School Climate and Acculturation: The Academic Impact for Newcomer Adolescents

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posted on 17.02.2017, 00:00 by Kristen Suzanne Huffman-Gottschling
Research shows that school climate can affect a student’s well-being, academic success, and connectedness to a school. This research is largely understood from the experience of students who have either been born in the United States or who are part of an immigration group that has been in school for many years. Refugee youth’s experiences of school climate have not been part of this large body of research. This study aimed to address this gap in the literature. Using a grounded theory approach, this study examined the impact school climate has on the academic experience of refugee youth. More specifically, the study explored the critical components of school climate for refugee youth and any role acculturative press may play in that experience. Using a semi-structured interview process, fifteen youth who arrived in the United States as high school students were interviewed about their experience of school climate. Interviews were conducted both in English and through a translator who spoke a participant’s first language. Demographic questionnaires were used to collect information about age, country of origin, described home country, length in school prior to arrival in the United States, date of arrival, and current year in school. Students identified teaching and learning, safety and conflict, and interpersonal relationships as all being critical components of their experience of a school’s climate as they built a pathway to belonging to the school and its members. Experiences of acculturative press that were more multiculturalist in nature were articulated as supportive experiences that created a stronger connection to the school. Experiences that were more assimilationist in nature were articulated as barriers to belonging and as leading to a decreased sense of safety and an increased disconnection to the school community. Learning English, understanding the rules and expectations of the school, and building relationships, including friendships, were connected to greater participation in school life and a greater sense of belonging.



Mattaini, Mark


Mattaini, Mark


Jane Addams College of Social Work

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Committee Member

McKay-Jackson, Cassandra Gleeson, James Birman, Dina Acosta Price, Olga

Submitted date

December 2016

Issue date


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