The Urban Review

, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 1–25 | Cite as

“If You Need Help, They are Always There for us”: Education for Refugees in an International High School in NYC

  • Mary MendenhallEmail author
  • Lesley Bartlett
  • Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher


This qualitative study examines how an “international” high school in New York City responds to the needs of refugee students. It asks: What are the specific academic needs of secondary-level refugee students? How does one school meet their needs, and what challenges are encountered? To complement one-on-one semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions, this qualitative study also entailed a participatory visual methodology through which students were provided digital or disposable cameras and asked to take photographs of the people, places and/or things that contributed to their schooling experiences. The exercise and resulting images provided students and researchers with a creative way to shape the project and address emerging issues. The findings document key school-based factors that contribute to academic inclusion of refugee and asylee students, including: educator support, care and encouragement; linguistic support from teachers; learner-centered pedagogical approaches; and flexible and responsive curricular approaches and assessment strategies. Refugees are generally grouped with other immigrants, with insufficient attention to their unique experiences and needs and thus inadequate services for refugee children. The findings from this study will help to remedy this gap and yield important insights regarding how to improve schooling for vulnerable populations in urban settings.


Refugee education Resettlement International high school Academic support Curriculum Pedagogy Assessment New York City 



The authors wish to acknowledge the generous financial support provided by the Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund of The Reed Foundation, which made this work possible. We also wish to acknowledge financial support from the University of Pennsylvania’s Global Engagement Fund. Numerous graduate students contributed to this project at various stages and deserve special mention here. The students from Teachers College, Columbia University include: Christine Bell, Maria Bermeo, Kempie Blythe, Tonya Bushway-Flynn, Jacqueline Gaston, Rachel Maranto, Andrea Rosko, Anna Spector, Kendra Strouf, and Laura Wagner. The students from the University of Pennsylvania include: Shruti Bhat, Blair Sackett, Ruju Vyas and Sarah Stanton. We are most grateful to the administrators, teachers, and students who spoke to us about their experiences; their work and lives have inspired this piece, and we hope the article can make a contribution to improving refugee education in the United States.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Mendenhall
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lesley Bartlett
    • 2
  • Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher
    • 3
  1. 1.Teachers CollegeColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.University of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  3. 3.University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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