Immigrant Child’s Acculturation and Academic Success

Immigrant families meet a number of challenges when moving to the USA, including a language barrier, the lack of a job, social insecurity, and others. While adults struggle to overcome these obstacles on the way to acclimatizing to a new environment, children face their own struggles. Specifically, many school-age immigrants have difficulty learning English as a second language and communicating in it with their peers. The purpose of the research is to identify the problems pertaining to the child from the case study and suggest solutions to them. The analysis will be based on the following research questions:

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  1. What issue is the most challenging for the student, and what factors could have caused it?
  2. How can Christian’s teachers and family promote the boy’s acculturation and foster the highest academic achievement?

Literature Review

Scholarly articles on the topic encompass a variety of issues related to the problems immigrant children meet in the new educational and social environment. Both the needs for adjustment in general and those specific for Latino students are discussed in the research. Makarova and Birman (2015) note that the process of acculturation serves as the major barrier for immigrants’ underachievement at school.

One of the prominent factors impacting acculturation is a psychological adjustment, which involves self-esteem, life satisfaction, and mental stability (Makarova & Birman, 2016). As Maynard, Vaughn, Salas-Wright, and Vaughn (2016) report, minority students are likely to become victims of bullying. Thus, research indicates that for the majority of immigrant children, psychological well-being is hard to achieve.

Studies focusing on Puerto Rican/Latino immigrants emphasize the role of family and community in the promotion of children’s acclimatization (Harris & Kiyama, 2015; Quiñones & Kiyama, 2014; Santiago, Gudiño, Baweja, & Nadeem, 2014). Scholars emphasize the role of a father in family-school engagement (Quiñones & Kiyama, 2014). Early linguistic experiences are reported to have a profound effect on success in high school (Zarate & Pineda, 2014). Overall, researchers consider the role of family and school, as well as the collaboration between these two entities, highly crucial in promoting immigrant children’s adjustment in the new environment.


The child in the study is an eight-year-old Puerto Rican boy who moved to the USA a few years ago. His family consists of a mother, a sister, and grandparents. Christian’s mother was the one who paid the most attention to his literacy skills development at an early age. Upon immigration to the USA, the boy’s grandparents also became involved in the process of acculturation. The elementary school teacher is concerned about Christian’s achievement and analyzes the boy’s behavioral and academic challenges related to his cultural and linguistic background.

The data on Latino immigrants’ challenges in the US schools indicates that the predominant use of Spanish at home and the lack of father’s participation in his life serve as barriers to adjustment (Quiñones & Kiyama, 2014; Santiago et al., 2014; Zarate & Pineda, 2014). Researchers suggest that school-based programs may enhance Latino students’ achievement (Harris & Kiyama, 2015).


Findings on Research Question 1

  1. Christian’s most challenging issue is the lack of background knowledge of English. According to the case study, “no literacy education was provided” to the boy in Puerto Rico before moving to the USA (“case study,” n.d., p. 2). This issue is complicated further by the fact that the boy has only “one good friend at school” and does not participate in “any organized extracurricular activities” (“Case study,” n.d., p. 2). Makarova and Birman (2015) note that cultural changes “are central to the experience of ethnic minority students” (p. 305). Thus, it is necessary to encourage the boy to communicate with native speakers and take part in group activities.
  2. Another problem is that Christian lacks the involvement of a father in his life. Christian spends “small amounts of time” with his father and speaks to him “rarely” (“Case study,” n.d., p. 1). Meanwhile, fathers in immigrant Puerto Rican families are reported to play an important advocating role in the “parent–school–district system” (Quiñones & Kiyama, 2014, p. 149). Also, immigrant children may face bullying (Maynard et al., 2016). Meanwhile, fathers can protect their children from racism and negative impacts (Quiñones & Kiyama, 2014). Hence, the absence of the father in his life makes Christian more vulnerable than other children both of the US and Puerto Rican descent from complete families.

Findings on Research Question 2

  1. The teachers’ role in the process of Christian’s acculturation is highly crucial. It is evident from the case study that the teacher is concerned with the boy’s low achievement. Research indicates that the development of school-based programs helps children like Christian to “address personal and school barriers” (Harris & Kiyama, 2015, p. 182). The boy’s teacher pays much attention to “group work and cooperative learning” (“Case study,” n.d., p. 2). Thus, the cooperation between school and family is necessary for the boy’s easier acculturation.
  2. Christian’s family’s values have a considerable effect on the boy’s acculturation. The family is “very supportive of the boy’s learning of English (“Case study,” n.d., p. 1). Education is “a high priority” for Christian’s mother (“Case study,” n.d., p. 2). These issues align with research in that “high levels of parental monitoring” are associated with better acculturation (Santiago et al., 2014, p. 735). Moreover, “early acculturation” has the potential to affect high school completion (Zarate & Pineda, 2014, p. 1). Thus, it is crucial for Christian’s mother and grandparents to continue encouraging the boy in speaking English and communicating with native speakers.

Recommendations and Conclusions

Base on the analysis of the case study and scholarly literature, it is possible to conclude that the process of Christian acculturation is restricted by several factors. First of all, the boy does not have enough background knowledge of English, which makes him shy and unwilling to communicate with native speakers. Secondly, the lack of his father’s involvement in Christian’s life makes the boy more vulnerable to bullying than children from complete and non-immigrant families. At the same time, Christian’s family and teachers are rather supportive of the boy.

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The first recommendation for Christian is to join some community- and school-based activities involving group collaboration and communication. That way, the boy will become more self-confident and less shy. Another suggestion is to enroll Christian in extracurricular activities where he will be able to arrange friendly relationships with more than one classmate. Finally, the boy’s grandfather should pay more attention to their man-to0man relationships since he is the main role model the boy has to follow.


Case study: Christian Fernandez (Puerto Rican). (n.d.).

Harris, D. M., & Kiyama, J. M. (2015). The role of school and community-based programs in aiding Latina/o high school persistence. Education and Urban Society, 47(2), 182-206.

Makarova, E., & Birman, D. (2015). Cultural transition and academic achievement of students from ethnic minority backgrounds: A content analysis of empirical research on acculturation. Educational Research, 57(3), 305-330.

Makarova, E., & Birman, D. (2016). Minority students’ psychological adjustment in the school context: An integrative review of qualitative research on acculturation. Intercultural Education, 27(1), 1-21.

Maynard, B. R., Vaughn, M. G., Salas-Wright, C. P., & Vaughn, S. (2016). Bullying victimization among school-aged immigrant youth in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health, 58(3), 337-344.

Quiñones, S., & Kiyama, J. M. (2014). Contra la corriente (against the current): The role of Latino fathers in family-school engagement. School Community Journal, 24(1), 149-176.

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Santiago, C. D., Gudiño, O. G., Baweja, S., & Nadeem, E. (2014). Academic achievement among immigrant and U.S.-born Latino adolescents: Associations with cultural, family, and acculturation factors. Journal of Community Psychology, 42(6), 735-747.

Zarate, M. E., & Pineda, C. G. (2014). Effects of elementary school home language, immigrant generation, language classification, and school’s English learner concentration on Latinos’ high school completion. Teachers College Record, 116(2), 1-37.

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