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First Book Research & Insights: Anxiety About Immigration Policies, Racism Taking Toll in Classroom

“This is a Hard Reality for a 7-year-old”
Kids in Need are Increasingly Concerned About Immigration Policies and Racism—and it’s Taking a Toll on Teaching and Learning, According to New First Book Research

 Students’ stress levels are rising, and educators indicate they need books and resources to address the impact 

[Full report available here]

WASHINGTON (Feb. 1, 2018) – In underserved communities, increased anxiety around Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and racism is impeding learning and increasing demands on educators, according to survey results released today by First Book. The First Book Social Issues Impact Survey asked members of the First Book Network of educators —who exclusively serve kids in need—to identify the social issues that were most relevant to their students in the last year, how those issues affected learning, and what they needed to address the issues in the classroom. Nearly 50 percent of respondents stated that the kids they serve are directly impacted by DACA and immigration policies. Results also revealed that kids initiate classroom conversations about DACA, racism, and interaction with law enforcement approximately 13 percent more often than educators, and nearly 80 percent of respondents stated they need additional resources—specifically fiction and nonfiction books—to address the social issues of greatest concern to their students.

The study is part of First Book Research & Insights, First Book’s research initiative that leverages the organization’s 25 years of experience working directly with educators serving low-income communities. First Book aggregates the voices of more than 350,000 educators—representing one in four of the estimated 1.3 million educators serving kids in need—to identify the unmet needs and challenges unique to underserved schools and programs.

Educators affirmed in the Social Issues Impact Study that children’s increased anxiety levels in response to these issues are significant barriers to learning, citing increased absenteeism and increased referrals to school counselors for psychological support. “Many students are too frightened to attend school because they fear their parents will be deported while they are gone,” one educator wrote in their survey response.

“I have one honor student in particular who completely stopped working,” wrote another. “After lots of digging and working on our trust, he revealed his immigration status and explained that he was not working because there was no way he would ever be able to go to college.”

Students’ increased anxiety is also requiring teachers to further expand their role in the classroom, which has already increased to include support for students’ basic and emotional needs related to the stress of poverty.

“Showing up every day to provide as safe and tolerant a classroom setting [as possible] must be my first priority for my students, and one way I can feel I make a difference…even more important than helping my students improve their reading skills and academic success,” stated another educator in the survey.

Nearly all—95 percent—of educators responding indicated that fiction and nonfiction books that address the relevant issues would help them teach to their students’ questions and concerns. Children in need now account for more than half of all students in the U.S. public school system.[1]

“Kids are being left out of one of the most critical national conversations we are having right now, and we are doing them—and ourselves—a great disservice if we assume these issues don’t affect them, or that they don’t have anything to contribute,” said Kyle Zimmer, president, CEO, and co-founder of First Book. “For a child, the classroom is their town hall; it’s the place where they can go and express their concerns. Right now, they are being very clear about what is impacting them, and educators are telling us they need books and resources to respond effectively.”

Research Highlights

The First Book Social Issues Impact Survey was distributed in September 2017 to members of the First Book Network, which is comprised of more than 350,000 educators serving children in need. The research yielded more than 1,500 respondents,[2] with 65 percent representing K-12 school settings, and the remaining 35 percent representing early childhood programs or programs outside of school, such as aftercare. More than half serve kids between the ages of 5-10, indicating a majority of the children affected are of elementary school age.

  • According to educators, the top five social issues facing the kids they serve are: Poverty (cited by 92 percent of educators); DACA and immigration policies (cited by 70 percent); racism (cited by 67 percent), interaction with police/law enforcement (cited by 62 percent), and substance abuse (cited by 57 percent).
  • DACA/immigration policies, police interaction, and racism top the list of social issues brought up by kids in the classroom. On average, kids are initiating approximately 13 percent more of classroom conversations on these topics than their teachers.
  • On average, more than 70 percent of First Book educators do not feel adequately prepared to address urgent conversations affecting students’ health and wellbeing. Additionally, only 10 percent of educators indicated they felt they had adequate resources to address DACA and immigration—one of the conversations most often initiated by students.
  • Nearly all respondents—95 percent—said they need fiction and nonfiction books and resources that teach empathy and address the top social issues, as well as resources that can be shared with family members.
  • Nearly 50 percent of respondents said DACA and immigration policies directly impact their students. “One student wrote a letter to one of the teachers on my team about how she was scared that she was going to be sent to Mexico…and never be allowed to come back home. Another student told me that he was going to be able to stay after all, but that he would have to stay with an aunt and uncle, and his mom had to leave the country. This is a hard reality for a 7-year-old.”

Infographic: Kids From Low-income Communities Want to be Heard

Infographic: Teachers Need Books to Help Students Overcome Social Issues


About First Book

First Book transforms the lives of children in need. Through a sustainable, market-driven model, First Book is creating equal access to quality education — making everything from brand-new, high-quality books and educational resources, to sports equipment, winter coats, snacks, and more – affordable to its member network of more than 350,000 educators who exclusively serve kids in need. Since 1992, First Book has distributed more than 170 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families in more than 30 countries. First Book currently reaches an average of 3 million children every year and supports more than one in four of the estimated 1.3 million classrooms and programs serving children in need. With an additional 1,000 educators joining each week, First Book is the largest and fastest-growing network of educators in the United States exclusively serving kids in need.

Eligible educators, librarians, providers, and others serving children in need can sign up at For more information, please visit or follow the latest news on Facebook and Twitter.

[1] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Common Core Data, 2015.

[2] N values vary between 1,000 and 1,300 for each question

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