April 21, 2015

Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher one of twelve Penn Global Education Fund Award Winners

Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher sees a connection between global and local happening in her backyard.

The Associate Director of Penn GSE’s International Educational Development Program lives in New York City, home to one of the largest refugee populations in the United States. After the most basic needs of resettled refugees have been addressed, communities face the often-formidable challenge of meeting their educational needs. Along with colleagues from Teachers College at Columbia University, she’s exploring ways in which New York City schools are meeting those needs.

In April, Penn’s Global Education Fund awarded Ghaffar-Kucher one of 12 grants to extend this research beyond the schools and into the supplemental services provided by voluntary agencies and faith-based institutions. 

“While this research focuses on a US context,” Ghaffar-Kucher wrote, “its focus on a non-US population within US borders makes it an important global issue.”

For many school-aged refugees, formal education has been interrupted through displacement from home and long periods living in camps. And because many asylum-seekers have witnessed violent uprisings, children may also be dealing with significant trauma.

The refugee experience is different from the immigrant experience, and Ghaffar-Kucher and her colleagues Lesley Bartlett (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Mary Mendenhall (Teachers College) intend to expand the smaller body of research that specifically addresses refugee students. Their qualitative study will include observations and interviews with students, teachers, and administrators at four school sites in New York City.

However, because many factors beyond the school walls contribute to educational success, Ghaffar-Kucher and her colleagues saw an opportunity to expand their research into the role that voluntary agencies and faith-based organizations play in supporting refugee students. While the researchers will employ ethnographic methods such as focus groups and interviews, they are also engaging in participatory media, asking students to help guide the discussion. 

“We’re asking youth to take pictures of the people and places they feel help them be successful in school,” Ghaffar-Kucher said. Through this methodology, they hope to bring a deeper level of engagement and discussion to the focus group setting.

Dean Pam Grossman extended her congratulations on Ghaffar-Kucher’s successful proposal. “I look forward to seeing the results of this research,” Grossman said, “as it is evidence of Penn GSE’s commitment to studying global forces in education.”