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CUNY-IIE Has Launched: A $6 Million Project Addresses Inequalities in the Education of Immigrant Students

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The unprecedented disruptions from COVID-19 have underscored the enormous economic and racial inequalities that exist in education. For immigrant students and their families, the pandemic has exacerbated persistent educational inequalities created by restrictive immigration policies and unequal access to economic, educational, and linguistic resources. 

Now officially launched, The City University of New York Initiative on Immigration and Education (CUNY-IIE, pronounced CUNY-eye) brings together educators, researchers, graduate students, families, and local leaders to learn about the strengths of immigrant communities and the ways that they are impacted by educational inequality and immigration policy. Funded by a five-year, $6 million grant from the New York State Department of Education and administered by The City College of New York and The Graduate Center, CUNY-IIE aims to ensure that New York State schools provide a quality and relevant education to all immigrant students, regardless of their status. The project combines intensive academic research with teacher professional development and outreach.

The three CUNY professors who lead CUNY-IIE have appointments at The Graduate Center. Principal investigator Tatyana Kleyn (GC/CCNY; Urban Education/Bilingual Education and TESOL) describes her work as being at “the intersection of language, migration, and education.” She has a background in filmmaking, and she developed CUNY-IIE’s Supporting Immigrants in Schools videos. Aimed at teachers in classrooms from pre-K through grade 12, the videos and accompanying resources present practical information on immigration issues, from welcoming new students into the classroom to responding to ICE. 

Professor Ariana Mangual Figueroa (Urban Education; Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures), a co-principal investigator, studies the ways in which linguistic and cultural development are shaped by citizenship status and schooling. 

Professor Nancy Stern (GC/CCNY, Linguistics), also a co-principal investigator, currently directs the Multilingual Learner Project, a five-year national professional development program funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Cynthia Carvajal is CUNY-IIE’s project director. She recently received her doctorate from the University of Arizona, and her research explores teachers’ roles in working alongside immigrant students to resist the dehumanizing effects of restrictive immigration policy. 

Joining the CUNY-IIE leadership team in its ambitious endeavor is a large support team of scholars and teachers who represent a diverse range of countries of origin and immigration experiences. The team includes faculty from City College, Hunter College, Lehman College, Queens College as well as 15 Graduate Center doctoral students from Ph.D. programs in Sociology; Urban Education; Psychology; and Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures (LAILAC). The students’ work on CUNY-IIE offers them an opportunity to connect their research and academic work to community needs. 

Mangual Figueroa compared their experience to her own. “As a doctoral student,” she said, “working in an intergenerational space with senior colleagues, junior scholars, more advanced doctoral students, and learning from community expertise was so key for me.” She emphasized that CUNY-IIE offered Ph.D. students a space for shared learning with opportunities to conduct research, publish, and develop leadership skills. 

Doctoral students emphasized that their CUNY-IIE involvement allowed them to build partnerships with schools and communities and learn from students and educators. They said their work on CUNY-IIE helped them look ahead as they plan for careers both within and beyond academia.

Kahdeidre MonĂ©t Martin, a doctoral student in Urban Education who was recently honored with a Graduate Center Teaching award, worked “with a data gathering team to identify scholars, policy documents, New York State demographic information, and other resources that could support educators in learning about immigrant families, immigration policies, and how they impact teaching and learning in their schools.” She said that these resources allowed them “to dialogue with educators and gather information about how to best to meet their needs.”

Brian Mercado, a Sociology Ph.D. student, is a coordinator of the CUNY Pipeline Fellowship Program, a CUNY-wide initiative designed to provide support to undergraduates from groups underrepresented in academia who are interested in pursuing a PhD. Working with these young students, Mercado says, offered him experience on what it takes to work on a large-scale grant. 

Anthony J. Harb is a doctoral student in LAILAC and teaches courses in Spanish language and linguistic anthropology at Medgar Evers College and Brooklyn College. He said the collaborative work of “imagining, drafting, and organizing research protocols … with partner schools and adapting to COVID-19” has provided him “a much-needed model of collectively designed action-research that I work to emulate in my teaching and research.”

The program team is moving ahead now to identify and partner with 10 schools across New York State to collaborate on education and policy implementation at the school level and beyond. They are building CUNY-IIE’s social media presence and working with immigrant educators and grassroots organizations concerned with immigration and education. 

They are also addressing the new challenges created by COVID-19. “This means taking everything we've learned to do face-to-face and figuring out how to do it virtually,” Mangual Figueroa said. 

Submitted on: OCT 5, 2020

Category: Faculty | General GC News | Grants | Immigration | Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures | Linguistics | Urban Education