Abstract: Assessing Foreign-Born High-School Students' Needs: Youth-Led Focus Groups Using a CBPR Approach (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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380P Assessing Foreign-Born High-School Students' Needs: Youth-Led Focus Groups Using a CBPR Approach

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Hugo Kamya, PhD, Professor, Simmons College, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose

Foreign-born students represent approximately 20% of those attending US schools. Negative academic outcomes for foreign-born students are linked to adjustments to US educational systems, trauma, language barriers, acculturation stress, and undocumented status. Without specifically designed programs to meet their needs, these students can experience poor academic and social outcomes. While there is some understanding about foreign-born students’ needs, more research is needed. Further, environmental factors, like the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on foreign-born adolescents and their families is unknown.

Key to the effective support of foreign-born high-school students is an understanding of: (1)strengths of the current educational system, (2)issues challenging students’ ability to achieve academic/social success, and (3)needs for services supporting transitions post-graduation. Parents’ understanding about these issues is critical. Limited attention has been given to understanding culturally responsive programs in school settings from both student and parent perspectives.

This presentation describes collaborative research efforts between social work researchers and an inner-city public high-school for foreign-born students. A three-phase approach was used: (1)training for selected senior high-school students on CBPR strategies, (2)peer-to-peer led focus groups exploring needs and supports for academic/social success for students, and (3)focus groups with parents, co-led by student-leaders and researchers.


Phase 1 selected senior high-school students (n=20) to participated in a focus group led by researchers and a 4-session training on Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR). Next these students conducted peer-to-peer focus groups [Phase 2], employing a culturally-grounded way to understand student needs. Five peer-to-peer focus groups were conducted with first and second year high-school students (n=40); five peer-to-peer focus groups were conducted with students in their last two high-school years (n=40). Research aims were to (1)understand foreign-born student needs and (2)identify strategies/programs that could support positive academic and social outcomes.

In Phase 3, two focus groups were conducted (n=16), co-led by a high-school student and researcher. Research aims were to (1) understand needs that parents had regarding support for their adolescent’s academic and social success and (2) enhance their knowledge about US post-secondary education opportunities.

Focus group participants were recruited through emails and flyers. Student focus group leaders analyzed transcripts and coded them thematically using NVivo; analyses were informed by grounded theory principles. Results informed the design of a peer-to-peer support program and a parent support program, both representing collaboration among social workers, youth leaders, teachers, & school administration.


Students highlighted the (1)importance of student connections, (2)challenges of coping with multiple transitions, (3)needed support from peers, and (4)student role models who successfully managed multiple academic, developmental, and acculturative transitions. Parents emphasized the social-connections with other parents and teachers and the need to connect with community-based immigrant organizations. Both adolescents and parents underscored the importance of social-connections, awareness of community resources and related information about COVID-19.

Conclusions & Implications

Findings underscored the importance of needs assessments employing foreign-born adolescents’ and their parents’ perspectives. Implications point to the role that school social workers have in facilitating change in programs addressing academic/social transitions and environmental challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic.