Supporting Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Students and Families: Tips for Educators in K–12 Settings
Racism and violence targeting Asian, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Desi/South Asian American (AAAPIDA) people in the United States are not new occurrences. We have seen the negative treatment of AAAPIDA folks across history through various events such as the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, xenophobia resulting in the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982, the treatment of Muslims, South Asians, as well as Arab, Middle Eastern, and North African (AMENA) individuals following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and more recently explicit hate crimes and violence towards Asians during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students and families in communities across the country have experienced fear, confusion, stress, and trauma from acts of hate, many of which have resulted in racial harm, physical injury, or deaths of AAAPIDA individuals.
Additionally, although schools should serve as welcoming and affirming places for all students, recent reports have noted that many AAAPIDA students experienced bullying and anti-Asian discrimination in their schools (Jeung et al., 2021). Even more concerning are reports that adults are not consistently intervening when incidents are observed in school settings (Stop AAPI Hate, 2020a, 2020b) or may be implicitly (or explicitly) committing discriminatory acts against AAAPIDA students (Rosenbloom & Way, 2004). Research indicates that AAAPIDA students entering college display higher rates of depression and suicidality as compared to their peers (Kalibatseva et al., 2022), indicating the need for earlier assessment, identification, and intervention. Furthermore, several mass shootings targeted AAAPIDA populations (e.g., Monterey Park, Half Moon Bay, Atlanta spa, Oak Creek Gurdwara), so schools must be aware of crisis intervention strategies that are culturally affirming and incorporate a balance of collectivistic and individualistic strategies that reflect the numerous identities held by AAAPIDA individuals.
We must work to create safe and supportive learning environments for all students and support AAAPIDA students and families. This document is intended to provide education about this diverse community, a historical and contemporary U.S. context that affects their experiences, and tips and related resources to help educators meet their unique needs in K-12 settings.
Who Are AAAPIDAs?
Asian, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Desi/South Asian Americans include individuals with heritages from over 50 different countries, who speak over 2,300 languages (most of which are distinct from each other and have differing linguistic roots and can vary by neighborhood, region, religion, class, caste, and more), coming from numerous religions, and who have a diverse and beautiful array of foods, customs, traditions, and ways of life. As such, the term "Asian" tends to be a bit of a misnomer, homogenizing and erasing the vast diversity existing among people with Asian origins.
Historically, individuals from Asian countries have been immigrating to the United States since the early 1600s, with the most notable waves occurring in the mid-1800s and the mid-1960s to the present day. White Americans, who were unable to distinguish among Asian groups other than perhaps between South Asians and all other Asians, held massive amounts of xenophobia and fear of individuals from Asian countries taking their jobs, something we still see in the present day. These fears led to federal immigration laws (i.e., Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, also known as the Immigration Act of 1917) banning immigration from Asian countries and requiring English literacy tests, with minor exceptions. It was not until the Civil Rights movements in the 1960s, taking cues from the work led by Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous activists, that Asian activists (e.g., Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka) officially coined the term Asian American as a way to create solidarity among Asians stemming from their common experiences in America and cultural similarities.
As such, it is vitally important that educators and school psychologists recognize that Asians are not a monolith in order to properly address their needs. AAAPIDAs are a vast group with some cultural similarities, to be sure, but also many differences in culture, languages, and experiences. It is encouraged that school-based professionals learn about AAAPIDA students, their families, their communities, and the rich history and experiences that help shape who they are as individuals.
Engage in Ongoing Self-Reflection, Learning, and Commitment to Action
School-based professionals should educate themselves on the diverse cultural practices and traditions of AAAPIDA students and families. Specifically, they should increase their awareness of various cultural strengths such as family and community support, the potential to ally with parents in supporting their children, and many other rich cultural attributes. For example:
- There are numerous family and community characteristics found across Asian cultures (e.g., collectivistic, allocentric, and individualistic frameworks) and these different structures can influence receptivity to asking for support, receiving services, and who can support families during times of need.
- Keep in mind the level of acculturation of the families and students you are working with to ascertain the amount you can rely on family/community support and the ways in which acculturation and family expectations/pressures can impact the identity development, joys, and challenges experienced by AAAPIDA youth.
- School leadership and staff should check their own biases and stereotypes against Asian Americans, including the model minority myth, which assumes that all Asian American students are high achieving or well-adjusted (Sue et al., 2007; Sue et al., 2021). As with any stereotype, this myth can act as a barrier to providing individual students or families with necessary support and can also create divisions between AAAPIDA students and other racially minoritized youth.
- Staff should be aware of the negative impact of racial discrimination and microaggressions against Asian American students and how the model minority myth also contributes to the fallacy of the Asian monolith, which masks the rich diversity, strengths, and challenges of the many Asian American communities.
- Staff should be aware of the vast and growing socioeconomic differences among Asian populations. For example, recent statistics show massive wealth disparities between Indian families (median household income of $119,000) and Burmese families (median household income of $44,000; Budiman & Ruiz, 2021). There are numerous disparities and differences in AAAPIDA communities related to wealth, education attainment, graduation, healthcare, and more that are often erased when homogenizing AAAPIDA populations and are unacknowledged when we believe in harmful stereotypes such as the model minority myth. See Siu and Noguchi (2021), which depicts this issue in comic form.
- See resources at the end of this article to learn more about the model minority myth.
- Educators should learn about the history and culture of AAAPIDA families locally and regionally, including the unique experience of international adoptees. Read the Stop AAPI Hate Youth Report and discuss how the community might incorporate some of the suggested recommendations within their school settings.
- When incorporating social justice initiatives and developing policies to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in schools, educators should recognize that anti-AAAPIDA racism is deeply rooted in U.S. history. Everyday acts of racism and violence against people of Asian descent, especially Asian American immigrants, have been going on for more than a century.
Create a Safe, Supportive, and Inclusive School Climate
- It is important to create a learning environment and school climate in which all students and staff feel valued and welcomed. This includes practices and policies that are culturally responsive and emphasize the importance of diversity, inclusion, and student well-being. Train all staff on culturally responsive practices. This should include teachers and other educators understanding how to provide culturally responsive instruction, implement culturally inclusive classroom engagement and interactions, engage with families in culturally affirming ways, and school psychologists and other specialized instructional support personnel providing culturally responsive direct and indirect services. This can look like:
- Advocating for ethnic studies to increase representation of Asian Americans and other historically marginalized groups within U.S. history and celebrate their achievements.
- Embedding discussions focused on Asian American history, culture, and activism in all subject areas in the classroom (language arts, social studies, art, music). For example:
- Language Arts class: Reading Asian American books in the classroom. For example, teachers with elementary school students can read Young, Proud, and Sun Jee, and engage in a discussion about empathy, why blaming Asian American peers for COVID-19 is problematic, and how to be a positive bystander/upstander. Please see more books in the resource section that can be useful to address other instances of racism towards AAAPIDA individuals.
- Art class: Discussing art projects (e.g., a poster contest) related to Asian, Asian American Pacific Islander, and Desi/South Asian American Heritage Month.
- Music class: Listening to songs created by Asian Americans (e.g., original song "We are proud to be Asian" inspired by the #StopAsianHate Vigil and Rally on YouTube), or other songs that promote and celebrate diversity and friendship. § Social Studies class: Discussing the ongoing contribution of AAAPIDAs in history and today and recognizing how Asian Americans are an integral part of the United States. For example, by using lesson plans developed by PBS Learning Media (https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/asian-americans-pbs/).
- Morning meetings: Teachers can invite all students to share their experience of discrimination and bullying and discuss how to be upstanders to keep school a safe and fun place to be and learn.
- During Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month (May), teachers can encourage all students to bring a cultural object to share in class and discuss diversity within the classroom and school.
- Increase supervision (i.e., during lunch, during recess, and on the bus) and train all school staff (e.g., teachers, lunch/recess supervisors, bus drivers) on how to respond to bullying and discrimination specific to Asian American students. For example, train school staff to appropriately respond to discrimination (e.g., classmates saying to an Asian American student, "You have the China virus" or classmates making fun of various Asian languages, food, and names) to ensure a safe and supportive environment for both students and families (e.g., Hollaback! training).
- Encourage teachers and school staff to balance invitations to contribute and opportunities for AAAPIDA students and families to share experiences and perspectives without relying on any individual students or faculty as spokespersons for all AAAPIDA individuals, considering the diversity within the AAAPIDA community.
Implement Culturally Responsive Accountability Systems and Mental Health Supports
Providing culturally responsive mental health supports is an essential component to creating a safe, supportive learning environment. How schools approach families about mental health concerns can influence their willingness to utilize school or outside mental health supports. This can be especially salient for AAAPIDA families and students because of common issues such as stigma around mental health. Schools should utilize culturally responsive systems and mental health supports to reaffirm and validate the cultural experiences, identities, challenges, and successes of AAAPIDA students. Some examples are listed below:
- Ensure that there are systems and structures in place for families and students to ask for support for various mental health issues and also forums to report racial/ethnic bullying or discrimination. Schools should also ensure there are clear consequences for engaging in racial/ethnic bullying and discrimination (in addition to other forms of bullying) at school.
- Know AAAPIDA families who are immigrants and may not be familiar with the school procedures, may not understand English well, or they may worry about repercussions for receiving services, being labeled as having a disability or mental health condition, reporting bullying and discrimination, and more. Schools need to reach out to families to reduce barriers related to reporting (e.g., developing a culturally and linguistically responsive reporting system) and be mindful of how language around mental health and special education can draw in or repel families.
- Provide access to linguistically appropriate resources that are also culturally aligned in terms of language around mental health, disabilities, and reporting. As an example, studies (e.g., Cong & Chen, 2022) showed that as compared to other racially minoritized families, Asian families with children had the lowest preparedness in disaster relief because of a lack of awareness of resources and supports. Therefore, these resources should be created in various languages, and schools should speak directly with families with the help of an interpreter or cultural broker, if needed.
- Teach students to recognize discrimination, microaggressions, and bullying. Increasing research also shows that many AAAPIDA youth report not being aware of or understanding what they are experiencing to be discrimination or bullying and consequently may not report negative experiences (Palmer & Jang, 2005). This can lead to students feeling marginalized, isolated, and unwelcome without students necessarily even understanding why. Facilitating healing groups to promote recognition and community for AAAPIDA students can be immensely helpful.
- Provide support groups led by a school mental health professional. Be aware of any biases caused by the model minority myth that may cause educators to overlook issues that AAAPIDA individuals may experience. Additionally, it is common that many AAAPIDA cultures may experience stigma and shame around seeking mental health services, so schools should aim to create safe climates and show openness and understanding with regard to this issue.
- Take proactive steps and send clear statements to all families about their community values, behavioral expectations, and codes of conduct (e.g., respectful, responsible, safe), and reiterate that xenophobia and racial discrimination is against the school values.
- Teach students about behavior expectations at school (such as being respectful, responsible, safe) and emphasize specific expectations related to peer interaction (e.g., "I celebrate and appreciate differences").
- Ensure that all students have developmentally appropriate avenues for understanding what constitutes bias-based behaviors, what systems and structures exist for reporting such incidents, and the appropriate consequences (e.g., restorative practices that focus on building community and strengthening relationships).
Support AAAPIDA School Personnel
Educators must recognize that their AAAPIDA colleagues also experience racism and violence. It is imperative to provide a safe and supportive work environment, by engaging in behaviors such as checking in to see if they are doing well and intervening with or "calling in" anti-AAAPI microaggressive statements and behaviors from other colleagues, families, and students.
- Provide antiracism training for school personnel and consider ways to integrate within existing social-emotional learning initiatives (Stop AAPI Hate, 2020b).
- Be mindful of putting AAAPIDA colleagues in a position where they are expected to be the "token Asian" and educate others about anti-AAAPIDA racism and rhetoric. Instead, spend time learning about these issues on your own and acknowledge that cultural learning and humility are lifelong practices.
- All school personnel should be aware of how they may be treating their colleagues according to the model minority myth and be considerate of other microaggressions that frequently take place in the workplace, including but not limited to assuming that all Asians are quiet, do not speak up or advocate for themselves, have trouble advocating for the students they work with, speak the same language and thereby have the ability to serve as an interpreter and liaison for all Asian students and families, or do not speak good English.
The Continued Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Incidents of hate and violence against AAAPIDA individuals escalated sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of misinformation and discriminatory myths perpetuated in the news and on social media. These harmful beliefs still linger in many places. For students and staff who identify as international, the challenges this creates can be compounded by a sense of isolation from their home countries. Schools should provide scientifically validated information on COVID-19 spread and correct misinformation among students and staff, including the misconception that Asian Americans are specific carriers of, or should be blamed for, the virus. Schools should remind students that the World Health Organization (2015) cautioned against including geographic locations in the naming of new human infectious diseases.
Although the pandemic is officially over and lockdown has ended in most places, research and anecdotal experiences of many AAAPIDA communities related to experiencing racism suggest that the impact of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of AAAPIDA students and families will be long standing (Mpofu et al., 2022). In addition to continued reports of increasing mental health issues and fears about experiencing racism and unsafe school conditions, AAAPIDA students may also experience increased school problems because of the effects of virtual instruction and loss of face-to-face time with peers. It is important to recognize any biases that may occur because of the model minority myth related to the academic success and social-emotional well-being of Asian children and respond to learning loss with appropriately with early assessment and intervention.
The following resources are a starting point for continuing cultural learning in working with AAAPIDA students and families, and they should not be considered an exhaustive list.
- NASP Condemns Violence Against AAPI Communities, Urges Schools to Reinforce Students' Safety, Well-Being, https://www.nasponline.org/about-school-psychology/media-room/press-releases/nasp-condemns-violence-against-aapi-communities-urges-schools-to-reinforce-students-safety-well-being
- Countering Coronavirus Stigma and Racism: Tips for Teachers and Other Educators, https://www.nasponline.org/x55065.xml
- Countering COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Stigma and Racism: Tips for Parents and Caregivers, https://www.nasponline.org/x55066.xml
- Stop AAPI Hate online report form, https://stopaapihate.org/
- Hollaback! Bystander Intervention training, https://www.ihollaback.org/bystanderintervention/
- Project Lotus, https://www.theprojectlotus.org/
Asian American Books for Youth
- Pragmatic Mom's Asian American booklist, https://www.pragmaticmom.com/booklists/asian-american-book-lists-kids/
- AAPI Reads booklist, https://aapireads.com/
- Young, Proud, and Sung-Jee, https://www.youngproudsungjee.com/
- Imagination Soup's booklist, https://imaginationsoup.net/childrens-books-asian-pacific-american-heritage-month-aapi/
- Southern Poverty Law Center's Learning for Justice article, https://www.learningforjustice.org/
- Becoming Asian: Exploring the Roots of Race and the Model Minority Myth, Oregon Humanities, https://www.oregonhumanities.org/rll/magazine/owe-spring-2018/becoming-asian-scot-nakagawa/
- In 1968, These Activists Coined the Term 'Asian American'-And Helped Shape Decades of Advocacy, Time, https://time.com/5837805/asian-american-history/
- The Asian American wealth gap, explained in a comic, Vox, https://www.vox.com/identities/22530103/
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice, https://www.advancingjustice-la.org/what-we-do/curriculum-lesson-plans
- The Asian American Education Project, https://asianamericanedu.org/
- Yuri Education Project, https://www.yurieducationproject.com/projects
- Teaching Asian American Studies: Resource Guide, https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KOuJ64VSIuV3umVAtUHoPik7uLV8NKP5pSpGvubtO8s/edit
- Statement by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2021/NAMI-Statement-on-Violence-Against-Asian-American-Community
- Asian American Psychological Association, https://aapaonline.org/
- Asian American Mental Health Collective, https://www.asianmhc.org/
- National American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, https://www.naapimha.org/aanhpi-service-providers
- What Is the Model Minority Myth?, Southern Poverty Law Center's Learning for Justice, https://www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/what-is-the-model-minority-myth
- 'Model Minority' Myth Again Used as a Racial Wedge Between Asians and Blacks, NPR's Code Switch podcast, https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/04/19/524571669/model-minority-myth-again-used-as-a-racial-wedge-between-asians-and-blacks
- Asian Americans Are Still Caught in the Trap of the 'Model Minority' Stereotype. And It Creates Inequality for All, Time, https://time.com/5859206/anti-asian-racism-america/
- The Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism, Second Edition, Routledge, https://www.routledge.com/Myth-of-the-Model-Minority-Asian-Americans-Facing-Racism-Second-Edition/Chou-Feagin/p/book/9781594515873
- Public Service Announcements for AAPI families facing COVID-19 Discrimination, Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race (division45.org), https://www.srcd.org/event/supporting-asianasian-american-children-and-youth-during-covid-19-pandemic
- How to Talk to Your Kids About Anti-Racism: A List of Resources, PBS SoCal article, https://www.pbssocal.org/education/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-anti-racism-a-list-of-resources
Budiman, A., & Ruiz, N. G. (2021, April 29). Key facts about Asian origin groups in the U.S. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2021/04/29/key-facts-about-asian-origin-groups-in-the-u-s/
Cong, Z., & Chen, Z. (2022). How are Asian-Americans different from other races in disaster preparedness in the context of caregiving responsibilities and preparation information access? Natural Hazards, 112, 2217-2236. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-022-05262-6
Jeung, R., Yellow Horse, A. J., & Cayanan, C. (2021). Stop AAPI Hate National Report. https://
Kalibatseva, Z., Bathje, G. J., Wu, I. H., Bluestein, B. M., Leong, F. T., & Collins-Eaglin, J. (2022). Minority status, depression and suicidality among counseling center clients. Journal of American College Health, 70(1), 295-304. https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2020.1745810
Mpofu, J. J., Cooper, A. C., Ashley, C., Geda, S., Harding, R. L., Johns, M. M., Spinks-Franklin, A., Njai, R., Moyse, D., & Underwood, J. M. (2022). Perceived racism and demographic, mental health, and behavioral characteristics among high school students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey, United States, January-June 2021. MMWR supplements, 71(3), 22-27. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.su7103a4
Palmer, J. D., & Jang, E. Y. (2005). Korean born, Korean-American high school students' entry into understanding race and racism through social interactions and conversations. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(3), 297-317. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613320500174432
Rosenbloom, S. R., & Way, N. (2004). Experiences of discrimination among African American, Asian American, and Latino adolescents in an urban high school. Youth & Society, 35(4), 420-451. https://doi.org/10.1177/0044118X03261479
Siu, L., & Noguchi, J. (2021, June 14). The Asian American wealth gap, explained in a comic. Vox. https://www.vox.com/identities/22530103/asians-americans-wealth-income-gap-crazy-rich-model-minority Stop AAPI Hate. (2020a). They blamed me because I am Asian. https://stopaapihate.org/youth-campaign-report/ Stop AAPI Hate. (2020b). Youth incidents report. https://stopaapihate.org/youth-incidents-report/
Sue, D. W., Bucceri, J., Lin, A. I., Nadal, K. L., & Torino, G. C. (2007). Racial microaggressions and the Asian American experience. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 13(1), 72-81. https://doi.org/10.1037/1099-9809.13.1.72
Sue, D. W., Calle, C. Z., Mendez, N., Alsaidi, S., & Glaeser, E. (2021). Microintervention Strategies: What you can do to disarm and dismantle individual and systemic racism and bias. Wiley.
World Health Organization. (2015). WHO issues best practices for naming new human infectious diseases.
Contributors: Sruthi Swami, Kavita Atwal, Quennie Dong, Cixin Wang, Chieh Li, Dieu Truong, Jennifer Cooper, and Tracey Scherr Please cite this document as: National Association of School Psychologists. (2023). Supporting Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Students and Families: Tips for Educators in K-12 Settings [handout].