Skip to main content

The Research

The Context

This research sought to capture the perspectives and experiences of multilingual learners and immigrant-origin youth and families, as well as the educators that serve them, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amidst this unprecedented health crisis, we recognized the imperative to focus on this large, growing, and often marginalized population of students and families in US schools. Long prior to the pandemic, gaping inequities characterized the educational opportunities and outcomes of students labeled as ELs (Center for Education Policy Analysis, 2019; Fry, 2008). Given the potential of the COVID-19 pandemic and pandemic-related distance learning to exacerbate inequities for ELs (e.g., Chen, 2021; Sayer & Braun, 2020), we prioritized this research to understand the perspective and experiences of students, families, and educators. This centered on three distinct contexts in the Midwestern United States with large populations of immigrant-origin families in urban, suburban, and small-town settings.

Research Questions

Conducted during SY2020-2021 and SY2021-2022, this two-phase longitudinal study sought to understand experiences during distance learning (i.e., Phase 1) and following the return to school for in-person learning (i.e., Phase 2).

We invited the participation of families and educators to garner holistic understandings of the focal contexts. For families, we investigated: (a) How do EL/immigrant-origin children and families perceive and maneuver distance learning? (b) In what ways do EL/immigrant-origin children learn and develop while sheltering at home? (c) What mediates EL/immigrant-origin children’s learning and well-being during distance learning? For teachers, we probed: (d) How do educators perceive and facilitate distance learning for EL/immigrant-origin children and families? (e) How do educators perceive and facilitate the return to classroom learning for EL/immigrant-origin children? (f) What factors support or deter educators in maneuvering the “new normal” of pandemic-era schooling?


We used a qualitative comparative case study design (Merriam, 1998), including the collection and analysis focus groups, interviews, and documentation data across three sites.

School leaders supported our recruitment of voluntary participation from families (N = 15) and educators (N = 35), followed by the coordination of Zoom interviews and focus groups with willing participants. Data were collected in both English and Spanish, depending on the preference of the participants. All data were audio recorded and transcribed to prepare for analyses. The Loyola research team iteratively analyzed the data (Erickson, 1986), including preliminary deductive analysis to discern emergent themes and inductive analysis using the coding scheme. Researchers used the findings to draft (a) detailed reports with site-specific findings and recommendations for each partner context and (b) holistic findings and recommendations to push forward post-pandemic educational policies and practices in PK-12 schools, which are forthcoming.


Center for Educational Policy Analysis. (2019). Racial and ethnic achievement gaps. Retrieved from https://cepa.stanford.edu/educational-opportunity-monitoring-project/ achievement-gaps/race/ 

Chen, E. X. (2021). Supporting online learning in an unfamiliar language: Immigrant parents and remote schooling during COVID-19. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 23(3), 62-78. 

Erickson, F. (1986). Qualitative methods in research on teaching. In M. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (pp. 119-161). New York: MacMillan. 

Fry, R. (2008). The role of schools in the English language learner achievement gap. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center. 

Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Sayer, P., & Braun, D. (2020). The disparate impact of COVID‐19 remote learning on English learners in the United States. TESOL Journal, 11(3), e00546.