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Perceptions of success and support by refugee adolescent students and school staff Sellick, Angelika


This ethnography was conducted in a sheltered literacy class for adolescent refugee students with interrupted schooling at a high school in Vancouver, B.C. A review of the literature identified a shortage of studies in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) dealing specifically with this population of students, particularly within a Canadian context. The review also identified that literature dealing more generally with refugee students and their schooling experiences did so from a deficiency-based perspective. Finally, it was noted that scholarly publications in TESL over the past several decades have operationalized success predominantly as academic achievement; arguably, this has potentially led to overlooking other forms of accomplishments. In response to the gaps identified in the literature, the present study sought to focus specifically on the perceived successes and support systems by one class of refugee students with interrupted schooling and school staff in a Canadian context. It also aimed to explore alternative ways of understanding success in school which goes beyond academics. Data was collected from twelve students and eight school staff members through semi-structured interviews and observation notes collected by the researcher over a period of ten months. The findings of the study were interpreted through the lens of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1979, 2005) ecological theory which situates positive human development within context, as well as the construct of resiliency and poststructuralist view of identity. The first main finding was that most participants did not speak about success as academic achievement, but rather as integration in school life, feeling competent, and forming relationships. A second finding was that while the staff members perceived the students as experiencing success in school, the student participants were hesitant to describe themselves as ‘good’ students. A third finding was that at this particular school, there existed a network of multiple and interconnected support systems which bolstered the students’ perceived successes and were bi-directional in impact.

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