School counselors supporting African immigrant students' career development: a case study.

Author:Watkinson, Jennifer Scaturo

According to data from the most recent U.S. Census (Grieco et al., 2012), 13% of the U.S. population is foreign born, representing a 20% increase since 2000. African immigrants are adding to this increase in diversity, with close to 2 million immigrants settling in the United States. The unprecedented number of recent immigrants is reflected in the changing demographics of many schools across the country. Today, one in five children in the United States is a child of immigrants (Grieco et al., 2012), and by 2040, more than one in three children are expected to be children of immigrants (Hernandez, Denton, & Macartney, 2007; Suarez-Orozco, Onaga, & de Lardemelle, 2010).

Capps, Passel, Perez-Lopez, and Fix (2003) contended that although immigrant children bring with them remarkable strengths and resources, including strong family and community networks, a deeply held belief in education, and optimism about the future, they also face a multitude of challenges. Immigrant students struggle to succeed in many American schools, often underperforming on a variety of academic indicators, such as achievement tests, grades, graduation rates, and college enrollment (Hersi, 2012; Capps et al., 2003; Orfield & Lee, 2005; Ruiz-de-Velasco, Fix, & Clewell, 2001). Immigrant students' experiences of racism and discrimination (Hersi, 2011; Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 2001) and exposure to school and community violence (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 2001) have been cited as stressors that complicate their adjustment to school, leaving them vulnerable to academic failure.

Suarez-Orozco et al. (2010) noted that the risk of academic underachievement has enormous consequences on the postsecondary opportunities of immigrant youth in today's knowledge-based economy "where opportunities arc limited for the undereducated" (p. 16). In this service-oriented, knowledge-based economy, high school dropouts are relegated to low-income jobs with little promise of mobility (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001). As the demographic realities of schools change and the need to prepare all high school graduates to enter into a knowledge-based economy increases, national education reform initiatives have stressed the importance of graduating all students from high school ready for college and career, "regardless of income, race, ethnic or language background" (U.S. Department of Education, 2010, p. 3).

Within the school counseling literature, there is a growing interest in identifying culturally responsive ways in which school counselors can support the career and college readiness of a wide variety of students, including immigrant, low-income, and minority student populations (Holcomb-McCoy, 2010; Suarez-Orozco et al., 2010). Lapan, Aovagi, and Kavson (2007) contended that career development practices are linked to student academic engagement, which facilitates academic achievement and overall satisfaction with career choice after high school. To facilitate career development in immigrant students, school counselors need to recognize and understand both the sociocultural (Suarez-Orozco ct al., 2010) and contextual factors (Stead, 1996) that influence career choice among immigrant populations.

Research pertaining to the career development of African immigrant students in K-12 schools is sparse; thus, we drew from the research related to career development strategies intended for low-income minority populations and other immigrant student populations (Holcomb-McCoy, 2010; Shea, Ma, & Yeh, 2007; Stead, 1996). In addition, we used career construction theory (CCT; Del Corso & Rehfuss, 2011; Savickas, 2012) as the theoretical framework to assist school counselors in selecting the techniques for small group career and college planning sessions.

Our article presents an illustrative case study (see Yin, 2003) to reveal the family and educational experiences of Saynab, a female Somali immigrant high school student. Our goal was to use this case study to discuss the issues immigrant high school students experience and to present culturally responsive practices that school counselors can use to address their career development needs. Although the experience of each African immigrant student is unique, our article introduces school counselors to an approach for how to construct career development interventions that speak to the unique experiences of immigrant students. To address the purpose of our article, we present an overview of Somali immigrant students and the challenges they face in U.S. schools. Next, we present Saynab's story to illustrate her familial and educational experiences. Finally, we provide recommendations for ways in which school counselors can support students like Saynab as they prepare for life after high school.

Somali Immigrant Context

Many immigrants from the east African country of Somali entered the United States as refugees, escaping their country because of, in the words of the Geneva Convention of 1951, "well-founded fear of persecution" (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 2001, pp. 25-26). Somali students like Saynab come to the United States as a result of the ongoing civil war in Somalia and the resulting displacement of people in the Horn of Africa (home to the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia). Somali students and their families often spend many years in refugee camps located in Kenya or Ethiopia before arriving to the United States. As immigrants before them, Somali students and their families are part of transnational communities, living their lives beyond the fixed sociocultural borders of a state or nation. As Bigelow (2010) noted, "the identities and allegiances of Somali youth often cross national borders" (p. 4) as individuals maintain relationships with relatives in many different countries. Once in the United States, Somali students and their families must navigate the complexities of adjusting to a new culture within a society that will assign them to racial minority status (Bigelow, 2010; Hersi, 2005; Hersi & Watkinson, 2012; Fortes & Rumbaut, 2001; Waters, 1994; Zhou, 1997). Somalis often struggle to maintain their cultural, linguistic, and religious identities as they also contend with the labels, stereotypes, and structural inequities that people of color encounter in the United States (Bigelow, 2010; Hersi, 2005).

More recently, Bigelow's (2010) research in the Midwest found that some schools were failing Somali students, particularly those with interrupted formal education. These schools often had complicated educational policies that obstructed the educational opportunities of immigrant youth (e.g., school policies dealing with the ways students are sorted into programs, the access to a rigorous curriculum, the use of the heritage language, and the ways of communicating with parents). Additionally, because most U.S. schools place students in classrooms based on their age, older immigrant students attend secondary school without the years of academic knowledge and skills that other students at their grade level have acquired. Older immigrant students also face time constraints as they struggle to acquire the academic, social, and linguistic knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in high school (Short & Fitzsimmons, 2007). Furthermore, most teachers lack the specific knowledge and expertise to provide appropriate and differentiated instruction for English language learner (ELL) students who may enter school significantly below grade level (Brisk, 2008; Hersi, 2012).

Career Development in Schools

School counselors facilitate comprehensive school counseling programs designed to further the personal/social, career, and academic growth of all students while addressing achievement-related behaviors and beliefs that support student success (American School Counselor Association, 2012). A focus on postsecondary transition, including the development of career aspirations and decision making, is particularly...

To continue reading