April 27, 2012

Karen Refugee Students' Academic and Social Experiences in Twin Cities K-12 Schools

Margaret A. Crenshaw, Advisor: Letitia Basford

Nationally, nearly 15% of all foreign-born individuals are refugees. In Minnesota, this figure hovers around 44% (MN Advocates for Human Rights, 2005). In fact, Minnesota has the second largest refugee population per capita of any state in the U.S. In the last few years, a new refugee population from Southeast Asia, the Karen, has come to the Twin Cities. Fleeing from Burma’s military dictatorship, today there are an estimated 5,000 Karen refugees in the Twin Cities metropolitan area (Burnette II, 2010). In the past four years enrollment has jumped from a mere 100 students to approximately 1,100 Karen students in Saint Paul Public Schools alone. Little research has been conducted on how this new refugee population is faring in Minnesota schools. I have become connected with Karen refuge students through the McVay Youth Partnership, an after school program that has four sites in Saint Paul, two of which serve mainly Karen youth grades 5 and up. As a Senior Fellow at the site near the Rice and Larpenteur area, I have become very personally connected with these new students and their families over the past two years. This research focuses on adolescent Karen refugees’ current experiences in K-12 schools, specifically investigating the existing systems of support in these schools that prepare these refugees for post-secondary education. Through interviews with Karen community members and the mentors, educators, and administrators who serve Karen youth, I intend to a) provide the local K-12/higher education community with a preliminary understanding of how this adolescent refugee population is faring in our schools, b) reveal what existing support systems are available that provide these youth with academic and social success, and finally c) share recommendations for how to further promote their success in education.