Newcomer Education: Facilitating Integration

Volunteering (1).png

As we strive to guide our refugee and immigrant newcomers toward socio-academic access, we must focus on a unified goal: healthy, holistic & long-range integration.

Integration is a loaded concept with varied intent, depending on its context.  Let’s clarify this term with specificity to Newcomer programming. 

 To do this, we’ll need to take a few steps back.  To get to integration, we’ll need to start with culture shock.  Culture shock is a process of adjusting from one set of heritage norms to another.  

The process of culture shock is marked by four domains: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and mastery.  We can see how culture shock resembles grief in the sense that an individual will navigate a predictable set of uncomfortable stages before reaching a level of comfort and acceptance.

Briefly, the honeymoon period is a romaticized one, full of awe and discovery.  Stress factors may be delayed by fascination and shock.  The negotiation phase, which may begin approximately three months after resettlement, signals reality setting in and is marked by frustration, fear, homesickness, detachment and physical discomfort.  The adjustment period, typically encountered six to twelve months post-resettlement, is one of acceptance and sense-making.  Anxiety is reduced as maneauverability and self-efficacy are increased.  Finally, the mastery (or bicultural stage) is generally achieved between one to five years post-resettlement and indicates an ability to navigate freely and successfully in the new culture.

In order to examine potential implications of culture shock in the classroom setting, we’ll focus on the adjustment domain, the third stage on the way to cultural mastery.  The Adjustment Domain can be further disseminated into three categories: Isolation, Adoption and Integration

We can view these three areas within the adjustment domain on a spectrum.  On the far left of the spectrum, we’ll place Isolation; on the far right, Adoption.  These tendencies have opposite values.


·       Marked by disengagement or conflict with the host culture.

·       Likely to return to heritage country, but may not fit in well.

·       Feelings of separation from heritage and host identities.


·       Marked by utter identification with new culture at the expense of the old one.

·       Expected loss of language, culture and loyalty to heritage culture.

·       Social isolation between family and community members can occur.


Of course, neither end of the spectrum is particularly healthy, though isolation creates the most devastation.  What we hope for our Newcomers to achieve is a balance.  This “sweet spot” in the middle range of the spectrum we identify as "integration".



·       Able to recognize positive attributes of heritage and host cultures.

·       Full, healthy assimilation into new culture without loss of the old one.

·       More likely to experience social acceptance, emotional well-being, self-efficacy, cooperative relationships and general productivity.

It may be helpful to imagine the verb of integrating in this way: picture an individual standing in the middle of a teeter-totter, with a goal of keeping both ends of the teeter-totter elevated from the ground.  To do this, the individual needs to have one hand and one foot on each side of center.  Constant re-adjustment is necessary.


Education plays a critical role in aiding successful integration.  Ager and Strang (2008) write that, “For refugee children, schools are the most important place of contact with members of local host communities, playing an important role in establishing relationships supportive of integration”.   Aart De Gues, in Cities of Migration, adds that, “When integration fails, the inevitable result is inertia and exclusion. Nothing is more important than education for gaining a foothold in society and determining one’s own path.” 

As schools and teachers, where can we start in facilitating this process?  Here are a few ideas:


Tips & Tools to Promote Healthy Integration

1.     Ensure that inclusion is school-wide priority.

2.     Begin inclusive services promptly.

3.     Maintain consistency of services, scheduling and supports.

4.     Meet students where they are and consider individual backgrounds when prescribing services.

5.     Proactively address mental and physical health issues.

6.     Explore and celebrate confianza.

7.     Establish safety and trust through routine and predictability.               

8.     Explicitly teach new laws, rules, customs and traditions. 

9.     Model speech and behavior.              

10.  Encourage collaboration.

11.  Champion native language speech/literacy.

12.  Honor cultures without trivialization.

13.  Value Newcomers and their parents as critical stakeholders and partners in success.

14.  Encourage ELL investment in the classroom, the school and the community.

15.  Actively engage with Newcomer parents and work to build mutual trust and respect.

16.  Employ adult Newcomers as volunteers, paraprofessionals, teachers and other school staff.

17.  Foster relationships with community links and stakeholders.

18.  Allow opportunities to create and share cultural artifacts.

19.  Incorporate cultural realia, such as foreign coins, postcards, and stamps as manipulatives or authentic textiles/patterns for geometry and spatial reasoning.

20.  Allow for multiple levels of expression that include traditional songs, games and call-and-response.

21.  Provide opportunities for “wander-and-explore” learning (practical, hands-on application).

22.  Celebrate both students and parents as sharers of wisdom.