Invisible Children in the Society and Its Schools

Invisible Children in the Society and Its Schools

Chapter 7 Immigrant Children: Art as a Second Language

by Cristina Igoa
Notre Dame de Namur University, Belmont

I felt hidden in the second grade because whenever anyone said something to me, I just couldn’t answer a thing. When it was time for recess, I didn’t have anyone to play with. The only person who played with me was my imagination. – Child from Afghanistan

I felt very lonely when I first came here from the Philippines. When I went to my new school, no one talked to me. It was like I didn’t exist. – Child from the Philippines

Hidden. . . lonely. . . like I didn’t exist. . . When you hear the words of immigrant children, you can begin to comprehend what it means for a child to be uprooted from his/her country of origin and confronted with a strange new world, a world whose inhabitants seem to ignore or resent those who are “different.” Moreover, at the very moment they are under pressure to grasp the complexities of the new language and culture, immigrant children are reeling from a combination of loses that leave them feeling diminished and inadequate to meet the challenge.

In this chapter, Cristina Igoa works with 6th grade immigrant children in a self contained classroom. These immigrant children came from eight different cultures and languages – Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, The Philippines, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Mexico. She uses art to evoke the children’s feelings and to build their confidence. The children communicate with one another through art. They learn to focus, to stay on task, to improve their artistic talents and to applaud one another for their successes.

In the stillness of the classroom, while the children are deeply involved in the process, Igoa works with small groups of children in the back of the classroom and teaches them to transfer their literacy skills from their languages to English—they learn to read in their second language and work their way up to be able to read on “grade level”. She also strengthens their math skills. By the end of the year, the children are confident in art, reading, writing, spelling and math. There is tremendous positive energy in the classroom. They no longer feel invisible nor inadequate. They are ready to take on the challenges of academia, to make themselves visible and to contribute their talents to the world.


Book Review: The Invisible Children in the Society and Its Schools
Sue Books, ed.

Reviewer: Lucy  E. Bailey, The Ohio State University

Published in Educational Studies Vol. 38 No 1 August 2005

The discussion of Cristina Igoa’s moving work with art integration among immigrant children is testimony to the power of such intervention and provides welcome balm amidst the sting of these chapters . In “Immigrant Children: Art as a Second Language,” Igoa beckons educators toward innovation and risk-taking through her modeling of art’s potential as a vehicle to ease cultural transitions.

Weaving images of children’s artwork throughout her analysis, Igoa, once an immigrant child herself, revisions artistic expression as a “second language” for those whose facility with English is limited and whose cultural identities have been disrupted through the multiple losses that accompany immigration. The opportunity to articulate their identities in such visible ways validated children’s cultural heritages and strengthened their verbal and written skills in other areas of the curriculum.

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