Even as immigrant dropout rates in the city’s public schools have soared, immigrant parents — mystified by the bureaucracies, short on time, cowed by their inability to speak English or fearful that their illegal immigration status would be discovered — have typically stayed away from schools.
On Thursday, the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella group of dozens of immigration organizations, announced an ambitious project that it hopes will address both problems. The coalition introduced a city-backed plan to increase involvement by immigrant parents in the city’s public school system.
The project, supported by public and private money, establishes a network of resource centers at schools around the city that will help immigrants learn about the American educational system.
The centers will help parents obtain identification documents that will enable them to enter government buildings and open bank accounts. In addition, they will offer workshops on financial literacy, college readiness and college tuition planning.
At a press conference on the steps of City Hall, Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the immigration coalition, said the project was “a direct response to the immigrant dropout crisis.”
She said that the graduation rate among students enrolled in the schools’ English Language Learners program was only 42 percent, while the overall city graduation rate was 61 percent. Only 7 percent of English Language Learners are prepared for college or a career according to state standards, she said.
These statistics demanded “a dramatic intervention, a new approach that engages the entire family,” she said.
The initiative will begin with five Family Resource Centers, one in each of the city’s boroughs, though officials hope to expand into more neighborhoods. The centers reflect a national movement of collaboration between public and private entities to address families’ needs in public schools.
Districts in many low-income neighborhoods across the country and abroad have embraced the concept, known as full-service or community schools.
The city’s support of the parent engagement project is part of a general strategy to bring immigrants out of the shadows, officials said. “We are committed to sending the message that New York City is an immigrant-friendly city,” said Christine C. Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council.