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UCLA Community School Research, Practice and Policy Brief: Hope for Undocumented Students

California is home to about 3 million undocumented immigrants. Here in Los Angeles, an estimated 70,000 undocumented students, ages 3 to 17, are enrolled in Los Angeles area schools. Many schools strive to ensure the educational success of these undocumented children and to assure they are prepared for and have the opportunity to succeed in college. It can be a difficult challenge, one that has only become more difficult as students and their families experience greater levels of fear and anxiety under the Trump administration.

The UCLA Community School in the Pico Union/Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles is one school taking this challenge head-on through a series of steps to support undocumented students and prepare them for success in college. A new Research, Practice and Policy brief published by the UCLA Community School shines a light on those efforts. Authored by Marco A. Murillo, a postdoctoral scholar at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education with Beth Trinchero, a founding lead teacher at the UCLA Community School and the schools college advisor, the brief summarizes scholarly research and internal school research about projects that address the needs of undocumented students. It also highlights practices that may help other educators and schools to better support undocumented students.

“We wanted to show how researchers and practitioners can come together to inform the work educators,” said Marco Murillo.  “Given our current political climate, we thought it was important to share our school’s efforts to support and meet the needs of undocumented students.”

Research in the brief summarizes the challenges undocumented students face, including “feeling stigmatized, encountering school personnel that provide little academic and social support, paying out of state tuition rates in most states and having limited access to financial aid.” Undocumented students are also affected by policies outside the scope of school such as those that target undocumented immigrants, causing fear among young people and their families. Educators can offer important help by ensuring access to educational opportunities and having positive interactions with students. They also need to be aware of outside factors that may affect academic performance.

Closer to campus, the brief examines practices at UCLA Community School that may help schools to better understand the needs of students and guide effective actions to support them. As the brief notes, understanding the scope of the student population that is undocumented can help to shape the response of the school community. UCLA Community School uses a survey for students in grades 7-12 to learn about their school experience and plans for college. The anonymous survey gives the school a general sense of the numbers of students worried about their immigration status.

One key point the brief underscores is that the success of the survey is due in part to the trust and personal relationships the school has built with students and families and is part of a multitude of practices that support undocumented students.

“One important takeaway is that schools have the ability to cultivate a campus climate that acknowledges the presence and needs of undocumented students,” says Murillo.   “However, schools need to remain mindful that precautions need to be taken to ensure students feel protected and safe if they choose to reveal their legal status.”

From Research – Better Practice

The brief highlights the efforts of the school to use their research to improve practices. The UCLA Community School draws on what they have learned through research to foster an inclusive and trusting school culture. The school embraces immigrant families, respects language, builds relationships with students and offers academic and social supports. Teachers display positive immigrant images in their classrooms and discuss immigration as part of the curriculum.

The school also provides college counseling for undocumented students, making sure students have access to college prep curriculum, building college knowledge and supporting students in choosing and applying to college. The school works to promote a college going environment for all students, including those that are undocumented through the provision of information and resources, parent and legal guardian support and immediate post high school support.

Noting changes in the political climate, the brief also highlights the efforts of the UCLA Community School to address the fears of students by providing spaces for them to share their concerns and making sure they have accurate information about state and federal laws about access to college. The school also reaches out to parents and takes steps to ensure students and parents understand their legal rights and have access to local organizations that can assist them.

“Although differences in support for undocumented youth across states makes it difficult to replicate what one school does, I hope that other schools can take some the examples of research and practice we describe and apply them to their particular context,” Murillo concludes.

To read the UCLA Community School Research, Practice and Policy brief, “Supporting College-going for Undocumented Students,” click here.


Above: A mural at UCLA Community School depicts the struggle – and incentive – for undocumented students.