DOI (Digital Object Identifier)
Leadership and Higher Education
Doctor of Education (Ed.D)
Philip S. Mirci, Ph.D.
Robert Denham, Ph.D.
Christopher H. Hunt, Ed.D.
education; alternative education; at-risk students; caring teacher-student relationships; continuation high school; personalized learning environment; smaller learning environment
Educational Leadership | Secondary Education
Comprehensive high schools have been unable to meet the needs of all students (Cotton, 2004). Students face challenges, and some have been labeled at risk for various reasons. These students constitute a unique group who often require more time, energy, and resources than large, comprehensive schools can offer. Consequently, they fall behind on credits and get discouraged (Cotton, 2004). To reduce dropout rates, educators in comprehensive high schools may need to adopt new attitudes toward at-risk students (Knoeppel, 2002). Various reform efforts have not led to change at the systems level, and schools operate according to a design based on the needs of an industrial society. The failure of students to succeed in school is a critical problem. This is because the needs of an information-based society require people to possess informational and technological literacy (SCANS, 1991).
This qualitative research examined the perceptions of 10 at-risk students regarding their experiences of attending a large comprehensive high school before transferring to an alternative high school. Students' perceptions were examined and described in terms of how the comprehensive high school either supported or failed to address their academic, personal, and emotional needs. The results indicated that the students felt discourage, disconnected, and unsupported while at the comprehensive high school. The large school and class sizes, coupled with a negative school culture and lack of positive, caring teacher-student relationships, pushed students to fail their classes. When the students failed their classes and fell behind on their credits, they gave up hope of graduating and even believed they would not have much of a future after high school. After transferring to a smaller continuation high school, students were successful, felt supported and cared for, and believed they could graduate and have a productive life after high school.
Three key factors that led to student success were a smaller learning environment, sufficient academic and personal support, and caring teacher-student relationships. Insights attained from the results of this study may help teachers, counselors, and site and district administrators more effectively support at-risk students in comprehensive and alternative high schools.
Loomis, Corey Campbell, "Secondary “At-risk” Students' Perceptions of Experiences within a Comprehensive High School and a Continuation High/Alternative High School" (2011). Ed.D. Dissertations in Leadership for Educational Justice. 29.