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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Former students' perceptions of the impact of their alternative education experiences : a narrative inquiry Hofer, Gigi


Large numbers of North American youth are disengaging from and dropping out of school. These youth are increasingly either being placed in, or electing to attend a growing number of alternative education programs (AEPs). Unfortunately, attendance at AEPs often results in the further marginalization of struggling students because (a) relatively little research has identified effective practices within AEPs and (b) negative conceptions of AEPs and of the students who attend them abound. To contribute to the growing body of research identifying effective alternative education practices and to provide an authentic view of these contexts and youth, I examined former students’ perceptions of (a) their experiences in AEPs and (b) the impact their experiences in AEPs had on their lives both during and after attendance. Two semi-structured narrative interviews were conducted with six participants who attended four different AEPs. All participants were female—no males volunteered to participate. The first research interview captured participants’ perspectives on their experiences at the AEPs generally. The second focussed on their perceptions of whether and how characteristics of the AEPs addressed their needs and were linked to outcomes both during and after they attended the programs. Holistic-content analyses identified themes within interviews and a thematic analysis identified themes across narratives. Interviews with former teachers and document analyses provided additional contextual information. The former AEP student participants described characteristics of the AEPs they attended that they perceived addressed their unique and varied social, emotional, and academic needs and facilitated their success, not only while they were attending, but beyond their time at the AEPs. Analyses revealed seven predominant themes across their narratives: relationships with a key teacher and with other students; counselling services; the identification, use, and development of personal strengths; flexibility and structure in the organization of academic learning; life skills learning; exercising control over the goings-on and culture at the AEP; and a homelike physical set-up. My study contributes to the promising new field of research investigating the impact of AEP practices from the perspective of students. This approach contrasts the majority of previous research that has ignored the voices of these key stakeholders.

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