Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


First Advisor

Jenelle Reeves

Date of this Version



Linzell, Cindy H. 2017. Driven by dreams: Immigrant stories of education, a gatekeeper exam and a high school diploma. M.A.Thesis: University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education, Under the Supervision of Professor Jenelle Reeves. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2017

Copyright (c) 2017 Cindy H. Linzell


High school in the United States is an important time in any student’s life. For many students, the four years of high school are framed with classroom success and the earning of a high school diploma. For others, it is a very difficult time in their lives.

In the state of Nebraska, students are not permitted to continue their education in a public school setting past the age of 21. This age limit creates a deadline where the passing of classes and graduation tests becomes crucial if these students hope to earn their high school diploma. While the majority of students will not be affected by this deadline, there are students in the Lincoln Public School system for whom this deadline is significant. These are the students who participated in this study.

This study focuses on a group of ten immigrant students who are close to aging out of Lincoln Public Schools, and have yet to meet the Reading Demonstration Graduation Exam (RDGE), a requirement for graduation, thus making the deadline significant. Interviews with each of the students were conducted to better understand the nature of the school experience and to explore how the RDGE impacts student choices, their school experiences and their future. These students, who range in age from 19-21, are immigrants from Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kurdistan, North Sudan and Vietnam.

A detailed description of each student’s interview provides insight into the unique circumstances which brought them to this very difficult time period in their lives. A high school graduation predictor, utilizing age, RDGE status, ELL and/or Reading class level and status, are included for each student. A cross-case analysis of the students reveals two common topics: the importance of education and access to education. A third topic, becoming a minority, will also be discussed. Utilizing research, along with the data provided by the students and the cross-case analysis, recommendations for the RDGE are given. Further training for teachers and guidance counselors, with the help of immigrant community members, is also recommended.

Advisor: Jenelle Reeves