource that our state
cannot afford to waste," said Terry Brooks, Executive Director of
Kentucky Youth Advocates. "That means schools cannot take the easy
path to working with immigrant youth. It means we cannot allow the
state's obsession with test scores to supersede the interests of any
student – and that includes immigrant youth."

Currently, Kentucky has one of the highest percentages of
"disconnected" youth who are not attending school and not working,
ranking 45th in the nation. Research shows that the vast majority of
immigrant youth fare as well as their peers on measures of physical
and mental health and avoidance of high-risk behavior. Yet far fewer
are likely to graduate from high school, increasing their risk to be
disconnected from education, the work force or military.

"English proficiency is the number one predictor of whether older
immigrant youth successfully transition into adulthood in Kentucky,"
said Jenessa Bryan, the report's author and a policy analyst at
Kentucky Youth Advocates. "Effective programs that increase immigrant
youth's English skills – especially programs that integrate immigrant
youth with native-English speakers while encouraging them to retain
their first language -- are critical to keeping youth in school."

The brief noted that while the number of immigrant youth in Kentucky
remains relatively small, it has grown significantly in recent years.
Between 1990 and 2005, for instance, the number of students learning
English as a second language increased from 1,300 to over 11,000. In
the 2004-2005 school year, 10,415 students in grades pre-kindergarten
through 12 were eligible for federal funding for Limited English
Proficient (LEP) education.

The study suggested several measures for helping this growing
population achieve educational success and make a smooth transition to
adulthood. These include:

• Better tracking of those students who complete LEP programs to
determine how successful schools have been in preparing them to make
the transition into mainstream education.

• Increasing outreach to immigrant parents through school programs
that introduce them to the U.S. educational system and help them
understand how to support their child's education. Schools should also
offer language accessible parent-teacher conferences, provide written
materials to parents in their spoken language, and give adequate
support to teachers and school staff, such as family resource officers
and English as a Second Language teachers.

• Providing multicultural programming through schools and community
agencies that allow immigrant youth to embrace their heritage while
acclimating to the United States. Research shows such offerings make
immigrant youth less likely to drop out of school. Programs that
encourage them to teach others about their cultural heritage or tutor
youth in their language can also help foster leadership skills.

• Increasing awareness of Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education
policies that ensure all Kentuckians can pursue higher education,
including eligibility to enroll in public postsecondary institutions
and eligibility for in-state tuition, for all graduates from Kentucky
high schools.

"If Kentucky's economy is to become dynamic in the future, the
commitment to ensuring a productive adulthood for immigrant youth is
not an option. It's a mandate," said Brooks. "Taking a few simple but
important steps will not only help them – it will help the entire

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