Chicago metro area has a total population of 8.4 million, including 1.7 million immigrants and an Arab population of approximately 150,000. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) oversees 162 high schools – serving over 100,000 high school students – and 18.6% of the students across all grade levels are identified as English Learners. In Chicago, SALaMA data collection took place across three high schools, Sullivan, Mather, and Senn, which, per district leaders, house a majority of the districts’ newcomer student population. At each of these schools, the student population speaks between 30 and 50 languages. Data in Chicago were collected through key informant interviews with teachers, principals, school counselors, staff at local refugee-serving organizations, and other service providers. As such, all Chicago findings reflect the perspectives of key informants.

Qualitative Findings: Key Themes

Newcomer Experiences & Challenges: Key informants spoke about the wide range of challenges that newcomer students encountered, including balancing multiple responsibilities inside and outside of school, experiences around acculturation and identity formation, the importance of peer support, cultivating a sense of belonging, and the importance of their mental health.

Barriers for Chicago Public Schools (CPS): Key informants reflected on the barriers that teachers, schools, and the district face in positively impacting the lives and education of newcomer students. These included insights into how to best engage caregivers in CPS, the impacts of unpredictable funding, the need for increased language support within schools, the importance of adult social and emotional learning, cultural disconnects between staff and students, and the impact of COVID-19 on newcomer students.

CPS Strategies and Opportunities for Success: Key informants shared the many steps that teachers, schools, and the district are taking to meet the needs of newcomer students and provide high quality education. Key informants spoke about the effort educators put into their jobs and curriculum, the strong professional development they receive to support their work with newcomers, the many programs that exist at school and district levels, and strong partnerships made with organizations outside of schools to fill gaps within CPS.