7 Ways to Foster a Sense of Belonging for Latinx Students

Educator and restorative justice advocate, Jorge Santos, shares how all educators can create classrooms that are more inclusive and empowering for Latinx kids.

multicultural students at school

As this difficult school year comes to a conclusion, many educators are already looking ahead and thinking about how they will continue to support students come September. Teachers all over the nation are currently shifting the climate of education to center our students' culture and identities. Fostering a sense of belonging is an important approach when keeping students engaged in their academic journey.

After roughly two years of isolated remote learning, creating opportunities to increase school engagement has become pivotal to our students' success. Some educators are apprehensive about home instruction disengagement for Latinx students ages 16-24, especially since pre-pandemic Latinx students already made up some of the highest dropout rates in the country.

For teachers to help change this narrative, we must promote valued school experiences centering around identity building and student representation. Our goal should be to dismantle a school culture that marginalizes students, and instead create a culture that affirms and centers their Latinx experience.

It's essential that Latinx students experience positive interactions in school that cultivate a sense of belonging, because when students are building meaningful and sustainable connections to education, it not only increases their academic achievement but also builds confidence and creates a safe space for kids that need them.

7 Ways To Develop a Sense Of Belonging For Latinx Students

Representation Matters

Having Latinx cultural representation within classroom curriculums is essential. Students need to be given opportunities to reflect on the historical contributions of Latinx folks and think about their personal obligation to social change.This involves developing multicultural curriculums with narratives that empower Latinx progress and also teaching about Black and brown solidarity liberation movements, as reflected in author Paul Ortiz's book An African American and Latinx History of America.

An inclusive library that showcases Latinx authors and main characters that lift up the stories of Afro-Latinx and Indigenous people is also a great foundation for fostering belonging. This is why as lawmakers and school boards campaign to remove literature about race, it is imperative that teachers and parents understand the detrimental impact it has on students' opportunity to learn about their cultural significance.

Create Equity of Voice Through Discussion Protocols

There's this misconception that Latinx students who are Spanish speaking prefer not to share their opinions in classroom discussions. Oftentimes teachers assume they are culturally more reserved and step back from encouraging them to participate. However, Spanish-speaking students do contribute when educators create a space for them. Implementing opportunities for students to share in smaller peer-to-peer groups and encouraging them to write down questions or answers are just a few ways to get them involved. Another way is for teachers and parents to help prep students beforehand with prompts to make inferences, so that they have the confidence necessary to present.

Empower Latinx Students

Every student wants a chance to be successful. Entrusting students with responsibilities and roles allow them to understand their value to the classroom community. It's important for teachers to relinquish the traditional teacher dynamic of them being the center of facilitation. Having students lead activities where they read off task scripts, creates a student-centered classroom that places them at the center of their learning — it also creates an opportunity for students to come up with new fun traditions that support the classroom environment.

Even involving students in classroom planning decisions can be of great assistance when designing seating charts and trying out engaging learning activities.

Bring Latinx Field Experts into Classrooms

Enrich your students' learning experiences with Latinx experts who are impacting our communities. Students should understand how the content they are learning about authentically relates to the work experts accomplish in their respective careers. It also shows them that reaching goals is attainable. Design activities that celebrate and value the work of Latinx students' parents.

Celebrating Cultural Identities of Latinx Students

Allow the classroom to become a space for students to express their cultural identities. When students enter the classroom, Perhaps have a playlist that celebrates Latin American Music playing while the students are entering the classroom, designate an area to display their native flags, and use wall space to showcase narratives about their favorite cultural family traditions or celebrations. This is a fantastic way to help them feel affirmed.

Get to Know your Latinx Students and Families

Administering surveys is an effective way to find out the interests of students and families. Data can be used to analyze students' learning needs and develop personal goals for growth. Consider empathy interviews and check in with students to let them know they are seen and heard. Their social emotional development is imperative to their academic success. Take note of what's going on when students are struggling.

Adapt Instruction for Spanish Speakers

Teachers need to evaluate Latinx students and identify the difference between learning gaps, language comprehension, or learning disabilities. This determines what teachers can do to provide accommodations based on the students' needs. Utilize an asset-based methodology when planning strategies to identify student success. Adapt teacher materials with proper grade level text, provide translations and use visuals to support vocabulary development. Having a vocabulary word wall in multiple languages supports their ability to form new language skills. When engaging in discussion practices, give students sentence starters or buckets of vocabulary phrases they can reference when sharing.

Planning with a lens of diversity plus inclusion can ensure marginalized students of all backgrounds and identities are seen as well as heard in our classrooms.

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