Refugee transition into American public schools: an emergent study of major influences

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jacob Scott Henry (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Carl Lashley

Abstract: American public schools are growing increasingly diverse and are in need of refining practices to meet the needs of all students. Annually new groups of refugees are resettled in the United States and their children enroll in public schools. Educating refugees who may have experienced an adverse past such as war, trauma, oppression, persecution, loss and interrupted education presents many challenges for school officials. To better understand those challenges, the purpose of this research was to ascertain what some of the salient educational influences are that impact refugee transition into American schools. The literature speaks in general terms both about the refugee experience before resettlement and the educational experience after resettlement. There is minimal research that examines these experiences from the perspectives of refugees themselves. In this study a forum was created inviting a purposeful sample of refugees to be heard. Refugees’ perspectives informed school officials about how to meet their educational and socio-cultural needs. As a result, participants were recognized as meaningful and valued stakeholders in the American schooling process. An ethnographic interview-based methodology was the primary research method used to gather information. Thirteen refugees shared their stories of transition. Half of the participants were enrolled in a public high school whereas the others had already attended public schools and were either working in careers or attending universities. Participants completed a demographic survey and shared artifacts relevant to their story. These participants’ stories inform the reader about the interconnectedness of the different aspects of the refugee experience, which creates a deeper understanding of their condition. Participants recounted the specific episodes of the traumatic past they endured as well as the issues related to their school transition. They did not simply report about these events— they invited the reader to experience them through storytelling. Consequently, transitional issues were not viewed in abstract terms but as the reality of specific events that transpired in the lives of participants. Their input was explicit and more credible than a report from one who has not personally experienced these events firsthand. While policy makers and school leaders focus heavily on academic outcomes for students, participants demonstrated that educating individuals is about far more than academic development alone. The whole person must be taken into consideration when creating educational policies and programs. Stories can speak for themselves where a deep listener is available to hear them. Advocates who have listened and understood those stories can be a voice for refugees in schools and with policy making bodies. The stories of this group of refugees demonstrate how this can be accomplished.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2009
Bicultural, ESL, Refugee, Schooling, Transition, Trauma
Refugees $x Education $z United States.
Students, Foreign $z United States.
Immigrants $x Education $z United States.

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