Hawaii is a state with many different immigrant groups. The population has grown as a result of immigration, first with the plantation owners and missionaries in the 1600s, then with the plantation workers from Japan, China, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and other Asian countries in the 1800s, and more recently from the Pacific Islands of Micronesia such as Chuuk State of the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (Ratliffe, 2011).

Immigrant students and their families can experience a number of stressors as a result of their immigrant status. Conflicting cultural values between home and school can create intergenerational conflicts. Lack of resources for material goods like computers, cell phones or designer clothing can cause conflict within the family. Some students suffer from low socioeconomic status or fears related to their immigration status such as deportation (Suarez-Orozco, Suarez-Orozco & Todorova, 2008).

Immigrant families may be separated if only part of the family migrates. Families often struggle with separation, reunification, and separation again as issues such as housing, geography and immigration come into play. The children may feel not entirely American or from their country of origin leading to identity confusion. They may have responsibilities to their families that are different from other children such as providing translation or interpretation or increased domestic tasks because parents work long hours. Immigrant students may not be fully fluent in their home languages, and yet, struggle with English.

Parents may feel isolated due to language barriers and separation from communities of support in their home countries (Dotson-Blake, 2009). They may not be confident of their English skills, or knowledgeable about school functions or policies. They may be undocumented and fear deportation. They may work long hours, or not be able to find work that accords with their skills. Parents may be used to different systems of education where parental roles are dissimilar to those in the US, and may expect educators to take the primary responsibility for educating children.

In order to promote school-family-community partnerships, it is vital that counselors identify the barriers to parental involvement. Barriers for immigrant families can include lack of childcare and transportation, long work hours, multiple jobs, language barriers, and unfamiliarity with the schools. A school-only focus may be inadequate to address some of the problems facing immigrant families (Mitchell, 2007). Teachers and counselors should learn from the family about values and issues in the home that may affect parent’s participation in their children’s schools.

School counselors and educators can play an important role in involving families and the larger community to increase student completion rates, prevent risky behavior, and promote academic and emotional health.  But educators cannot increase educational outcomes alone; it is important to partner with families. In order to promote school-family-community partnerships, school members should not conceptualize parent involvement in traditional forms such as PTA, fundraising, or parent-teacher meetings. Parents can demonstrate their involvement through: parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision making, or collaborating with the community, (Epstein, 1995) as well as leading (Griffin & Steen, 2010, as cited in Bryan, 2012). Parents can support their children’s educations through having high expectations, providing space to study at home, supporting their children to participate in varied activities, and an infinite array of other ways.


Invite local civic groups

To lead schools in collaborating with families in a comfortable, familiar community environment (Dotson-Blake, 2009). Mentoring relationships often evolve organically in after-school and community organizations and make a tremendous difference in adolescents' lives (Rhodes and Suarez-Orozco et. al. cited in Suarez-Orozco, 2010).

Interprofessional collaboration

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 can collaborate with school counselors to provide family therapy, support groups, family life education, and other mental health services in schools (Ponec et al., Keys, Bemak, Carpenter, & King-Sears cited in Mitchell, 2007).

Offer School-to-work transition programs

School-to-work transition programs or community career partnerships help immigrant students make the important transition from school to the real world.

Make signage clear and schools inviting

If signs at the entry points for the school, offices, and classrooms are labeled only in English, the non-English-speaking parent may be confronted an intimidating situation. Have parents help you translate welcoming messages into all languages spoken by families in the school community and post all of the languages so everyone feels welcome.

Community Asset Mapping

Community asset mapping is a useful tool that educators and counselors can use to discover the strengths and supports in the immigrant community and to locate people of influence who can help implement, fund and support programs to help immigrant students.

Faculty Training

Provide faculty training on specific cultural differences so faculty understand the cultural contexts of their student body. Family Assemblies are informal spaces to discuss school issues where all parents are encouraged to participate.

Everyone has a culture, but sometimes we don’t realize that our behaviors are culturally based. For example, because they are part of the dominant U.S. culture, some Anglo-European Americans feel they don’t have a culture and are “just American”. As a result, Anglo-Europeans may be least aware of the ways in which their culture informs their behavior and interactions. To appreciate the diversity that exists among families, service providers must first understand and appreciate their own culture. Self-awareness is the first step toward cultural competence (Lynch & Hanson, 1992).

Cultural competence training for faculty can help raise awareness on components of culture important when collaborating with immigrant families.

The following section, adapted from Eleanor Lynch’s and Marci Hanson’s Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: A Guide for Working with Children and Their Families (2004) , provides an overview of a few basic cultural differences.

Family roles. Some cultures value the nuclear family. Other cultures are defined by an extensive family network. These differences play a role in determining family roles and to what extent individuals in a family interact and rely upon one another.

Education.  Some cultures value academic achievement while others life experience as a component of education.

Interdependence/Individuality. Some cultures value independence while others place greater emphasis on interdependence and cooperation.

Time. Some cultures value punctuality and timeliness believing the adage that “Time is money”. Other cultures believe that time in fluid and that being present is more important than being on time.

Conflict resolution. Some cultures believe that individuals should agitate to get what they want. Other cultures value smooth interpersonal relationships.

Personal Efficacy. Some cultures believe we control our personal circumstances. Others believe we should live in harmony with our circumstances whatever they may be.

High Context/Low Context. Some cultures prefer precise, direct, logical, verbal communication and are often impatient when communication does not get to the point quickly. High-context cultures meanwhile share many tacit understandings that go unstated.

Nonverbal Communication. Some people are comfortable with hugging, direct eye contact, expressive facial expressions, close physical proximity, touching, and wild gesticulations while others are not. Others may not be comfortable with what you are.

  1. After you have gone over a few of these basic cultural differences, ask faculty to take the Cultural Competence quizzes below.



  1. In small groups, have teachers share their responses with one another.
  1. Finally, as a class, have select members from each group share their experiences with the larger group. What surprises came up?

Developing cultural sensitivity requires knowledge of specific cultures, a willingness to use this knowledge to interact with people from different cultures, and the ability to take culture into account when interacting with others (Brislin as cited in Ratliffe, 1998).

In Hawaii, two of the newest and fastest growing immigrant groups the Filipino and Micronesian families. The following sections will explore some aspects of history and culture related to these groups.

InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards

Standard #9: Professional Learning and Ethical Practice

9(i) The teacher understands how personal identity, worldview, and prior experience affect perceptions and expectations, and recognizes how they may bias behaviors and interactions with others.

Standard #10: Leadership and Collaboration 

10(b) The teacher works with other school professionals to plan and jointly facilitate learning on how to meet diverse needs of learners.

10(m) The teacher understands that alignment of family, school, and community spheres of influence enhances student learning and that discontinuity in these spheres of influence interferes with learning.

Family Assemblies

Families Assemblies provide informal spaces for conversations between culturally diverse families and others in the schools and have been shown to improve family-school-community partnerships (Diez, 2011).

In Families Assemblies, the dynamics of participation are flexible.

  • Families and school members meet at times that work best for the families.
  • They use less academic language than formal school boards. 
  • And they include translators (usually other community members).

Family assemblies can be held to:

  • inform parents about a recent decision or
  • reach agreement/gather viewpoints on a pertinent campus issue or policy

To promote a positive exchange between parents and school members, school members should prioritize what a person says over the person’s status.

These informal spaces can serve as springboards for members of cultural minority groups to become involved with governing bodies and official structures of participation.

To understand the dynamics of family assemblies, pre-service teachers can hold a Mock Family Assembly in their class. Assign some students to represent the teachers. Assign some students to represent school officials. Questions to consider before organizing a family assembly:

  1. What is the purpose of your meeting? In your meeting, present a real-life decision or discuss a pertinent campus issue facing a school in your community.
  2. What viewpoints might parents have?  What views might school officials have?
  3. Realistically, how will the school be able to work to address parent concerns?


After the mock meeting, have the representative parents and teachers share their views. What were they thinking during the mock meeting? What problems did they anticipate? What challenges would parents and school officials face in a real meeting?

InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards

Standard #10: Leadership and Collaboration

10(c) The teacher engages collaboratively in the school-wide effort to build a shared vision and supportive culture, identify common goals, and monitor and evaluate progress toward those goals.

10(d) The teacher works collaboratively with learners and their families to establish mutual expectations and ongoing communication to support learner development and achievement.
10(e) Working with school colleagues, the teacher builds ongoing connections with community resources to enhance student learning and well being.

10(m) The teacher understands that alignment of family, school, and community spheres of influence enhances student learning and that discontinuity in these spheres of influence interferes with learning.

Clear and Inviting School Signage

School counselors can work with parents and community volunteers to create a more welcoming environment by incorporating some aspects of students’ culture in the center, such as books and posters of the home cultures.

In creating a more welcoming school environment, school professionals should ask themselves,

  • As an immigrant parent, would I feel my contributions to my child’s education are valued by school professionals?
  • When I, as an immigrant parent from the community, walk into the school, do I feel welcome? Are directions and procedures clear to me? If not, would I feel comfortable asking questions?
  • If negative, why?
  • What can the team do to effectively address these barriers? (Dotson-Blake, 2009)

Draw a map of the school campus and note the points at which signage may become an issue. How can signs be clear and inviting? What should signs say? Have class members share  drawings and insights with the rest of the class.

InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards

Standard #3: Learning Environments

3(f) The teacher communicates verbally and nonverbally in ways that demonstrate respect for and responsiveness to the cultural backgrounds and differing perspectives learners bring to the learning environment.

Community Asset Mapping

Family and community volunteers and cultural brokers may be important sources of information about the people of influence in the immigrant community. In addition, they may introduce school counselors to people of influence in the community such as businesspeople, spiritual leaders, and program staff. 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 immigrant students and connect them to programs and services in the community (cited in Mitchell, 2007).

Community asset mapping is a useful tool that school counselors can use to discover the strengths and supports in the immigrant community and to locate people of influence who can help implement and fund programs to help immigrant students. Community asset mapping involves using

  • Telephone and website directories
  • Legislative directories
  • Formal and informal interviews
  • Family and community member surveys
  • Focus groups to learn about community assets and resources

To create a Community Asset Map, select an immigrant community you would like to find out more about. Using the tools lists above, identify the cultural brokers in that community. Interview classmates of that ethnicity to gather suggestions for possible leads.

Once you have completed your Community Asset Map, share your Map with your class. What strategies helped the most? What challenges did you encounter? What did you learn about your community and about creating a Community Asset Map?

InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards

Standard #10: Leadership and Collaboration 

10(b) The teacher works with other school professionals to plan and jointly facilitate learning on how to meet diverse needs of learners.

10(e) Working with school colleagues, the teacher builds ongoing connections with community resources to enhance student learning and well being.

10(m) The teacher understands that alignment of family, school, and community spheres of influence enhances student learning and that discontinuity in these spheres of influence interferes with learning.

Bryan, J. & Henry, L. (2012). A Model for Building School–Family–Community Partnerships: Principles and Process. Journal of Counseling & Development, 90(4), 408-420.

Diez, Javier, Gatt, Suzanne, & Racionero, Sandra. (2011). Placing Immigrant and Minority Family and Community Members at the School’s Centre: The Role of Community Participation. European Journal of Education, 46(2), 184-196.

Dotson-Blake, Kylie P., Foster, Victoria A. & Gressard, Charles F. (2009). Ending the Silence of the Mexican Immigrant Voice in Public Education: Creating Culturally Inclusive Family-School-Community Partnerships.Professional School Counseling, 12(3), 230-239.

Epstein, Joyce L. (1995). School/Family/Community Partnerships: Caring for the Children We Share. Phi Delta Kappan, 76(9), 701-12.

Lynch, E.W. & Hanson, M.J., Eds. (2004). Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: A Guide for Working with Children and Their Families Third Edition. Paul H Brookes Publishing Co.: Baltimore.

Mitchell, Natasha A., & Bryan, Julia A. (2007). School-Family-Community Partnerships: Strategies for School Counselors Working with Caribbean Immigrant Families. Professional School Counseling, 10(4), 399-409.

Ratliffe, K. T. (1998). Clinical pediatric physical therapy: A guide for the physical therapy team. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.

Suarez-Orozco, C. Abo-Zena, M. M. & Marks, A. K. (Eds.) (2015). Transitions. New York: New York University Press.

Suarez-Orozco, C., Onaga, M. & De Lardemelle, C. (2010). Promoting academic engagement among immigrant adolescents through school-family-community collaboration.(Report). Professional School Counseling,14(1), 15.

Suarez-Orozco, C., Suarez-Orozco, M. M., & Todorova, I. (2008). Learning a new land: Immigrant students in American society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wong, N., Kagawa-Singer, Marjorie, & Hune, Shirley. (2011). Broadening Support for Asian American and Pacific Islander Immigrant Families: The Role and Impact of Community-based Organizations in Family-Community-School Partnerships. AAPI Nexus: Policy, Practice and Community, 9(1-2), 134-142.