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

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 Commonwealth.”

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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Donna Location: Charlotte, N.C. on Jun 28, 2008 at 12:06 PM
    Who do you think is sustaining the tax system? It's not the seniors on social security. A large chunk of it comes from young immigrants toiling to pick our food, pack our meat, care for our elderly and toil in the poultry plants. Instead of criminalizing these workers we should thank them for their hard work and for the $500 billion they've got stowed away in the Social Security Administration's suspense file. And all of us who are really workers should understand that its corporate that bringing in these workers who aren't interested in breaking laws but in feeding their kids. If I was parent in their situation, I'd do the same for my kids, just like my Italian grandparents did for my folks.
  • by henry Location: letcher on Jun 27, 2008 at 03:59 PM
    Seeing as we are talking about ky.,just where do you think the money to pay for all of this is suppose to come from, especially considering all of the cutbacks. raise taxes? I for one am sick of being taxed to death. heres a suggesting,all of you bleeding heart lib's find you a ILLEGAL MIGRANT AND PAY OUT OF YOUR ON POCKET EVERYTHING THEY NEED. I THINK MY TAX DOLLARS CAN GO TO AN "AMERICAN CITIZEN" THERE'S ENOUGH THAT NEED THE HELP.
  • by America Location: Schaumburg, IL on Jun 27, 2008 at 02:45 PM
    Actually, the top students at my local high school are immigrants. This is true throughout our city. Unlike many of their peers, immigrants have no sense of entitlement. They must work doubly hard. Like the Polish, the Irish, the African slaves, and the Chinese who built the railroads out west, newcomers are the hardest working, least appreciated and subject to discrimination. That's the legacy of our country. Judging from the comments of the other readers, little has changed.
  • by Rocky Location: Wyoming on Jun 27, 2008 at 09:25 AM
    If our immigration laws were enforced this would not be a problem. We have become a nation that can pick and choose which laws we wish to obey. We are creating a class of third world workers and in doing so we are fast losing our language, culture and American way of life. Since both politicial candidates want some sort of an amnesty program, my advice is...learn Spanish...or vote the buns out !
  • by Ray Location: Texas on Jun 27, 2008 at 09:12 AM
    The ILLEGALS and their Anchor Babies in the Texas School System are so illiterate that "our" schools have to spend time and resources to teach the ILLEGALS and Anchor Babies "proper" Spanish before they can even consider teaching the ILLEGALS and Anchor Babies English! The ILLEGALS and Anchor Babies have their own program starting in pre-kindergarten through the 5th grade, seven years, and most do not learn English. But the Feds and State of Texas continue to flood the school system with "our" money. Don't be concerned, the ILLEGALS do not have any intention of learning English! They want to take over the United States for their Third World "home" countries or at the very least turn the United States into just another Third World Country!
  • by Goebel Location: Craft on Jun 27, 2008 at 05:30 AM
    It's not easy for the kids of legal Americans. Where are these kids parents going to get the money for college.


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