Supporting mental health and psychosocial wellbeing through social and emotional learning: A participatory study of conflict-affected youth resettled to the U.S.

Stark, Lindsay; Robinson, Mackenzie V.; Gillespie, Alli; Aldrich, Jeremy; Hassan, Wafa; Wessells, Michael; Allaf, Carine; Bennouna, Cyril

A growing literature has drawn attention to the central role that schools play in supporting the adjustment of resettled refugee youth and promoting their mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. In particular, the recent proliferation of school-based social and emotional learning (SEL) initiatives presents an opportunity to strengthen supports for resettled adolescents. This participatory research study aims to understand how high school students resettled from countries in the Middle East and North Africa region are experiencing the challenges and opportunities of acculturation and the ways in which they believe schools can better support them in this process.

We analyzed primary data collected during focus group discussions as part of the SALaMA study. During these discussions, we used participatory ranking methodology to elicit adolescents’ suggestions on how high schools can better support students both academically and psychosocially after resettlement. Fourteen focus group discussions were held with male (n = 38) and female (n = 31) adolescents aged 14–20 years, who were selected purposively across six public high schools in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Austin, Texas, and Detroit, Michigan. Participants offered suggestions and then ranked them in order of importance using consensus ranking.

Thematic analysis of the PRM results across sites produced a wealth of suggestions centered around three broad themes, namely: skills related to navigating social and academic challenges, culturally responsive teaching, and socially and culturally equitable learning environments.

Findings reported illustrate limitations of the conventional, universal SEL model and shed light on how schools can adapt transformative SEL strategies to serve their students better, especially newcomers from conflict-affected countries.


  • thumnail for 12889_2021_Article_11674.pdf 12889_2021_Article_11674.pdf application/pdf 814 KB Download File

Also Published In

BMC Public Health

More About This Work

Published Here
August 10, 2022


Adolescents, Social emotional learning, Mental health, Psychosocial wellbeing, Refugees, Participatory ranking methodology