Although high schools in the United States use a wide range of interventions to increase school completion, a large number of students still drop out each year. Research has shown that, to be effective, interventions must facilitate engagement in learning and connectedness to school. The scale of the dropout crisis suggests that there is a significant population of students who may benefit from interventions that are more comprehensive than supplemental supports in a traditional school environment. The purpose of this phenomenological case study was to develop an understanding of the experience of successful students at an experiential high school in order to examine experiential education as a whole school approach to facilitating school completion. The fourteen participants were students who enrolled at an experiential high school after becoming disengaged at other schools. According to these students, the structures of an experiential high school—notably, projects, expeditions, advising, and a close-knit community—created a school experience of meaningful academic learning and strong relationships that made them feel valued as individuals. Projects and expeditions provided the context for relevant and meaningful learning experiences and created opportunities for relationships to emerge and strengthen. Students associated feelings of being accepted, challenged, and supported with the format of the school, including membership in a close-knit community and the centrality of the advisory relationship. For participants in this study, these experiences were part of a progression that began when students recognized they wanted to leave previous schools and ended when students reflected back on successes as they approached graduation.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. October 2015. Major: Educational Psychology. Advisor: Sandra Christenson. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 136 pages.
Determinants of school completion: Student perceptions of success at an experiential learning high school.
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