First Advisor

Hess, Robyn S.

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Qualitative case study with participant observation was used to explore the parent involvement experiences of nine Somali refugee parents in a small city in an agricultural area of the Rocky Mountain region. The parents of students who were attending classes through a school-based Welcome Center program were invited to participate. Parents were asked to discuss their own educational background, and their experiences prior to immigration to the United States in an effort to understand the development of their understanding, values and beliefs about education. Parents were also asked about their experiences in the local school systems to better understand their children’s adjustment to schools in the United States, and factors which proved to be either supports or barriers to parent involvement or empowering as related to their interactions with their children’s schools. Limited educational backgrounds impacted parents’ ability to assist their students with homework, or to feel like they could approach the teachers about how they might help their children. Parent perception of their role was clearly in the home, and they typically deferred to educators for matters in the school. They had no previous parallel constructs to volunteering in the schools or serving on committees or other school based involvement. However, parents were quite ready to come to school if they were specifically requested to do so by a parent or administrator. Key variables to student adjustment involved differences in pedagogy, discipline practices, and credit systems, as well as having interrupted formal education and the phenomenon of being over-aged and under-credited. Factors which posed barriers to parent involvement at school included differences in educational background, language barriers, perceived disrespect of culture and religion, and logistical barriers such as time, employment, and transportation. The importance of building relationship with families was a common thread throughout the study. Parents experienced empowerment when schools were proactive in communications, met with parents to help them understand expectations and to address fear and mistrust. Parents realized that schools were there to help when school personnel learned of needs and connected families with resources to help them succeed. The stories of these refugee parents in a smaller city setting lent insight to strategies which may be used to help refugee students succeed with support garnered from collaboration between school, families and community resources. Key Words: adolescents, case study, cultural adjustment, education, over-aged and under-credited, parent involvement, qualitative research, refugee, Somali, students with interrupted formal

Abstract Format



Home and school; Education -- Parent participation; Refugees -- Somalia; Refugees -- United States; Cultural adjustment


269 pages

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