Abstract: Developing Peer-to-Peer Support for Foreign-Born High School Students: Using Youth-Led Community-Based Participatory Research to Assess & Address Needs (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Developing Peer-to-Peer Support for Foreign-Born High School Students: Using Youth-Led Community-Based Participatory Research to Assess & Address Needs

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR C, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Abbie Frost, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Simmons University School of Social Work, Boston, MA
Hugo Kamya, PhD, Professor, Simmons University School of Social Work, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose

Foreign-born adolescents/children represent approximately 20% of those attending US schools. Many face poor academic outcomes due to language barriers, unaddressed acculturation stress. Dropout rates are higher for foreign-born youth, placing them at greater risk for poorer functioning in adulthood, which can result in increased economic disparities. Recent executive orders focused on immigrant families, in general, and undocumented immigrants specifically, have heightened stress and fears for many immigrants. The impacts of these and related events on students’ academic success is not clear.

For foreign-born youth, transitional challenges reflect both developmental and acculturative changes. While, there has been research on collaborative efforts of parents, students, and school personnel, there remains a gap in understanding the foreign-born adolescent perspective. This presentation describes a two-phase process where foreign-born students’ needs were assessed, results informed the design of peer-to-peer support groups, and student outcomes evaluated.


In Phase 1 youth leaders conducted a needs assessment, employing a Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach, offering a culturally-grounded way to understand student needs. This needs assessment was conducted at a public high-school in a large northeastern urban city; all students are foreign-born, English language learners. Youth leaders were trained by the research team in CBPR and the use of focus groups to collect data.   Five focus groups were conducted with students in their first two years of high-school (n=40); a second series of 5 focus groups were held with students in their last two years (n=40). The research aims were to understand the needs of foreign-born students, both barriers and facilitating factors for positive academic and mental health outcomes. Focus group participants were recruited through flyers posted in school and follow-up e-mails.   Transcriptions from focus groups were coded thematically using NVivo; analyses were informed by grounded theory principles.

Results from this research informed Phase 2 – the design and implementation of a peer-to-peer support program. Evaluations were conducted of youth leaders’ experiences in (1)conducting focus groups, (2)their participation in the design of the Peer-to-peer Support program, and (3)program implementation. Outcome and process evaluations were conducted with program participants.


Study findings highlighted the importance of student connections and challenges of (1)coping with multiple transitions (immigration & adolescence) and (2)achieving academic success. Findings emphasized several coping strategies: the role of community, the importance of perseverance, and the need for time management.   Also important was the support from peers and shared experiences with other foreign-born students. Peer-to-peer support was linked with the alleviation of student isolation and successful academic, developmental, and acculturative transitions.


Conclusions & Implications

Findings underscore the importance in assessing needs through the perspective of the foreign-born adolescent. Key to the validity of the needs assessment & subsequent Peer-to-Peer program design was the active involvement of youth leaders. Implications point to the role that school social workers can have in facilitating a co-learning CBPR approach to assess student needs and the design of peer-to-peer support services that consider several ecological systems and a broader awareness of strategies to address foreign-born adolescent concerns about immigration status.