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Abstract

Each year, 20% of U.S. students drop out of high school (Balfanz, Bridgeland, Bruce, & Fox, 2013). There is an abundance of research on student behaviors from researchers who explored the process of student disengagement from school (Bowers, Sprott, & Taff, 2013; Lessard, Butler-Kisber, Fortin, Marcotte, Potvin, & Royer, 2008), however there is a lack of understanding of why students disengage in the first place. This study was conducted to examine students’ perceptions of the effect of an alternative high school on their decision to either graduate or drop out.

Face-to-face interviews were conducted with ten former students and three staff members from an alternative high school. Half of the former student participants who reengaged by attending the alternative high school graduated and half of them did not. The former students perceived that relationships between staff members and students led to the success of the alternative high school. They believed that push-out factors at the traditional high school caused their disengagement, and that they exercised autonomy in their choices of whether pull-out factors would impact their decision to graduate or drop out. The former students shared that personalized instruction and peer-to-peer learning encouraged them to feel ownership for their learning and taught them to respect fellow students and teachers. Data from the teacher and administrator interviews provided additional information about the workings of the alternative high school.

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