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A Path to Opportunity for Refugees

Refugee student

A global researcher, beloved teacher, and self-described lifelong learner, Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Ed.D.’09, champions education as a tool to create peaceful and participatory societies in conflict and post-conflict settings. Through her research, she identifies ways to improve refugee education and create communities of belonging. That focus — on creating welcoming communities in a climate of deep uncertainty — has become newly relevant in a different context, as the world grapples with displacement and disconnection in the era of coronavirus.

Across her career as a scholar, teacher, and mentor — and with her new REACH initiative — Sarah Dryden-Peterson focuses on creating communities where everyone can belong.

Dryden-Peterson’s scholarship focuses on factors that promote academic success for young refugees, while building awareness of the immense challenges refugees face. Over her career, she has conducted research and published papers on refugee youth and education in countries including Botswana, Syria, Lebanon, Kenya, Uganda, the United States, and more.

One key study, “Pathways to Educational Success Among Refugees: Connecting Locally and Globally Situated Resources,” followed Somali refugees who had completed secondary school and found that international aid is insufficient in guiding refugee students toward academic success. Their relationships with family, friends, and teachers provide far more critical motivation and mentorship. The study, co-authored with Negin Dahya and Elizabeth Adelman, Ed.M.’08, Ed.D.’18, won the Palmer O. Johnson Memorial Award and had direct implications for practice, including a new consideration of virtual supports for students who are isolated from their communities.

In late 2019, Dryden-Peterson announced the launch of the REACH (Research, Education, and Action to create Change and Hope) initiative. With the goal of fostering welcoming communities and high-quality education in settings of migration and displacement around the world, REACH provides resources for K-12 educators, policymakers, and researchers in four key areas: integration and belonging, globalization and migration, conflict transformation, and quality education.

“In our work globally, education emerges as the number one priority for refugee young people and their families as a way to create opportunities and build futures,” Dryden-Peterson has said. “REACH is part of our contribution to the global endeavor to ensure that all young people in settings of migration and displacement have access to quality and inclusive education and to welcoming communities."

This care and inclusiveness extends to Dryden-Peterson’s own teaching at HGSE, where she uses her research expertise to train new generations of qualitative researchers.

 “Learning from Sarah Dryden-Peterson means learning how to bring your whole self to your research, teaching, and advocacy,” says doctoral candidate Sarah Rendon Garcia, Ed.M.’12. “She prioritizes respect and love as an adviser, mentor, and scholar.” – Sarah Garfinkel

Learn More and Connect

Learn more about the REACH Initiative.

Read a feature in Harvard Ed. magazine about refugee education.

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