“Me Perdía en la Escuela”: Latino Newcomer Youths in the U.S. School System

May 21, 2020

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Unaccompanied minors, or “newcomer youths,” come to the United States from Mexico and Central America to escape violence and persecution, and to seek financial and academic opportunities. Many newcomer youths arrive with gaps in their formal education attributed to the immigration process and the heterogeneity of their pre-U.S. lives. Once they are enrolled in the U.S. school system, many educators struggle to accommodate the academic needs of these students.

Drawing on the framework of social and cultural capital, an article in a recent issue of the NASW and Oxford University Press published journal Social Work aimed to expand the current knowledge on the experiences of Latino unaccompanied youths in the U.S. school system. A thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with 30 newcomer students and 10 key informants revealed six themes: socialización con los demás compañeros (getting along with the other students); poca confianza (little trust); no sé lo que decían (I do not know what they were saying); it is a hard landing; education, interrupted; and estoy agradecido (I am grateful).

The article offers suggestions for school social workers and educators on how to promote academic success, student resilience, and school connectedness for a vulnerable youth population.

Study authors:

Hannah Selene Szlyk, PhD, LCSW, is NIMH T32 postdoctoral fellow, Brown School, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1196, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130; e-mail: hannah.szlyk@wustl.edu. Jodi Berger Cardoso, PhD, LCSW, is associate professor, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Houston. Liza Barros Lane, PhD, LMSW, is field instructor, University of Houston-Downtown. Kerri Evans, MSW, LCSW, is a doctoral student, School of Social Work, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA. The study was funded by Communities in Schools–Houston and the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston. Hannah Selene Szlyk is supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number T32MH01996


The journal Social Work is a benefit of NASW membership. It is available online or, at a member’s request, in print. Children & Schools, Health & Social Work and Social Work Research are available by subscription at a discounted rate for NASW members, either online or in print. You can find out more about the journals and subscriptions at this link.

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