Agency Outside the Margins: Identity Development of Youth Attending Alternative High Schools
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The purpose of this dissertation is to look at the identity development of youth throughout their first year attending two alternative high schools. Alternative schools fall in an interesting space of being able to provide innovative and supportive opportunities that are different from mainstream schooling, yet also alternative schools are part of a mechanism for sorting youth on the margins of education (Vadeboncoeur, 2009). This study examines the interaction of youth and the alternative school contexts they enter, focusing on the process of identity development and the resources in school that help support that identity development (Nasir, 2012). The youth in this study had chosen to enroll in the alternative schools because of previous marginalization or “risk”. The alternative schools took a “learning choice” perspective to youth (Raywid, 1999; te Riele, 2007), focusing on empowering youth and providing progressive alternatives to conventional schools. In the first chapter of this dissertation, I describe the problem space in which this study exists, looking at definitions of school and youth, risk, and identity development. In the second chapter, I explore alternative education and alternative schools, discussing the modern history of alternative education and definitions of alternative schools. In the third chapter, I present the theories that I use in this study – sociocultural literature and, within that, identity development, engagement, and community membership and belonging. For chapters five, six, and seven, I present my findings. I focus in chapter five and six on my two case studies. Each case looks at the interaction of one youth and one alternative high school. Chapter seven is a cross-case analysis of the two cases in chapters five and six. Major findings from these chapters include: a) Identity development was supported through roles that matter, where youth played an integral role in the school, b) Youth developed identities as a process of redefining school, success and learning, community, and individual narratives, c) Identity development included the process of negotiating contradictions between identities and conceptions of school, d) Identities were developed through iteration across the school year. Within the iteration that occurred, moments of performance and moments of risk and vulnerability helped thicken the identities youth developed. In the final chapter, I discuss each of the major findings and then focus on limitations, potential implications of this study, and directions for future research.
- Education - Seattle