Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Sue Poppink

Second Advisor

Dr. Jianping Shen

Third Advisor

Dr. Michele Siderman


ELL, English language learner, grit, internal fortitude


Immigrants and English Language Learners (ELL) continue to receive attention in the research literature due in part to the continued immigration of families to the U.S. and the continued increasing number of students enrolled in U.S. schools under the ELL designation. The robust influx of immigrant’s school enrollment is reflected in schools across the country as classrooms are transformed from predominantly mono-cultural and mono-lingual environments to multi-cultural and multi-lingual ones. Unfortunately, the national average graduation rate for ELLs is a much lower than native-born students. The economic, social, and mental health ramifications for failing to graduate high school are dramatic; therefore, it is critical that immigrant ELL students are academically successful in high school.

This study explored the unique experiences of immigrant ELL high school students. Specifically, the research questions guiding the study included how do immigrant ELL students make sense of the supports and obstacles that they encountered during high school and how do the make sense of the internal fortitude needed to overcome any obstacles? A basic exploratory qualitative study was undertaken to answer the research questions driving my study. Data was collected through one-on-one interviews with my participants, which allowed for their experiences to be heard in their own words.

Findings included the importance of having a support network such as agency caseworkers, lawyers, and other types of professionals, loving foster family, and dedicated teachers accustomed to working with the immigrant ELL population. Other findings included the obstacles that were encountered such as the language barrier, familial issues, and the impact of one’s homeland circumstances on their formal schooling. The last finding was the role of internal fortitude and how it was a critical component to the school success of the participants in my study. The specific categories of internal fortitude were called grit and self-efficacy, which allowed my participants to overcome the obstacles that they encountered and ultimately graduate high school.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access