Harrisonburg, located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, has a population of more than 54,000, with a relatively large percentage of the population being foreign-born – 17.2%. Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS) serves some 6,000 students, of whom a little under half (46%) were born outside the U.S. In Harrisonburg, data collection took place at the city’s only public high school – Harrisonburg High School – serving approximately 1,800 students.

Quantitative Findings: Mental Health & Psychosocial Outcomes

The quantitative research activities were conducted with two groups: (1) students from the general population at HHS and (2) students from Arab-majority and/or Middle Eastern countries at HHS.  A total of 181 students participated in the survey, 48 of whom were from Arab-majority countries. 

Among Students from Arab-Majority Countries

Overall, students from Arab-majority countries exhibited statistically similar outcomes of mental health and psychosocial wellbeing as compared to adolescents from the general population. The measure of prosocial behaviors served as an exception; students from Arab-majority countries scored higher on the prosocial scale than did those from the general population. Prosocial behaviors include being kind to others, sharing with others, helping others, and volunteering.  

Among Spanish-Speaking Students

Thirty-five students from Latin American and Caribbean countries participated in the survey and exhibited similarly interesting results in key outcomes. Spanish-speaking students exhibited statistically similar outcomes of mental health and psychosocial wellbeing as compared to adolescents from the Arabic sub-group, except for their level of resilience which was statistically worse. An interesting trend was also uncovered to show that this sub-group fared worse in most outcomes compared to the Arabic sub-group, though the results were not statistically significant.


Qualitative Findings: Key Themes

Adjustment Challenges: Families described considerable difficulty learning English, which undermined their career opportunities and ability to engage with public services, such as healthcare and education.

School and Community Supports: Schools and communities took numerous measures to support youths and their families.

Peer Support: Students took great comfort in one another’s friendship and support.

Family Stressors and Strategies: Parents used a variety of strategies to ease their children’s adjustment to life in the U.S. while simultaneously struggling to maintain their children’s connection with their cultural and religious heritage.

Participatory Ranking Method Results

The focus group discussions with students included a participatory ranking exercise in which they were asked to list and prioritize ideas related to what it means to feel supported by a school. Below are the top results for the three FGDs held with HHS students: