14 SES 06 A, Immigrant Families in Schools: Agency, Inclusion & Resistance
This study examines how Somali mothers’ construct and understand school involvement in a primary and secondary school in the United Kingdom. Scholarly interest in parent involvement issues have existed for quite some time, however only recently have such studies focused on immigrant families (Schnell, 2015; Jung and Zhang, 2016). Among these few investigate the specific experiences of immigrant mothers (Al-deen and Windle, 2017), particularly Somali mothers. Through ethnographic interviews we examine how a group of Somali mothers’ construct and understand their agency in the academic life of their children. Additionally, we examine how school staff perceived these mothers and their involvement strategies.
Drawing on social and cultural capital as theoretical frames, this study explores how parental involvement, particularly Somali mothers’ involvement, is both constructed and recognized. Social and cultural capital is an important instrument of analysis that serves to unveil the reality of school inequalities (Bourdieu, 1986). Through definitions of social capital as the connections or networks within families, and more broadly within communities, researchers have pointed to vast amount of resources members can access and activate for the benefit of students. In addition, acquired cultural capital provides students with an important ‘commodity’ that can be ‘traded’ in school settings for greater opportunities (DiMaggio, 1982; Coleman, 1988). These concepts build a strong argument, accepted by many in the field, that schools are not neutral spaces. They replicate the inequalities of society by recognizing and legitimizing certain capital while marginalizing others (Bourdieu, 1986). In the context of parent involvement, several studies suggest that teachers and school staff define parental involvement narrowly as being present at the school (e.g., attending school sponsored events). Some studies report on specific aspects of parent involvement that are given high value by teachers, for example reading with their children at home (Paratone et al., 1994, Carreon, Drake, & Barton, 2005, Lareau, 2000; Valdés, 1996) or proficiency in the language of the host country (Blackledge, 2001). These examples point to specific models for parent involvement that are historically accepted and enacted by the dominant culture. Immigrant families entering these spaces are expected to learn and take on these parent involvement practices, in order to guarantee the success of their children in school.
The present study examines a unique case where Somali mothers’ take ownership for the high academic achievement of their children. Furthermore, although Somali youth were successful in this school environment, school staff still perceived Somali families through a deficit model and failed to legitimize mothers’ school involvement practices. The study explores how Somali mothers construct their roles and impact their children’s student achievement, and how subsequently they were perceived by school staff. The guiding research questions for this study are: (1) How do Somali immigrant mothers construct and enact school involvement to support their children in a secondary school in the United Kingdom? and (2) In what ways do school staff recognize and perceive the involvement of Somali immigrant mothers?
To answer these questions we draw on part of a data set collected during a large multinational study of Somali immigrant student experiences in schools. Data were collected in 6 schools in 3 countries (Sweden, The Netherlands, and United Kingdom). Researchers interviewed 75 students, 40 parents, and 45 school teachers and staff over a 3 week period. Data included focus groups, individual interviews, classroom observations, field notes, and community immersion experiences. The present discussion for this conference session will focus on data collected in 2 UK schools. The purpose of the session is to highlight successful practices by Somali immigrant mothers’ and engage in critical conversations on the perceptions by local school staff.
We selected an ethnographic research approach in our design, and collected a variety of data through the use of ethnographic tools (e.g. observations, focus groups, formal and informal interviews, participant observations, field notes, community immersion experiences). The type of data collected helped present a more holistic account of the ways in which immigrant Somali mothers construct their school involvement, and consequently the perceptions of school staff. Researchers will report on findings from the UK data set that includes focus group interview with Somali students and parents, classroom observations, individual interview with teachers and school staff, and community immersion experiences (e.g., dinner event hosted by Somali mothers at their home). Gates Primary and Secondary Schools (school name has been changed), the UK research sites are located in a west London borough in a highly diverse community. According to census data released in 2011 by the Local Government Association, the community living in the area identify with a variety of ethnic groups. About 54% of the population were born in England and the foreign born populations were mostly from India and Pakistan with a recently growing Somali population. At the time of the study student enrollment at Gates Primary was 420 students, and Secondary was 1,420 students with 86.3% reporting a language other than English as their first language. The schools had student representation from various heritages, including - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Somalia. Gates primary and secondary schools were also identified as schools serving low income families. However, both schools were high achieving and ranked above average on UK school rankings. According to the school websites they received several awards and recognition, they list themselves as members of the Gold Club and had received recognition from the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) for progress made by their pupils. We spent 6-8 hours a day engaged in various activities at Gates primary and secondary and the local community in summer 2017. The primary source of data included detailed field notes of observations, audio-recorded countless hours of focus groups and interviews, parent discussion groups, administrative planning meetings, and other semi-formal interactions with parents and school staff members. Additional sources of data included: school materials, such as flyers, brochures, announcements, curriculum, newspapers, meeting agendas, and program information reports.
Schools are filled with parent expectations; homework support, attendance at parent-teacher conferences and school events, to name a few, these are the traditional ways of involvement. Parent expectations at Gates primary and secondary schools were no different. Findings suggest that the Somali mothers were constructing their own ways for school involvement and becoming influential agents in the school success of their children. For example, the Somali community did not have a dominant culture family structure. In many cases, the fathers were not physically present in the household fulltime. Many worked abroad, but nonetheless, their presence was evident in most of our interactions with mothers. Fathers provided financial support, advice, and guidance in the family decision making process. Mothers narratives clearly highlighted a sense of female empowerment. The Somali mothers in this community made enormous sacrifices for the academic success of their children. Mothers maintained close oversight of children’s school work and paid for afterschool tutoring. Tutoring came at a high price for these low income families, but mothers seemed to credit these tutoring sessions for the success of their children. Few recognized the school efforts to meet the unique needs of their families. In one instance a mother stated, “they didn’t do that, I did that” referring to her son’s high school scores. Findings also suggest that these first generation Somali mothers had been the productive of negative school experiences in the host country, and therefore intentionally selected different pathways to support their British born children. Through their family and community networks these mothers were able to share resources, and acquire the necessary social and cultural capital needed to create opportunities for upward mobility in the academic achievement of their children.
Al-deen, T. & Windle, J. (2017). ‘I feel sometimes I am a bad mother’: The affective dimension of immigrant mothers’ involvement in their children’s schooling. Journal of Sociology, 53(1), 110-126. Blackledge, A. (2001). The wrong sort of capital? Bangladeshi women and their children’s schooling in Birmingham, U.K. International Journal of Bilingualism, 5, 345-369. Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J.G. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory for the sociology of education (pp.241-258). New York: Greenwood. Coleman, J. (1988). Social capital and the creation of human capital. The American Journal of Sociology, 94,S95-S120. Carreon, G.; Drake, C. & Barton, A. (2005). The importance of presence: Immigrant parents’ school engagement experiences. American Educational Research Journal, 42(3), 465-498. DiMaggio, P. (1982). Cultural capital and school success: The impact of status culture participation on the grades of U.S. high school students. American Sociological Review, 47(2), 189-201. Jung, E. & Zhang, Y. (2016) Parental involvement, children's aspirations, and achievement in new immigrant families, The Journal of Educational Research, 109(4), 333-350. Lareau, A. (2000). Home Advantage. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Maryland. Paratore, J., & others (1994). Shifting boundaries in home/school responsibilities: Involving immigrant parents in the construction of literacy portfolios. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Reading Conference, San Diego, CA. Schnell, P. (2015). Behind the scenes: family involvement and educational achievements of second-generation Turks in Austria, France and Sweden. Comparative Migration Studies, 3(10), 2-23. Valdés, G. (1996). Con respeto: Bridging the distances between culturally diverse families and schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Vazquez-Nuttall, E.; Li, C.; Kaplan, J. (2006). Home-School Partnerships with Culturally Diverse Families. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 22(2), 81-102.
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