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Perspectives of Youth at Risk of School Failure: The Educational Experiences of Youth in Special Programs or Alternative Schools



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An abundance of research exists on youth at risk of school failure; however, in-depth qualitative studies that examine the perspectives of youth in Canadian schools are limited (Thiessen & Cook-Sather, 2007). In the spring of 2014, 12 youth from alternative schools and special programs, in one Saskatchewan urban setting, were interviewed. Rich qualitative data was gleaned from interviews to understand: What factors are most relevant to the success or failure in school for youth at risk? The term, at risk was defined for the purpose of this study based on attendance in an alternative school or special program verses a mainstream school. Alternative schools and special programs are designed to support youth struggling with a variety of issues that can stand in the way of school completion. These schools and programs support youth with a variety of concerns, including, but not limited to: truancy, behaviour, mental health, addictions, and other risk enhancing factors that exist in student’s personal lives (Cuddapah, Masci, Smallwood, & Holland, 2008; McCann & Austin, 1988). The participants in this study reflected on their needs, shared their school experiences, and made suggestions. Through an analysis of the interviews eight factors emerged as being relevant to success or failure in school: teachers, the work, relationships to staff in schools, supports in the school, school and classroom environment, peers, mental health and addictions, and transitions. Based on the eight factors, suggestions are made for schools to support the needs of those most at risk of school failure.



youth at risk, alternative schools, special programs, school failure, qualitative, youth perspectives, curriculum



Master of Education (M.Ed.)


Curriculum Studies


Curriculum Studies


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