PhD in Public Policy

Grace Valenzuela ’15

Career

Current position: Director, Multilingual & Multicultural Center, Portland Public Schools

As the Multilingual and Multicultural Center for Portland Public Schools, Valenzuela oversees the district’s English Language Development and World Language Programs. Her professional experiences in the United States, Philippines, and Mexico include teaching, curriculum development, staff development, program administration, and grant writing and management. She has extensive experience in training high school teachers all over the country, and international experience with non-governmental agencies specializing in refugee work. 

Degrees and Certifications:

  • PhD in Public Policy with a concentration in Educational Leadership and Policy, University of Southern Maine, 2015
  • Certificate of Advanced Studies in Educational Leadership, University of Southern Maine
  • MA in Teaching English as a Second Language, School for International Training, Brattleboro, Vermont
  • BS in Education - English, Philippine Normal College, Manila

Memberships:

  • Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society

Dissertation

Title: Academic Performance of High School Students from Refugee Backgrounds

Abstract: The American narrative of immigrant success, measured in economic and educational attainment, has been examined in numerous studies. The term “immigrant” is typically used to encompass all students and families who are foreign-born. Most of the research on educational achievement, acculturation, and assimilation of immigrants in the United States focuses on that broad definition of newcomers, and does not always distinguish among various categories of immigrants such as refugees and asylees. The existing research conflates the data from those groups, and has largely failed to account for the variance in the migration histories of refugees and immigrants:  those who are forced to leave their countries, and those who choose to do so.

The purpose of this study was to examine the underlying conditions that contribute to the academic achievements of first-, second-, and 1.5-generation high school students from refugee backgrounds. The study utilized two major theoretical frameworks: the refugee flight kinetic model of displacement (Kunz, 1973); and background determinants for immigrant success (Portes and Macleod, 1999; Portes and Rumbaut, 2006). A conceptual framework incorporating spheres of influences – individual student factors, family factors, and community factors -- which research has found to be critical to the academic achievement of refugee students was utilized as an organizing structure.

Using an ex post facto research design, the study examined factors that influence academic achievements of students from refugee backgrounds. The high-school grade point averages of 350 students, along with their reading, math, writing and total scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, were analyzed. The students in that cohort were:  born outside the country and came to the United States as refugees; or were born in the United States to parents who entered the country as refugees; or came to the United States seeking asylum. Findings revealed that their generations, their English proficiencies, their immigration status, the education of their mothers, and their migration histories had statistically significant impacts on the academic achievements of students from refugee backgrounds. The study points to potential policy development implications, and offers directions for future research on refugee resettlement.