Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Educational Leadership

First Advisor

Dr. Uldis Smidchens

Second Advisor

Dr. Shirley Van Hoeven

Third Advisor

Dr. David Cowden


This dissertation examined the “fit of school and Me” from at-risk students’ perspectives. The purpose of the study was to gain insight into at-risk students’ views on what school elements were necessary and helpful in their achieving success, in their seeing hope, and in their choosing to remain in school.

Promising practices of affective/nurturing and cognitive/learning gleaned from the literature review of success producing school components were examined within the context of most favorite and least favorite classrooms during focus group interviews with junior high school and senior high school at-risk and non-at-risk students. Students were asked to compare and contrast those classroom settings to identify promising practices which contributed to their school success. Personal surveys were used for students to identify their most desired classroom elements and their valued evidences of success.

Focus group interviews were video-taped and scripted, then the content was analyzed using categories of nurturing (the teacher liking me, having time for me and using caring practices) and learning (mastery learning, knowing how to do school, teacher expectations, communication of success, progress, cooperative learning, problem solving, conflict management, and experiential learning). Hypotheses of differences between at-risk and non-at-risk were tested.

Comparison of at-risk and non-at-risk students’ perceptions resulted in conclusions about at-risk students’ views on necessary and helpful components for school success. At-risk students required relational components of the teacher liking me. They benefited from teacher-directed learning, strategies for how to do school, processing time, experiential and multisensory learning, and relevance of learning to their immediate worlds. At-risk students valued the same evidences of success as non at- risk students did, but at-risk students needed more support (advocacy and cheerleading) to be successful. All findings led to the conclusion that all components of school, that is, teaching, processing and interacting, must be infused with nurturing to assist at-risk students in perceiving hope for school success.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access