Pushing the Boundaries: Education Leaders, Mentors, and Refugee Students

Jill Koyama, Julie Kasper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Purpose: In this study, we trace the work of refugee student–family mentors (mentors) in an Arizona school district who work across school–family boundaries. Utilizing boundary spanning theory, we examine how education leaders—teachers, school principals, assistant principals, and district administrators—work with the mentors. We document the interactions between the school leaders and the mentors and compare them with the interactions between the refugee families and the mentors. Research Methods/Approach: We draw on data collected in a 3-year ethnography of refugee networks and on a related set of extended interviews with refugee parents. Data includes interviews with refugee mentors, school leaders, and refugee parents, as well as interviews with staff members of refugee support organizations, resettlement agencies, and state programs. Observational fieldnotes and documents were also collected. Data analysis included emergent coding and theme comparison across all data. Conclusions: We demonstrate that the refugee parents respect and depend on the mentors, while school leaders often treat them as “helpers.” We analyze how the mentors are delegitimized by the actions of education leaders in schools, and also by their marginalization in the school district. We recommend additional research be conducted on how school districts interact with refugee students and families. We suggest that education leaders better support the work of staff who work with refugees and other culturally and linguistically diverse students by taking a resource inventory, clarifying staff roles, including parents in decision making, and making a commitment to build inclusive school communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-81
Number of pages33
JournalEducational Administration Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • boundary spanners
  • education leaders
  • ethnography
  • parents
  • refugees

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Public Administration


Dive into the research topics of 'Pushing the Boundaries: Education Leaders, Mentors, and Refugee Students'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this