The African Community School of Minneapolis (ACS) Child Development Program (CDP) is an after school and weekend tutoring and support program serving Somali children and their parents in Minneapolis, Minnesota. CDP’s goals are to (1) increase children’s leadership skills and self-confidence, (2) improve children’s academic performance, and (3) actively involve children and parents in the design and development of program activities.
All immigrants experience the same difficulties of adjusting to life in the United States. All of them are aware that the lack of sufficient skills to be able to speak the English language is the major factor that affects their successful integration into the U.S. society. Thirty-five percent of African immigrants are reported to speak English less than “very well” (Remington 2008) and 7.6 percent are not fluent in English (Census 2000 cited in NationMaster.com n.d.). The language barrier influences the employers’ decision to hire African immigrants, the immigrants’ aspiration to achieve a higher education and a high-paying job, the children’s hope to excel in school and find new friends, and the parents’ and children’s goal of connecting with the community they live in. In addition, language hinders immigrants from attending to their daily activities, and accessing healthcare. Unsurprisingly, these immigrants also need to become aware of the culture of the United States. For all these challenges they are facing, it is but evident that they are socially and economically disconnected from the society of the United States.
The English Language and the Parent-Child Conflict among Immigrants
The language barrier is the primary concern of both the immigrant parents and their children. Because of the limited ability to speak, read, and write English, immigrant students often struggle academically. Parents, on the other hand, experience difficulty in communicating with teachers and school administrators about homework and other important matters (The Minneapolis Foundation 2004).
Add to this is the gap that slowly exists between immigrant parents and children once the latter are able to learn the English language and to adjust to the culture of the united States. With children more adaptive to a new life, they learn new things that they refuse to be taught by their parents whom they know are not aware, or less aware, of the way of life in the United States. This makes some immigrant parents feel useless and isolated (Garrett 2006). Add to this, the parents’ helplessness in attending to their simple daily activities, such as buying from grocery stores. It is, therefore, imperative for immigrants to obtain English language training.
The African Immigrant Children
Today, immigrant youth is the fastest growing sector of the child population (Landale & Oropesa 1995 cited in Suarez-Orozco 2001). One in five children in the United States is the child of immigrants. By 2040, the ratio is projected to develop into one in three children (Rong & Prissle, 1998 cited in Suarez-Orozco 2001). In addition, immigrant students are already outperforming their U.S.-born peers. They are often the valedictorians of their classes and they tend to be overrepresented as the recipients of prestigious academic awards. In contrast, other immigrant children demonstrate disturbingly high dropout rates. Many are “overlooked and underserved,” as characterized by a recent report released by the Urban Institute, particularly when they enter U.S. schools at the secondary level (Ruiz-de-Velasco & Fix 2001 cited in Suarez-Orozco 2001).
Many factors can be attributed to these contrasting conditions of immigrant children. Immigrant children who belong to the middle class benefit from financially secure families, good schools, safe neighborhoods, and other supportive formal and informal organizations, which provide better opportunities for them. Children with poorly educated and unskilled parents, on the other hand, often find themselves growing up in underprivileged neighborhoods subject to poverty, poor schools, violence, drugs, and a generally disruptive social environment (Min 1997 cited in Suarez-Orozco 2001). Aside from the economic status, the socio-cultural issues also play a very significant role in the education of immigrants, particularly the African immigrant child (Konadu-Agyemang et al. 2006).