Contexts of Care: Supporting Immigrant-Origin Youth in a New Destination
Edom Tesfa

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Harvard University

Primary Discipline

Educational Policy
Now that the majority of school-age children in the United States are non-white and over a quarter of school-age children are immigrant-origin (Migration Policy Institute, 2021), school districts across the country must adapt to meet their needs. This dissertation is an ethnographic study of immigrant- and refugee-origin adolescents’ experiences of care and belonging within nested contexts of immigrant reception (Golash-Boza & Valdez, 2018; Rodriguez et al., 2022). I aim to answer the following questions: How do African and Latin American immigrant-origin high school students experience care and belonging (or a lack thereof) at school and in their communities? How have a series of protracted crises– such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost of living crisis, the housing crisis, anti-Black racism, and xenophobic laws, policies, and discourses– shaped these young people’s experiences of care? How do they organize for more caring communities within and outside of school? To answer these questions, I engaged in a year of participant observation, supplemented by interviews, focus groups, and critical document analysis, in Portland, Maine, where over one-third of the public schools’ students are immigrant-origin. Findings from this study will provide much-needed insights into how schools can become sites of care and possibility in resistance to local, regional, and national anti-Blackness and xenophobia. Findings from this project can inform educational practices and policies in emerging contexts of immigrant reception.
About Edom Tesfa
Edom Tesfa is a Presidential Scholar and Ph.D. candidate in Culture, Institutions, and Society at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A critical researcher, youth worker, educator, and survivor of school violence, her research investigates how educational spaces provide care for immigrant-origin youth within rapidly-changing contexts of reception. Her dissertation is an ethnographic study of how African and Latin American immigrant-origin youth in Maine– an emerging destination for asylum-seekers and refugees– experience care and belonging. Edom has presented her research across the U.S., as well as in Canada, Chile, and Ireland. Her writing has been published in Voices in Urban Education and in policy and practitioner briefs for the Immigration Initiative at Harvard. While at Harvard, Edom has taught courses on education and immigration, qualitative research methods, and critical participatory action research (CPAR). Edom holds a B.S. in Foreign Service– Culture and Politics from Georgetown University and an A.M. in Education from Harvard University. In her free time, Edom enjoys taking care of her dog and playing video games.

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