Rebekah Skelton photo• by Rebekah Skelton • IDRA Newsletter • April 2024 •

The United States and Mexico share about 9 million students from preschool through high school (Gándara & Jensen, 2021). These young people – often referred to as transnational students – are a part of families that have moved across borders for social, economic, familial or other reasons. Although these families might speak different languages or originate from and settle in different places, their children all deserve a high-quality education that prepares them for their future.

While the majority of the students we share – about four of five – currently live in the United States (Gándara & Jensen, 2021), many transnational families return to Mexico (or, in the children’s case, move for the first time) and enroll their children in Mexican schools (Ruiz Soto, et al., 2022; Gándara & Jensen, 2021; Sánchez García & Hamann, 2016).

Transnational students bring a wealth of assets to their school communities, including bilingualism, analytical and translation skills, interpersonal savvy, and digital and cultural literacies. But schools may not recognize these assets and may not provide the unique social and academic supports, such as newcomer programs and culturally relevant curricula and practices, that are necessary to help transnational students thrive in their new school.

For instance, in the United States, “The teachers of most Mexican American students are underprepared to meet their linguistic and academic needs,” and students’ assets “tend to be underappreciated and largely unincorporated in U.S. classrooms” (Gándara & Jensen, 2021). Additionally, Sánchez García & Hamann found, “Neither schools nor teacher preparation in Mexico are designed for nor expect transnational enrollments” (2016). They further note that many Mexican teachers do not even know when students with transnational backgrounds are in their classes.

For transnational students, this invisibility “can become a source of misunderstandings, subtle forms of rejection and feeling unwelcome” (Hamann & Zúñiga, 2011). It often means that their attributes are not recognized or nurtured in the classroom. When schools render some of their students invisible, they are not able to support their academic growth.

Transnational students deserve an equitable and fully inclusive education that highlights their diverse assets and unique perspectives. They also deserve well-trained teachers who are prepared to provide culturally sustaining curriculum, high-quality bilingual programs and antiracist classroom practices. While everyone plays a role in meeting these needs, it is especially incumbent upon policymakers to ensure that schools are prepared to support transnational students.

As proponents advocate for systemic policy changes, educators can work to shift toward inclusive classrooms for transnational communities now. In addition to practicing patience and empathy, teachers can create a welcoming and inclusive classroom environment daily.

One way teachers can do this is through a practice known as translanguaging, which “involves educators recognizing students’ dynamic bilingualism as an asset in the classroom rather [than] elevating English above all other languages” (Piñón, 2022).

Additionally, programs such as the Ventanilla de Orientación Educativa (VOE), IDRA’s partnership with the Consulate General of Mexico in San Antonio, can support transnational students to thrive in their educational journey. The VOE helps Mexican and Mexican American families navigate the U.S. education system and learn about educational opportunities in both countries (2023).

While much work remains to be done to solve the institutional challenges of both the U.S. and Mexican education systems, support programs and individual classroom practices will help transnational students and their families feel included in new and unfamiliar school environments and prepare students for their future on either side of the border.


Gándara, P.C., & Jensen, B. (Eds.). (2021). The Students We Share: Preparing U.S. and Mexican Educators for Our Transnational Future.

Hamann, E.T., & Zúñiga, V. (2011). Schooling and the Everyday Ruptures Transnational Children Encounter in the United States and Mexico. Faculty Publications: Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education, 141-160.

IDRA. (2023, February). Program Connects Mexican Nationals & Immigrants with Educational Opportunities, webpage.

Piñón, L. (2022). The Innovation of Translanguaging Pedagogy Enables Students to Use All of Their Tools. IDRA Newsletter.

Ruiz Soto, A.G., Mora, M.J., & Tanco, A. (2022). U.S. Immigrants and Mixed Status Families in Mexico: Demographic Characteristics that Influence their Lives and Integration. In The Mexican Dream: Studies on U.S. Migration (pp. 231-246). Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, & Instituto Matías Romero.

Rebekah Skelton is an IDRA intern. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at

[© 2024, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April edition of the IDRA Newsletter. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]