Navigating the Brick Wall: School Settlement Workers’ Responses to Exacerbated Inequities for Newcomer Students in COVID-19

Willow Samara Allen, Amanda Gebhard, Fritz Pino


For newcomer students, inequities exacerbated by COVID-19, including racism, unfold within their educational landscapes. School settlement workers perform a critical role in newcomer students’ educational trajectories. COVID-19 has intensified the importance of school settlement work, yet school settlement workers remain an under-researched and under-recognized group of professionals. Anchored in an anti-racist, multidisciplinary framework, our article traces how COVID-19 measures in schools have magnified inequities for school settlement workers and newcomer students. Our data, drawn from a community-based project, consist of virtual focus groups held with school settlement workers located in a Canadian prairie province during the height of the pandemic, and the findings emerge through a critical approach to the methodology of appreciative inquiry. We illuminate systemic realities to contradict discourses that the pandemic does not discriminate and demonstrate how COVID-19 protocols are used to justify and obfuscate schooling exclusions along racial lines. We analyze themes of (in)visibility of settlement work, whiteness and racism, and resistance through Sara Ahmed’s (2012, 2017) metaphor of the brick wall to animate the tensions of settlement work in schools during COVID-19. We conclude with school settlement workers’ recommendations to increase recognition of their critical role and to support their work during and beyond the pandemic. We call on institutional wall makers to respond to settlement workers’ recommendations and actualize institutional commitments to newcomer students and families.



racism and schools; school settlement workers; COVID-19; newcomer students; immigrants and refugees

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