First Presenter's Institution

University of North Georgia

Second Presenter's Institution

University of North Georgia

Third Presenter's Institution

University of North Georgia

Fourth Presenter's Institution

NA

Fifth Presenter's Institution

NA

Location

Sloane

Strand #1

Mental & Physical Health

Strand #2

Family & Community

Relevance

In this study, we worked closely with a community school partner to better understand the perceptions of alternative high school students in regards to the characteristics that they feel contribute to a mentally healthy school space. Using the definition of mental health offered by the World Health Organization, which suggests that a mentally healthy space is one in which individuals feel safe to thrive and realize their potential, we sought to give a platform for students to express their visions of a mentally healthy school. Due to the nature of this work as well as the gap it begins to fill in the literature base of alternative education, this work is directly related to both the mental and physical health theme of this conference as well as the theme focused on family and community.

Brief Program Description

This presentation, open to everyone but particularly designed for classroom teachers and school administrators, will offer the findings of a study focused on understanding alternative school students' perspectives on the components of a mentally healthy school space. Implications of the research will be shared in hopes that teachers and administrators will receive fresh ideas for innovating their classrooms and schools as more inclusive environments.

Summary

This presentation will offer the results of a qualitative study that utilized focus group research with alternative high school students in order to better understand their various perspectives of the components of a mentally healthy school space. Eight (n = 8) alternative high school students participated in the in-depth focus group. The results of the focus group were transcribed, coded using methods common to Grounded Theory research, and themes were developed.

Alternative schools are often a school system's frontline defense against school dropout (Souza, 1999) and often serve students labeled as "at-risk" (Conley, 2002). Our study pushes back against the rhetoric of risk and instead considers students "at-promise" (Swadener & Lubeck, 1995). This study offers a platform for the biggest stakeholders in alternative schools, the students, to express their concerns and ideas regarding mentally healthy school spaces. The definition of mental health offered by the World Health Organization was used in this study. This definition suggests that a mentally healthy environment is one in which individuals feel safe to thrive and realize their potential. The results of this study offered three major themes: "Care as Pedagogy," "Alternative Schools as Platforms for Identity Development," and finally, "Designed for Us: Purposefully Designed Classrooms." In this presentation, we will explore these themes and conclude by offering suggestions for classroom teachers and school administrators in regards to producing more mentally healthy and inclusive school spaces for students at-promise.

In addition, this study was made possible through a deliberate school/university partnership. Tips for developing university/school partnerships to support youth at-promise will also be explored at the conclusion of the presentation.

Evidence

This presentation is built upon previous published research by the presenter as well as previous research rooted in alternative education and mental health.

The study presented in this presentation was a funded study using Grounded Theory methodology.

Previous research (not including studies by the author) have suggested that a caring alternative school is a first line defense against school dropout (Epstein, 1992; Kim & Taylor, 2008; Lagana-Riordan et al., 2011; Quinn et al., 2006; Souza, 1999). The results of the study in this presentation supports the findings of these previous researchers and offers insight into school reform.

Format

Individual Presentation

Biographical Sketch

Adam W. Jordan is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at the University of North Georgia and regular education columnist at The Bitter Southerner where he co-authors the column, Southern Schooling. His research is focused on equitable alternative schools and supporting the notion of teachers as professionals. Prior to joining the faculty at UNG Adam was an alternative middle and high school teacher in Chatham County, NC as well as a traditional middle school teacher in Madison County, GA. He has a Ph.D. in Education and an M.Ed. for Experienced Teachers in Special Education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as a BS Ed. in Social Science Education from the University of Georgia.

Desmond Vaird is an undergraduate student in the Elementary/Special Education program at the University of North Georgia with aspirations of joining the teaching force in public schools in the near future. He was the 2016 Technical College System of Georgia's Adult Education Student of the Year and is a 2017 Faculty Undergraduate Summer Engagement grant recipient.

Allison Reilly is an undergraduate student in the Elementary/Special Education program at the University of North Georgia with aspirations of pursuing a career in alternative education. She is a 2017 Faculty Undergraduate Summer Engagement grant recipient.

Keyword Descriptors

Alternative Education, Alternative School, Mental Health, School Climate, School/University Partnerships

Presentation Year

2018

Start Date

3-7-2018 9:45 AM

End Date

3-7-2018 11:00 AM

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Mar 7th, 9:45 AM Mar 7th, 11:00 AM

Bridging the Gap: Understanding Student Perspectives of Mentally Healthy School Spaces in Alternative School Settings

Sloane

This presentation, open to everyone but particularly designed for classroom teachers and school administrators, will offer the findings of a study focused on understanding alternative school students' perspectives on the components of a mentally healthy school space. Implications of the research will be shared in hopes that teachers and administrators will receive fresh ideas for innovating their classrooms and schools as more inclusive environments.