Study of Adolescent Lives after Migration to America (SALaMA)

The Study of Adolescent Lives after Migration to America (SALaMA) is a school-based, mixed-methods research project being conducted in several school districts across the United States, as part of an ongoing partnership between Washington University in St. Louis’s Brown School and QFI. The study seeks to assess the mental health and psychosocial well-being of high school students (age 13 years and older) resettled to the U.S. from Arab-majority countries. It also aims to identify the sources of daily stress in these students’ lives and the corresponding support mechanisms available to them. The study will not only generate important estimates about the needs of this growing subpopulation, it will also produce insight into their means of resilience and best practices taken by schools, communities, and parents to support students as they adjust to life in America.

Scope of the Study

Led by Professor Lindsay Stark from Washington University in St. Louis and Carine Allaf, Senior Programs Advisor at QFI, the study began in 2017. As of 2019, they have completed quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis in Harrisonburg, VA, and Austin, TX. A third site, Detroit, Michigan, was added in 2019 where data analysis is underway. In 2020, the team expanded partnerships with school districts, high schools, and civil society organizations in Chicago, Illinois, and Ireland. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, data collection in these new sites is currently on hold.

Across the three sites where data has been collected, the research team has conducted:

  • Focus group discussions
  • Interviews with parents/caregivers and key informants
  • Student Surveys


Austin, Texas

Qualitative research activities were conducted at two schools in the Austin Independent School District (AISD) in order to explore the lived experiences of newcomer students and their families, especially as they related to educational experiences and processes of integration. Data collection found that students prioritize the following ideas related to what it means to feel supported by a school:

  • Peer mentors, particularly more established newcomer students
  • A socially diverse school environment that supports integration
  • Extra help from teachers both in-class and after-school to help with English language acquisition

Learn more about the findings and recommendations from the study here.

Harrisonburg, Virginia

Quantitative data collection at Harrisonburg High School (HHS) in 2018 found that 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.

Additionally, student Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and interviews with parents/caregivers, and key informants from the school and community were conducted. Key findings included:

  • Insight into adjustment challenges for newcomers and strategies undertaken by families to adjust to the U.S.
  • The importance of school, peer, and community support
  • Student desire for proactive support from peers and school staff

Learn more about the findings and recommendations from the study here.

Detroit area, Michigan

The research team has begun a thematic analysis of the quantitative and qualitative data collected from three Michigan schools. With a large Arab population in the Detroit area stemming from several waves of immigration, researchers were able to analyze two critical groups: students born in the Middle East and North Africa and first-generation students whose parents immigrated to the US from the region. The themes from the Harrisonburg and Austin data will be incorporated in this analysis while developing new themes unique to data from the Detroit metro area.

Learn more about the background and methodology of the study here.


SALaMA is amassing one of the first and most extensive data sets on the wellbeing of Arabic-speaking newcomer students in high-income countries. Schools, educators, and peers can serve as the point of care and community for much-needed mental health and psychosocial support among these newcomers, who so often have experienced multiple adversities.

This data has the potential to help inform programming and policies to better support this population in America and beyond. We look forward to seeing the study expand to new sites around the world and inform school-based programming to better support newcomer adolescents and their families.

Published Articles from SALaMA

Ecologies of care: mental health and psychosocial support for war-affected youth in the U.S