Focusing on the Relational Needs of
Immigrant and Refugee Students
Lucy L. Purgason, PhD, LSC, ACS, NCC
Western Washington University
My Background
Today’s Objectives
• Describe the stressors that newcomer immigrant and
refugee students experience
• Explain ways that friendships help newcomer students
cope with acculturation stressors
• Identify school counseling interventions to support
relationship development
– Face-to-Face and Online
• Brainstorm potential resources and partnerships within
your settings
In the News
Goren, A. (2014, July
24). Washington
prepares for 600
unaccompanied minors
from Central America.
The Seattle Globalist
(Photo courtesy Deb Frockt /
Jewish Family Service)
Immigrant and Refugee Students in Washington
• Historically ranked as one of the top 10 resettlement
states (Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance, 2015)
• Frequently spoken languages (OSPI Migrant and Bilingual
Education, 2010)
Spanish (61, 558)
Russian (4,150)
Vietnamese (3,592)
Somali (2,260)
Ukranian (2,197)
Chinese (1,773)
Korean (1,603)
Tagalog (1,237)
Arabic (971)
Punjabi (902)
Cambodian (788)
Marshallese (607)
• Washington state has about 2,200 refugee arrivals a
year (
Newcomer Student Stressors
• Adolescence is a difficult time period to
transition (Garcia-Coll & Magnusson, 1997; Phinney et al., 1990, SuarezOrozco et al., 2008)
• At risk for social isolation (Chuang, 2010; Singer & ChandraShekeran, 2006)
• Important implications for identity development
and school adjustment (Bash & Zezlina-Phillips, 2006; Liebkind et
al., 2004; Suarez-Orozco, Qin, & Amthor, 2008)
Academic Needs of Newcomer
Students (Purgason, 2015)
• English proficiency
• Course credits and transfer equivalencies
• Transitional stress to school environment
• May be older than same-grade peers
Personal/Social Needs of Newcomer Students
(Suárez, et al., 2010; Villalba, 2009)
• Separated from peer and family support
• Discrimination and prejudice
• Loneliness, depression, anxiety
• Adjusting to different cultures
• Post-traumatic symptoms from previous
Emotional Response
Resettle in United States
Hope, Excitement,
Confusion, Fear,
Find place to live
Find job
Find new social groups
Don’t know how things work or
where to get help
Hard to speak English
Overwhelmed, Disappointed
(National Alliance for Multicultural Mental Health, 1996)
Emotional Response
Meet goals
Find new social groups
Lack of resources
Lonely and not part of a
Hard to speak English
(National Alliance for Multicultural Mental Health, 1996)
How might knowing about the phases
of adjustment influence your work with
newcomer students?
Strengths of Newcomer Students
• Resilience
• Collective resource sharing
• Tight-knit communities
and social networks
(Liebkindm, Jasinkaja-Lahti, & Solheim, 2004)
What are some other strengths that newcomer students may
How would you incorporate knowledge of these strengths within
your school counseling program?
The Importance of Social Support and Peer
• Researchers have shown
that one of the largest
determinants of success
for immigrant and refugee
students is the
establishment of social
• Found schoolwork
more interesting and
engaging (SuarezOrozco et al., 2008)
School-based Relational Development:
Peer Interventions (Purgason, 2015)
• New student orientations
– Pairing students with a peer mentor
– Collaborations with ESL teachers
• Group counseling
– Sharing pre-and-post arrival experiences
– Normalize the transition experience
– Include stress management strategies and social
skills development
• Individual Counseling
– Narrative and creative arts interventions
School-based Relational Development:
Creating a Multicultural Club (Purgason, 2015)
• Partner with ethnic student clubs at
surrounding colleges or universities
• First-generation college students could
serve as mentors
• Ideas for starting a multicultural club are
available at
School-based Relational Development:
Targeting Parents and Families
• Importance of overlapping spheres of influence (Epstein
& Van Voorhis, 2010)
• Positive associations with student grades, participation in
AP courses, lower dropout rates, and motivation toward
school work (Gonzalez et al., 2013)
• A resource toolkit to help newcomer parents navigate
schools is available
Creating School-Family Partnerships:
Recommendations for School Counselors
(Gonzalez et al., 2013)
• Invitations from the school to the family
• Flexible formats for involvement that respect families
with limited time
• Parent advisory council
• Use of cultural brokers
• Creating community-school family nights
On-line Relationship Building (Purgason, 2015)
• Newcomer students may be
turning to social media to
connect with friends and family
living in their home country
• Use Facebook, Twitter,
Instagram and other social
media sites
• Report using Facebook groups
for help with schoolwork
• Create pages that connect to
ethnic and cultural identities
Clip art credit: ASCA Magazine
Social Networking Considerations
• Does not replace face-to-face friendships
• May be using upwards of 4-5 hours a day
• Can experience bullying and harassment
• A toolkit for how to address bullying of
newcomer students is available at
Family and Community Based Working Alliances
• Partnerships with:
– Local Universities
• Office of Service Learning and Leadership
• Counseling Program
• Office of Multicultural Affairs
– Local Community Colleges
• ESL classes
– Non-profit agencies
• Job Training Information
• Legal Assistance
– Resettlement Agencies
– Cultural brokers
What partnerships could you establish within your communities?
Thank You!
Please email me at
with any questions
“The ache for home
lives in all of us. The
safe place where we
can go as we are and
not be questioned.”
~ Maya Angelou
For additional resources
and more information
on working with
immigrant and refugee
students please see the
latest issue of the ASCA
School Counselor

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