Study explores school climate experiences of adolescent immigrants

Center for Research on Children Youth Families and Schools

Chuck Green, March 7, 2022

Study explores school climate experiences of adolescent immigrants

Adolescents who have recently immigrated to the United States comprise a large, growing population that faces a variety of academic and social-emotional risk factors.

A healthy school climate — norms, goals, values and relationships within schools, along with teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures — is a key factor in protecting these newcomer immigrant adolescents from risk and promoting their success in school and life.

However, research examining immigrant youths’ perceptions of school climate has been sparse, which limits efforts to develop interventions designed to improve school climate.

Lorey Wheeler, research associate professor at the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools, is collaborating with Prerna Arora, assistant professor of school psychology at Columbia University, to better understand how newcomer immigrant adolescents perceive school climate and to determine how those perceptions affect their academic and social-emotional outcomes.

“For these immigrant adolescents, school is a primary environment that will shape their development,” Wheeler said. “We want to understand their school experience and identify additional aspects of school climate that are culturally relevant to these youth that schools may be missing.”

The two-year pilot project is funded by a sub-award from Columbia University through the Spencer Foundation.

Video: A joint project between Nebraska and Columbia University will help determine how newcomer immigrant adolescents’ perceptions of their school’s climate affect their academic and social outcomes.

Beginning in spring 2022, researchers will gather data from 15-20 immigrant adolescents attending high school in the New York City area. Participating students are from Haiti, India, Latin America, Africa and China, and have been in the United States for five years or less.

“We want a broad range of students with different backgrounds and perspectives,” Wheeler said. “The immigration experience is not the same for everyone.”

Students will be interviewed about differences between their previous and present schools, and whether they feel supported in their new U.S. schools. The goal is to refine culturally and developmentally specific indicators of school climate.

For the second phase, 200-300 students will be recruited to provide insight on what an average school day looks like. They will generate data about friendships and relationships within schools, how students relate to teachers and staff members and whether they are experiencing bullying. They will also share their perspectives on their school’s curriculum and whether they feel supported in their learning.

Additionally, researchers will examine school documents, websites and other material to further analyze school climate.

Findings will help develop recommendations for school practices aimed at supporting immigrant adolescents’ educational and mental outcomes.

Eventually, Wheeler said, researchers want to expand similar studies to include more rural locations.

Learn more about this project in the CYFS Research Network.

Center for Research on Children Youth Families and Schools