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UC Davis Sociologist to Study How K-12 Schools Adapt to Increases in Immigrants

portrait photo of UC Davis sociologist Jacob Hibel

Jacob Hibel

April 19, 2016 — A UC Davis sociologist will study how schools adapt to a sharp increase in the number of immigrant families, and he plans to develop interventions to help low-income kids who may have trouble catching up to their peers.

Jacob Hibel, an assistant professor of sociology and a member of the Center for Poverty Research executive committee, was named one of five William T. Grant Foundation Scholars. The program is a highly competitive and prestigious award that provides funding up to $350,000 over five years to conduct research to improve the lives of youth. The grant will help fund Hibel’s research.

“This project promises to make important contributions not only to scholarship on education inequalities, but to policy interventions that can help improve educational outcomes for young Californians from diverse backgrounds,” said Victoria Smith, chair and professor of sociology.

Three ways of learning about immigrant children in California

Read a longer version of this story

In a feature-length article, Jacob Hibel talks about how his upbringing in Florida, his training in sociology and his teaching experiences in Baltimore led him to focus his research on educational inequality. 

The project will explore three areas.

  • His research will consider, first of all, how inequality between those who already live in a community and new immigrants is shaped by the local flow of immigration itself.
  • For the second he will analyze policy documents from more than 870 California school districts to learn how school district policies and practices affect these inequalities.
  • Lastly, Hibel will meet with individual teachers from nine California elementary schools to learn about how they provide services to first- and second-generation immigrant children.

The importance of early intervention

What’s unclear, he said, is whether immigrants will be better off in areas that are not yet a common immigrant destination. Many of these new areas are more affluent. They may have a better economy and higher quality schools. But, they may still be unprepared. “Many of the communities and institutions I will study are not used to serving children of immigrants,”  Hibel said.

Schools tend not to evaluate students for learning disabilities, emotional disorders or other special needs until they achieve English proficiency. By then it may be too late. The time to intervene, he said, is from kindergarten through the third grade. By fourth and fifth grade students have a much more difficult time catching up.

Mentorship to learn new skills

The William T. Grant Scholars Program is for early-career researchers in the social, behavioral, and health sciences and provides for faculty mentorship in learning new research methods and skills.


Reported by Alex Russell, senior writer at the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research.