Pushing Back on School Pushout: Youth at an Alternative School Advocate for Educational Change Through Youth Participatory Action Research
Author(s)Burbach, Jessica Hopson
KeywordsDiscrimination in education
Action research in education
Curriculum and Instruction
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AbstractIn the United States, a staggering four thousand students drop out every school day. Moreover, in 2016, the graduation rate in Oregon was only 74.8%, one of the lowest in the nation. Research shows that a disproportionate number of youth leaving school are from historically marginalized communities. Many of these youth resiliently return to education at alternative schools. This research sought to explore the educational experiences of youth in alternative schools in their own voices and perspectives. From a theoretical framework based in sociocultural theory, cultural capital, and critical theory, this study underscored the importance of youth voice in changing the education system by incorporating qualitative methods and YPAR (Youth Participatory Action Research). Working alongside seven youth co-researchers who attended an alternative school in Oregon, we interviewed eight other students at the same school about their educational experiences and perceptions of the education system. The youth co-researchers and I co-constructed four themes collectively: "I felt invisible to the teachers"; "Teaching is a sacred act'; "Regular high school is like drowning, it's cruel"; and "Dropping out was [actually] a success." We also compiled counternarratives in the words of the eight student participants, which highlighted how the school system pushed them out despite their desire to learn. Finally, we spoke truth to power, in solidarity with the youth in this study, by presenting our recommendations for educational change to teachers, including how they can co-create spaces with students that foster care and empathy, value youth voice, and are culturally sustaining and identity affirming.