Theses Doctoral

Becoming an Internationals Student: What do Newcomer Adolescents do with a High School Designed for Them?

Dvorak, Alexander Stephan

The United States is currently experiencing an unprecedented wave of immigration. When studying foreign-born students, anthropologists and sociologists have focused primarily on two areas: how schools integrate children into the American ‘mainstream’ and the complexities of foreign-born students learning English. Much of the debate centers on the best models for building academic English, comparing academic achievement of students by their home country, and comparing educational outcomes among different generations (e.g., newcomers versus second-generation students). In an effort to study successful models, some anthropologists of education have studied newcomer programs, such as the Internationals Network for Public Schools (INPS), that have been successful at graduating in higher numbers students recently arriving in the United States from non-English speaking countries. This ethnography builds on that line of work by looking at two areas that the literature has failed address: (1) how multiple actors in the political, philanthropic, and educational realms of the United States come together to design a school for foreign-born adolescents, and (2) how students, who find themselves in a school designed for recently-arrived foreign-born adolescents, navigate the school policies and structures, as implemented by the staff, and their fellow peers. To investigate these questions, this ethnography used participant observation, small group discussions, and interviews of students and staff at Voyager, a high school in the INPS, over the 2013-2014 school year.
This dissertation reports several significant findings. First, students from smaller national and linguistic groups are forced to integrate, while those of the majority home language group are allowed to dominate linguistically and socially. Whereas in most schools White (or sometimes Black) American students are centered as the norm, in this INPS school that nucleus forms around the numerical majority, in this case Spanish speakers. To accommodate this social fact, students from smaller linguistic groups learn and use elements of the locally dominant language, Spanish. Second, while the existing literature largely praises the INPS model, some INPS students resist school structures and pedagogical techniques that are key to the INPS model, such as heterogeneous grouping and collaborative projects. This dissertation sheds light on the complex social negotiations underway in an Internationals schools providing a more nuanced picture. This ethnography argues that student pedagogical and language ideologies should be considered especially where they disagree with specific INPS policies, such as schooling ELLs together in the same school without native English speakers. It also argues that there may be certain unintended consequences for the dominant language group in a multilingual environment i.e. students in the dominant language group may have limited English language acquisition and academic success. The Internationals model might currently be the best model for educating newcomer students, but a critical look into an INPS school and its impact on the lives of students provides a strong contribution and a healthy critique that may help improve the model further.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Varenne, Herve H.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 22, 2019