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School-family-community partnerships: strategies for school counselors working with Caribbean immigrant families.

Caribbean immigrant students, who represent one of the largest subgroups in the Black population in the United States, are experiencing negative educational outcomes that are related to poor academic achievement and high dropout rates. These academic problems have been partially connected to the negative experiences Caribbean students and their families have within schools, particularly poor interactions with school personnel (Albertini, 2004; Fine et al., 2004). This article discusses the cultural values, historical experiences, and socio-political issues of Caribbean immigrants as a foundation for understanding appropriate school counseling interventions in working with this population. Specifically, the use of school-family-community partnerships to encourage positive interactions among Caribbean students, their families, and school personnel is discussed as a means to promote high academic achievement for Caribbean immigrant students. Specific strategies for counselors working with Caribbean immigrants within the context of such partnerships are provided.


Educational achievement is important for all students. When students do not fully develop their academic skills and/or drop out of school, they take with them educational deficiencies that significantly decrease their economic and social well-being over the lifespan (Santrock, 2002). Black student populations in the United States, including Caribbean immigrants, disproportionately experience economic and occupational problems that are partially rooted in achievement difficulties. Therefore, improvement of academic achievement in Caribbean student populations is extremely important given the correlation between school achievement and positive outcomes over the lifespan (Marsh, 1990; Santrock).

The achievement gap among student subpopulations (Dworkin & Dworkin, 1999) and the resulting high dropout rates among minority groups have been well documented in the literature (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). Fine et al. (2004) found that 72% of Caribbean students believe that there is an achievement gap, and the authors' analyses of student transcripts confirmed this belief. Whereas 64% of White students participated in advanced placement/honors courses, only 46% of Caribbean students participated in those same courses; even when the comparison was made between students who have college-educated parents, the gap still existed (Fine et al.). Caribbean middle school students in Florida's Miami-Dade County (the area with the second largest concentration of Caribbean immigrants) on average had a GPA below 2.0 (Albertini, 2004). In New York City, the area with the largest numbers of Caribbean immigrants, the Board of Education determined that the high school dropout rate for Caribbean students was 23.53% among males and 19.66% among females (Udeogalanya, 1995). Rong and Brown (2001) reported that 56.1% of first-generation Caribbean immigrants (ages 17-24) completed high school, while 62% of White first-generation immigrants completed high school. High school dropouts, in comparison to high school graduates, are more than twice as likely to be unemployed or underemployed (Dworkin & Dworkin).

Several authors have attributed the high dropout rate among Caribbean immigrant students to the negative experiences they have within public schools in the United States (Albertini, 2004; Nieto, 2000). Caribbean parents and children typically do not receive adequate, culturally competent counseling services, which affects their academic outcomes and ultimately limits their life chances (Constantine & Gushue, 2003; Gopaul-McNicol, 1993; Reynolds, 1999). The inappropriate services provided by some counselors may be due to their negative perceptions of Caribbean immigrants. Constantine and Gushue found that school counselors with higher levels of racism were less aware of immigrant students' cultural issues and may ultimately limit their well-being. Misguided teachers also share in this practice, because they may view Caribbean immigrants as slow learners who are unable to achieve, and they may subsequently direct these students to vocational classes and trade schools (Lashley, 2000).

This situation is confounded by the fact that Caribbean parents are often unaware of the need to closely monitor their child's experience in American schools, because in the Caribbean, schools acts as in locus parentis and principals and teachers are viewed as authority figures trained to make the best decisions for a child's academic progress (Waters, 1999). Therefore, when Caribbean students are streamed into vocational programs and other nonacademic classes (Lashley, 2000), parents may believe that teachers are making the best educational decisions for their child and are sometimes unaware that the prescribed educational programs are nonacademic tracks. Clearly, there is a need for appropriate school counselor and teacher interactions with Caribbean students and families.

Given that interactions among schools, students, and their families are impacting outcomes for Caribbean students, this article introduces the use of school-family-community partnerships to improve, rather than limit, Caribbean student functioning in school and in the community. Before the use of partnerships is introduced, a discussion of relevant cultural, historical and political, and social issues of Caribbean immigrants will help support the rationale of the suggested interventions within the context of the school-family-community partnership model.


Caribbean, or West Indian, immigrants have migrated from the Caribbean region that is defined by Chaney (1994) as the 50 inhabited island countries that stretch in a 2,000-mile-long arc between Trinidad (off the coast of northern South America) and western Cuba. In addition, "due to their historical identification with the islands, and their similar histories under British and Dutch rule, the mainland territories of Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, and Belize are often considered as belonging to the Caribbean region" (Chaney, p. 5). In 2004, the population of the Caribbean region totaled approximately 38.5 million people (Population Reference Bureau, 2004).

Large numbers of Caribbean people have migrated to the United States and have established communities in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Minnesota state, and Washington state (Bryce-Laporte, 1994; McKenzie, 1986). Statistics from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (2004) indicate that between 1990 and 1999, more than a million Caribbean people immigrated to the United States. In 2002, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the Caribbean population at 3,120,000. However, it is important to note that many Caribbean American population estimates severely minimize this population's presence because it is difficult to account for illegal Caribbean immigrants. Ho (1991) estimated that the ratio of illegal to legal Caribbean immigrants is 3:1.

Caribbean Americans come from a polyethnic culture that contains influences from African, Spanish, British, French, Dutch, Asian, and Native American cultures (Gopaul-McNicol, 1993; McKenzie, 1986). In addition to ethnic diversity, there is also racial diversity present in the region. While a significant portion of the population is of African descent, there are also sizable White, Chinese, East Indian, and Native populations present in the area (Gopaul-McNicol). Given this ethnic and racial diversity, there are a multitude of languages spoken in the region including English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Creole (oral communication that is a fusion of West African phonology and French or English words) (SUNY-State Education Department, 1997). Immigrants from English-speaking Caribbean nations (e.g., Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Jamaica, or Barbados) are the largest group among the Caribbean immigrant population (Gopaul-McNicol). The Caribbean American population is a significant immigrant group, with a unique cultural heritage.

Cultural Features

Caribbean immigrants share a common set of cultural values. Collectivism, the importance of spirituality, focus on self-amelioration, and a strong sense of ethnic pride are characteristics found among the Caribbean population (Gopaul-McNicol, 1993). Collectivism is an important cultural feature as evidenced by the presence of extended families, which include fictive kin (or nonrelated individuals who are seen as family members), and maintenance of a strong sense of family cohesion (Brent & Callwood, 1993; Thrasher, 1994). Spirituality is another extremely critical part of the culture and many Caribbean Americans are practicing Christians, with the East Indian population being primarily Hindu or Muslim (Brent & Callwood; Gopaul-McNicol). Amelioration of personal problems through self-help is another common feature in Caribbean culture (McKenzie, 1986). It is believed that individuals, with assistance only from the extended family network, should help themselves to address personal difficulties or achieve goals (Gopaul-McNicol).

Also, Caribbean immigrants have a strong sense of ethnic pride that is based on an intense allegiance to an individual's country of origin. Caribbean people in the United States come from island nations where they are a numerical majority, own land and businesses, and retain political control of their governments. This socialization, in predominantly Black-oriented societies, in which abundant models of success fuel ethnic pride is strongly demonstrated during Caribbean carnival celebrations featuring food, music, and dancing (Brent & Callwood, 1993). These cultural features play a significant role in Caribbean immigrants' understanding of and reaction to their shared political and historical experiences.

Historical and Political influences

Slavery, indentured servitude, and colonialism have all played important roles in shaping the history of oppression in the Caribbean. With the beginning of Columbus' expedition of the Caribbean in 1492 (Williams, 1984) came increasing numbers of Dutch, English, and French settlers who required the indigenous population of Carib and Arawak Amerindians to work the European-owned sugarcane fields (Christiansen, Thornley-Brown, & Robinson, 1982). Once the Carib and Arawak population was virtually exterminated due to harsh treatment and European diseases, five million enslaved Africans, under a brutal chattel slavery system, were brought to the Caribbean as captive labor until 1807 when the British slave trade was abolished (Christiansen et al.; Williams). With the abolition of slavery, European sugarcane plantation managers brought East Indians and Chinese to serve as cheap laborers from 1886 until 1917 (Christiansen et al.). The forced migration of millions of people to this relatively small area of islands has impacted the sociopolitical structure of the region to the present day.

Currently, several Caribbean islands remain European and U.S. colonies and many island nations have only recently gained their independence, most between the years of 1962 and 1983 (Stone, 1985). Many of these young, independent Caribbean islands are overpopulated countries in the sense that the limited natural resources of the islands cannot adequately support the population and therefore access to high school education and economic stability is also limited. On average, only 30% to 40% of the student-age population score high enough on the required entrance exam to enter high school (Gopaul-McNicol, 1993). In some

countries, the child who does not pass the exam and whose parents do not have the money to send him or her to private school is faced with not receiving a rigorous academic education at the high school level. Hence migration, fueled by the search for better economic and educational opportunities, has become a sociopolitical feature of the region (Chaney, 1994; Thrasher, 1994; Williams, 1984).


The history of oppression in the Caribbean as well as the reasons for migration are intimately tied to the current experience of Caribbean people in the United States (Gopaul-McNicol, 1993; Waters, 1999). Caribbean immigrants face a host of concerns associated with their immigrant and minority group status, including economic issues and familial difficulties. Difficulties with the acculturation process (Christiansen et al., 1982; Gopaul-McNicol) and the stress associated with negotiating one's minority status (Duval-Harvey, 1997; Mitchell, 2005) contribute to these problems, which have negative impacts over the lifespan.

Economic Issues

Waters (1999) has reported high labor force participation rates of 89.1% and 83% for Caribbean men and women, respectively. The 2001 U.S. Census data indicate that the median household income of Caribbean Americans was $37,717, while for Whites it was $48,000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003, 2004). Although the labor force participation rates and median income figures may suggest a relatively stable picture of Caribbean Americans' economic status, a closer look at the work patterns among Caribbean adults suggests another picture. Caribbean females are often employed as nurses, nurses' aides, and health aides, while Caribbean men are often employed as construction workers and laborers (Duval-Harvey, 1997). They often work double shifts in these positions or may hold multiple jobs to meet household expenditures (Waters). Gopaul-McNicol (1993) indicated that this consistent engagement in shift work and multiple jobs increases Caribbean immigrant children's unsupervised time, which regularly encourages family discord centered on child behavior.

Familial Problems

U.S. Census data indicate that 69.9% of Caribbean families are headed by married couples, while 23.3% are female-headed households (Caribbean Research Center, 1995). Despite the high percentage of two-parent households, there is evidence of increased familial conflict related to acculturation stress (Duval-Harvey, 1997; Waters, 1999). Most Caribbean families engage in serial migration, which is the practice of individual family members migrating sequentially (Ho, 1991; Waters). Often one adult parent migrates to the United States to establish an economically stable home environment; in the interim, the young child is left in the Caribbean to be raised by a surrogate parent. Once the new home in the United States is established, which can take years, the early adolescent child is sent to be reunited with the biological parents. This reunion of young adolescents with biological parents who have not held an active parental role with the child can lessen family stability, especially when the biological parents are attempting to discipline a child with whom they have spent little time (Sciarra, 1999; Waters). There are other ways in which migration lessens family stability, primarily through altering the structure of roles within the family, which in turn can affect traditional means of child rearing and discipline.

The changing structure and roles within Caribbean families in the United States challenge familial stability (Baptiste, Hardy, & Lewis, 1997). In the Caribbean, extended family networks are very prevalent and many Caribbean immigrant families report missing the support, especially child care, previously gained through interactions with their extended family members (Gopaul-McNicol, 1993; Thrasher, 1994). Typically, families in the Caribbean exhibit a hierarchical structure that is organized along traditional sex roles for men (i.e., economic providers) and women (i.e., homemakers) in the family (Baptiste et al.; Christiansen et al., 1982). However, once Caribbean families immigrate to the United States, economic need usually dictates that both men and women must take on more egalitarian roles in providing for the economic stability of the family (Baptiste et al.). This change does not occur without familial conflict, which can be manifested in strained spousal relationships, divorce, depression among husbands, and spousal abuse (Baptiste et al.; Gopaul-McNicol).

Migration to the United States also seems to strain the Caribbean family by challenging traditional Caribbean child-rearing beliefs. Caribbean immigrant children are expected to exhibit respect for their parents' authority, which is demonstrated by not disagreeing with adults, obeying parental orders and not offering unsolicited opinions, and achieving in school (Gopaul-McNicol, 1993). The parental expectation of achievement and appropriate behavior in school is extremely important, given the fact that most Caribbean people migrate to the United States for improved educational and economic opportunities. However, increasingly some Caribbean children perceive these expectations as "old-fashioned," unreasonable parental constraints and thus are not meeting parental expectations of high academic achievement (Navarez & Garcia, 1993).

Given the numerous stresses that Caribbean immigrant students face as they attempt to adjust to American public schools and society in general, there is a need for school interventions that are compatible with their familial and cultural values. School-family-community partnerships are suggested as interventions that alleviate the acculturative stress of immigrant students and facilitate their academic achievement (Ramirez, 2003; Roffman, Suarez-Orozco, & Rhodes, 2003; Shields & Behrman, 2004). When one considers this notion in conjunction with the traditional Caribbean practice of utilizing extended family and community networks for support, the use of school-family-community partnerships as interventions with Caribbean immigrant students is culturally appropriate. School counselor facilitation and implementation of such partnerships within the context of Caribbean immigrants' familial and educational issues would help to improve academic outcomes among Caribbean immigrant students. The next section discusses the role of the school counselor in facilitating and implementing partnership interventions.


School-family-community partnerships are collaborative initiatives among school personnel, families, community members, and community-based organizations including businesses, churches, libraries, and social service agencies. Partners work together to accomplish mutual goals aimed at increasing the academic, emotional, and social success of students (Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy, 2004, 2005; Epstein, 1995). School-family-community partnerships lead to increased educational outcomes for students, empowerment for parents, social capital for families, and future career success for youth (Bryan, 2005; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Lapan, Osana, Tucker, & Kosciulek, 2002). Furthermore, such partnerships are effective means of addressing barriers to learning and promoting resilience for immigrant students (Ramirez, 2003; Roffman et al., 2003; Shields & Behrman, 2004). Moreover, the ASCA National Model[R], the Education Trust Transforming School Counseling Initiative, and recent professional school counseling literature promote teaming and collaboration roles for school counselors in building school-family-community partnerships to help children succeed academically (American School Counselor Association, 2005; Bryan; Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy; Cicero & Barton, 2003). Such partnerships are a critical component in successful urban schools attended largely by racially and ethnically diverse students and immigrant students (Bryan).

School counselors cannot increase students' educational outcomes alone; neither can they build partnerships alone nor take sole responsibility for coordinating and implementing them. Hence, school counselors must team and collaborate with family, community, and school staff members to develop and implement comprehensive programs of partnerships to meet the needs of students at risk for academic failure, many of whom are minority and immigrant students. Whether school counselors are liaising with community stakeholders who wish to implement a tutoring or mentoring program in the school, inviting family and community members to team with school staff to implement a family literacy program, or collaborating with community organizations and agency professionals to link families to health and social services, school counselors have valuable roles to play in building partnerships. School counselors can be especially valuable in helping school personnel and other stakeholders to reconceptualize family and community involvement with immigrant families from a nontraditional perspective. Parent involvement among Caribbean families must not be conceptualized as the traditional forms of involvement, such as involvement in the PTA and fund-raising, or parent-teacher meetings during typical school hours at the school site.

It is vital that school counselors assist school personnel in understanding the challenges and barriers to parent involvement faced by Caribbean immigrant families, especially among those who are poor. Hence, school counselors and school, family, and community members will need to find innovative ways to build partnerships with Caribbean immigrant families. In the following section, we elaborate on some of the partnership interventions that school counselors can help facilitate and implement to serve Caribbean immigrant families.

Useful Interventions: Types of Involvement in School-Family-Community Partnerships

In this section, Epstein's (1995) typology of partnership involvement is used as a framework for which to discuss ways in which school counselors can initiate, advocate for, team, and collaborate with school personnel, family, and community members to foster academic adjustment and achievement among Caribbean immigrant students. This typology has been adapted by the National Parent-Teacher Association to help educators and school stakeholders to plan comprehensive partnership programs. The six types of involvement are parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decisionmaking, and collaborating with the community. Each type consists of diverse partnership activities some of which overlap and can be categorized under more than one of the six types of involvement. For this reason, communicating (type 2) and learning at home (type 4) interventions are discussed together; similarly, volunteering (type 3) and decision-making (type 5) interventions are discussed together. Although strategies of partnership involvement for school counselors are suggested in this section, for more specific and detailed examples of how schools have implemented such partnership programs, one should refer to Brewster and Railsback (2003), Carter (2003), Dorfman and Fisher (2002), and Hiatt-Michael (2001).

Parenting interventions. Parenting, or type 1 involvement, consists of practices that assist families with parenting skills, understanding schools, and learning strategies that are conducive to their children's academic success (Epstein, 1995; Simon & Epstein, 2001). Parenting interventions to involve families in schools have been linked to higher student achievement (Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Shields & Behrman, 2004). Examples of such partnership practices are parent education workshops and support groups, family centers, home visits, and neighborhood meetings. In the Caribbean family context, "parent" often refers to grandparents, other members of the extended family, and "fictive kin" or people who are not family members but play a parenting role in the child's life. Hence, parent is used in this article to mean any adult family member, guardian, or fictive kin sharing in the responsibility of rearing the child. Parent workshops and support groups are frequently used by school counselors to help parents acquire skills and knowledge to help their children succeed in school (Cicero & Barton, 2003). School counselors should implement parent workshops that focus on helping Caribbean immigrant parents to overcome their bewilderment at the new school system, policies, and rules; to understand the new modes of test taking and learning; and to learn strategies for helping their children succeed academically.

Parent support groups may focus on helping parents, grandparents, and stepparents (a) to reestablish strong emotional bonds with their children who are often joining them in the United States after years of separation, (b) to understand the laws regarding child abuse and explore alternative strategies for discipline, and (c) to understand the sociocultural and psychological stresses their children face in adjusting to a new culture and strategies and resources for helping their children manage these stresses. Students may be included in the parent support groups or groups may be run for them separately (Williams & Butler, 2003). Prior to planning parent workshops or support groups, it is essential that school counselors conduct needs assessments so that these activities meet the specific needs of family members. When facilitating parent support groups, it is important that counselors discuss issues in a culturally sensitive manner without imposing their values on what is good parenting. This is especially important when discussing corporal punishment and child abuse laws.

As school counselors engage families of Caribbean students, they must be cognizant of the multiethnic, multilingual backgrounds from which these families come. School counselors can enhance their knowledge of Caribbean culture by enlisting the support of family and community members from various Caribbean origins in planning and presenting culturally appropriate activities for the Caribbean populations served by the school (e.g., Haitians, Trinidadians, Dominicans, Jamaicans, Cubans, Barbadians). These family and community members serve as cultural brokers and critical resources for school counselors trying to understand specific Caribbean family issues (Roffman et al., 2003; Singh, McKay, & Singh, 1999). Cultural brokers are people who are acculturated into mainstream culture, share or understand the ethnic culture of the immigrant family members whom school personnel are trying to involve, are sensitive to the values and beliefs of the families' culture, and help to interpret the school's culture to family members and the families' culture to school personnel (Singh et al.). They also may serve as language interpreters when school counselors are working with non-English-speaking Caribbean families. The inclusion of cultural brokers in the planning and implementing of parent workshops, support groups, and other parenting activities for Caribbean families will help to enhance comfort and trust levels and to facilitate communication between family members and school staff.

Multiple barriers curtail Caribbean immigrant families' school involvement. Among these are lack of child care and transportation, long work hours, multiple jobs, language barriers, and unfamiliarity with the schools. In order to reach a majority of the family members, school counselors must move beyond expecting traditional forms of family involvement. To do so, they will have to utilize a number of planning strategies, such as surveying parents to find out what are the best times for workshops, what barriers exist for them in attending activities, and what community alternatives to the school venue (e.g., local worship or community center) would be accessible for them. Some schools have had significant success in holding parent activities at community meeting places (Johnson, 2001). In situations where family members find it difficult to come to the school or a community venue, the counselor may make a home visit, accompanied by a parent liaison or volunteer of Caribbean descent who acts as a cultural broker. Home visits enhance trust and communication between school staff and families and help them learn about each other (Cicero & Barton, 2003; Hiatt-Michael, 2001; Kyle & McIntyre, 2000).

Another strategy that has enhanced family involvement in schools is that of establishing parent centers or family resource centers in the school (Carter, 2003; Johnson, 2001). Some school counselors have advocated for parent centers and have worked with staff to enlist parent volunteers to help coordinate these centers (Cicero & Barton, 2003). Parents come to these centers for resource materials, information about community services, and parent meetings or support groups. They provide a welcoming space for parents and help to move parental status from outsider to insider (Johnson). School counselors can work with parents and community volunteers to enhance the welcoming climate by incorporating some aspects of Caribbean culture in the center, such as books and posters of the Caribbean islands from which most of the Caribbean children in the school originate. Incorporating the culture of immigrant families in the school and the school counseling program will help to enhance communication and reduce the social distance between families and the school (Ramirez, 2003).

Communicating and learning at home interventions. Communicating, or type 2 involvement, involves practices that develop effective home-to-school and school-to-home communication to help parents understand the school's policies, programs, and expectations and learn about community services and resources (Epstein, 1995; Lapan et al., 2002; Shields & Behrman, 2004; Simon & Epstein, 2001). Some examples of type 2 interventions are parent-teacher conferences, fliers, newsletters, activities calendars, and other media that contain clear, readily available information in the parents' primary language on school policies, programs, and activities and community services and resources. Learning at home, or type 4 involvement, entails activities that provide support to help parents and families enhance their children's learning at home (Epstein). Examples of type 4 practices include interactive homework involving family members; family literacy nights; workshops on skills and information that students need to succeed; and special reading, math, and science activities at home and at school.

Programs designed to enhance communication and understanding between parents and the school and to engage parents in their children's learning at home have led to higher educational outcomes for children (Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Hiatt-Michael, 2001). However, it is important to note that school counselors cannot facilitate successful communication and interactions with immigrant families and communities without first examining and challenging their own cultural narratives, beliefs, and stereotypes about immigrant families. Deficit views and negative stereotypes about immigrant families will permeate interactions with these families, resulting in a sense of misunderstanding and mistrust between school personnel and family members thus creating further communication barriers (Shields & Behrman, 2004).

School staff's invitations to parents make a difference in the extent to which parents become involved in their children's education (Hoover-Dempsey, Walker, Jones, & Reed, 2002). Furthermore, higher student achievement has been found in schools with high levels of outreach to parents (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). Because Caribbean immigrant parents generally see school professionals as authority figures, parents would assume that school counselors and teachers would view uninvited involvement in the school as "interfering." Hence, school counselors will need to reach out and establish personal communication with Caribbean families if they expect the families to become involved in their children's education. They must ensure that parents (a) understand the importance of their involvement in activities to promote their children's learning, and (b) are openly welcomed to participate in these activities. Personal contact from the school counselor or a parent liaison (in the form of a phone call or home visit) would provide extra encouragement for these families to join in activities designed to promote learning at home (Brewster & Railsback, 2003; Dorfman & Fisher, 2002). For schools with a sizeable Caribbean population, the use of a counselor-developed telephone tree led by one or more Caribbean parents may be a more practical solution for making personal contact.

In addition to making sure that Caribbean families are invited to and welcomed at events, counselors can team with teachers, parents, and community volunteers to ensure that events such as family fun nights, science and math nights, reading or literacy programs, information sessions on test-taking, and science fairs incorporate the culture of immigrant families. For example, school counselors can invite some Caribbean families to contribute cultural dishes for events. Also, interpreters should be provided for families who do not speak English. In many schools, literacy and reading programs involving parents and community members are being used to enhance the reading skills of immigrant children and parents (Dorfman & Fisher, 2002). The success of such programs can be improved when school counselors collaborate with teachers, cultural brokers, parents, and volunteers to incorporate Caribbean children's literature (e.g., works authored by Grace Hallworth) into the literacy program. When immigrant children's cultures are incorporated into the curriculum, it further reduces the cultural distance between the school and immigrant families (Brewster & Railsback, 2003; Dorfman & Fisher). Volunteering and decision-making interventions. Volunteering, or type 3 involvement, focuses on creating ways and opportunities for families and community members to be involved in the school (Epstein, 1995). Type 3 practices include recruiting family and community members as volunteers to assist in the classroom or counselor's room, coordinate the parent center, be tutors and mentors, assist with field trips or special programs such as Career Day, work as clerical assistants, and assist on the playground or in the lunchroom. Decision-making practices, or type 5 involvement, engage families in the school as decision-makers, advocates, members of school councils and committees, parent leaders, and representatives (Epstein). Some examples of type 5 practices are workshops to train family members in leadership and advocacy, parent representation on school management teams and other school committees (e.g., budget, curriculum, safety, partnership, and personnel committees), advocacy groups, and district-level councils and committees. Volunteers are valuable resources to the school counseling program enabling school counselors to meet the needs of larger numbers of students (Bryan, 2005; Epstein; Simon & Epstein, 2001).

School counselors can collaborate with volunteers, especially those of Caribbean ethnicity, not only as cultural brokers and interpreters for the school counseling program, but also as members on the school's partnership team, as mentors for recent Caribbean immigrant parents and children who need to be oriented to the school culture, and as tutors for those students who need academic help. Volunteers can play a valuable role in outreach to families, networking with community organizations, and helping to coordinate various partnership programs. Furthermore, volunteers may be familiar with culture-specific services provided in the community and could assist school counselors in helping family members to find community services and programs. Volunteers also could help school counselors to develop orientation handbooks that outline school policies and rules, describe strategies for helping immigrant children succeed in U.S. schools, and list various community services for children and families. In addition, volunteers who act as mentors for recent immigrant parents could play a vital part in encouraging them to become involved in the school at various levels including the decision-making level.

In many schools, the voices of immigrant parents are missing on leadership teams and committees that make decisions on policies about budget, curriculum, safety, parent outreach, and staffing (Brewster & Railsback, 2003; Ramirez, 2003). This often means that the needs of immigrant children and families are not considered when decisions are being made. As school counselors are typically involved on various decision-making committees, they should encourage administration and staff to include a representative of Caribbean immigrant parents on these committees. They also should be represented on any parent outreach or partnership action team. In addition, school counselors who serve large numbers of Caribbean immigrant students should ensure that these families are represented on the guidance advisory team to provide input to the school counseling program. Such steps will allow the voices of Caribbean immigrant family members to be heard in the decision-making process especially on issues that affect immigrant children. To some extent, this will help to combat the current school culture that largely overlooks and underserves immigrant families (Williams & Butler, 2003).

Community collaboration interventions. Collaborating with the community or type 6 practices are concerned with identifying and mobilizing community resources to help meet the needs of students and their families (Epstein, 1995). These practices involve collaboration with businesses, local police, social service workers, libraries, churches, radio stations, television stations, or any community organization to implement activities that will help children and families to learn and develop. Other examples of type 6 interventions include community-based tutoring and mentoring programs, school-linked services, interagency collaboration, and service learning and school-to-work programs or community career partnerships with local businesses and community organizations. In many schools, community leaders, businesses, and other community-based organizations (CBOs), including immigrant CBOs, are partnering with school and family members to provide in-school and out-of-school partnership programs. CBOs have been especially helpful in providing academic support programs for immigrant children (Adger, 2000).

School counselors who learn to find and effectively mobilize community resources found in businesses, community agencies, and CBOs, including immigrant CBOs, are better able to meet the needs of larger numbers of students. In order to mobilize community resources to help Caribbean immigrant children, school counselors will first need to learn about community strengths and resources, bearing in mind that the school's community often extends beyond the surrounding neighborhood (Bryan, 2005; Dorfman, 1998). Community asset mapping is a useful tool that school counselors can use to discover the strengths and supports in the community and to locate people of influence who can help them implement and fund programs to help Caribbean immigrant students. Community asset mapping involves using telephone directories, formal and informal interviews, family and community member surveys, and focus groups to learn about community assets and resources (Dorfman). Family and community volunteers and cultural brokers also may be important sources of information about the people of influence in the Caribbean immigrant community. In addition, they may introduce school counselors to people of influence in the community such as businesspeople, spiritual leaders, and program staff at CBOs. School counselors must be proactive in reaching out to key people in the community to build partnerships that can provide support and resources to help Caribbean immigrant students and connect them to programs and services in the community.

CBOs are partnering with schools to provide a wide range of services that include tutoring, mentoring, advocacy, leadership training, health services, literacy programs, college and career services, school-to-work career programs, counseling, and prevention programs (Adger, 2000). In particular, CBOs that provide mentoring, youth development, and cultural programs have had notable successes in helping immigrant youth to cope with acculturative stressors, to negotiate their bicultural identity, and to improve their academic achievement (Adger; Roffman et al., 2003). School counselors should reach out and collaborate with CBO program staff to identify the needs of Caribbean immigrant students and place them in mentoring, tutoring, faith-based programs, and other enrichment programs according to their different needs. Oftentimes, some of the workers in these programs may themselves be Caribbean immigrants who can facilitate healthy identity development and adjustment for Caribbean immigrant students.

Interprofessional collaboration is also a key way in which school counselors can help meet the social, cultural, health, and long-term counseling needs of immigrant students who may not have access to such services otherwise (Ponec, Poggi, & Dickel, 1998; Shields & Behrman, 2004). Counselors can invite professionals from local health, mental health, or counseling agencies to inform family members about their services and to provide services in the schools. For example, counselors from community mental health agencies often collaborate with school counselors to provide family therapy, support groups, family life education, and other mental health services in schools (Ponce et al.; Keys, Bemak, Carpenter, & King-Sears, 1998). These services, especially support groups, are useful in helping Caribbean immigrant children to cope with acculturative stress (Williams & Butler, 2003). As school counselors plan these activities, they should use networks with community organizations and businesses to endorse and advertise these activities. Oftentimes, these organizations are willing to provide their community meeting places as venues for programs and to fund the cost of materials and refreshments (Adger, 2000; Brewster & Railsback, 2003; Carter, 2003; Dorfman & Fisher, 2002).

School-to-work transition programs or community career partnerships appear to be successful in helping immigrant and other diverse adolescents gain access to career development skills, knowledge, and competencies that enhance their transition into the world of work and productive careers (Fuligni & Hardway, 2004; Lapan et al., 2002). Many immigrant families, including those from the Caribbean, are unable to provide the out-of-school activities and career-related experiences to help their children make a successful school-to-work transition (Fuligni & Hardway). However, many school counselors are already involved in partnerships with businesses, community organizations, and government agencies to provide adolescents with career learning opportunities (Lapan et al.). These community career partnerships are an important part of a comprehensive developmental school counseling program. As previously mentioned, community asset mapping and cultural brokers are powerful strategies that school counselors can use to connect with community business leaders and CBOs to build community career partnerships. Furthermore, school counselors can bring together these business and community partnerships with parents, business teachers and teachers across the whole curriculum, community volunteers, and local or state school-to-work transition program coordinators to plan and facilitate such experiences for Caribbean immigrant adolescents. Once again, representatives from the Caribbean immigrant community (e.g., spiritual leaders) should be included in the community career partnerships.

Faith-based organizations and spiritual leaders are valuable sources of support and programs for school counselors who want to assist Caribbean students. It is critical that school counselors recognize the importance of networking with spiritual leaders in Caribbean communities given their help-giving roles and status in these communities (Dudley-Grant, 2001). In addition to being likely stakeholders in the school, spiritual leaders are people of influence in the community who can advertise and influence parents to become involved in school activities, offer their buildings as meeting places for parent education workshops and other programs, provide volunteers to the school, and direct school counselors to potential partners in the community. Oftentimes, faith-based organizations can be sources of funding and grants as well as mentors and tutors for partnership programs.

School counselors also should regard colleges and universities as sources of potential mentoring and tutoring programs. Many colleges and universities partner with schools to provide academic enrichment, pre-college academic preparation, and orientation programs for students at risk for school failure including immigrant students (Fenske, Geranios, Keller, & Moore, 1997). Counselors may find that undergraduate and graduate students in university-based Caribbean organizations are willing to serve as role models and sources of social capital for immigrant children as they confront the stressors of acculturation. School counselors should collaborate with student affairs and student activities directors to de termine what college programs exist that may provide support for their Caribbean immigrant students.


Caribbean immigrant children can be found in many large urban areas in the United States. Like many immigrant children, the needs of these students are largely overlooked. These students face numerous acculturative stressors that hinder positive educational outcomes. School-family-community partnerships have been effective in helping immigrant students and their families to adjust to the school system, cope with acculturative stress, and succeed academically. School counselors have integral roles in working with immigrant students and their families. Those roles include teaming and collaborating with other school personnel, immigrant families, and their communities to implement culturally appropriate school-family-community partnership programs. As counselor training initiatives move toward training school counselors for such roles, counselor educators must consider the impact of immigration on school counseling practice and prepare school counselors to work in culturally competent ways with immigrant children, inclusive of those from the Caribbean. Counselor educators and school counselors must begin to articulate, research, and test best practices for building effective school-family-community partnerships with this population so that educational outcomes for Caribbean immigrant students can be improved.


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Natasha A. Mitchell, Ph.D., is an assistant professor with the Department of Counseling and Personnel Services, University of Maryland at College Park. E-mail:

Julia A. Bryan, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in School Psychology & Counselor Education, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA.
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Author:Bryan, Julia A.
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Date:Apr 1, 2007
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