Listening To The Voices of Four At-Risk Learners in One Alternative Environment
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For many learners the school system works. Skills and knowledge are learned, social relationships are formed, and positive self-esteem and self-image as a learner lead to accomplishments such as a secondary school diplomas, opportunities for further education, and futures filled with a litany of choices. For others diplomas are not forthcoming, nor are futures bright with hope and opportunity. Schools in Ontario have struggled to develop engaging and meaningful programs for these other students; students identified as “at-risk” of not successfully completing secondary school. Making up nearly 30% of the secondary school population (King, 2004), these students struggle or fail to meet curriculum expectations often resulting in missed opportunities for the development of a solid framework for life-long learning. Educators grapple with the question of how to support at-risk students in classrooms and schools. This study provides an often overlooked perspective to the existing literature on pedagogy, curriculum, and programming for at-risk students; that of the learner. It gives a voice to at-risk students and offers educators and policy makers insights into how at-risk students experience learning, how they feel they learn best, what they need from their school setting, and what they identify as meaningful to their lives and their learning. Listening to the voices of at-risk students provides an authentic perspective of how to best serve at-risk students. This thesis tells the story of four at-risk students (key informants) in an alternative educational setting. In addition, one educational assistant, identified by key informants, provided information about the setting and further insights into key informants’ engagement in the curriculum and their learning. This study reveals stories of at-risk learners and what they see as relevant and necessary for active engagement with school and learning.