Academic journal article High School Journal

School Characteristics That Influence Student Attendance: Experiences of Students in a School Avoidance Program

Academic journal article High School Journal

School Characteristics That Influence Student Attendance: Experiences of Students in a School Avoidance Program

Article excerpt

This study examined the reasons that four high school students who had previously refused to attend school willingly attended an alternative K-12 school for students with special needs. The two research questions that framed this study were (a) why do students who refused to attend their regular schools willingly attend Brookfield Park? and (b) in what ways is Brookfield Park different from traditional schools? In order to answer these questions, interviews were conducted with four students in grades 8-11 who attended a school avoidance program (SAP) at Brookfield Park, a public school in the Northeast. The four themes that emerged from these interviews as situations that motivated students to attend school were (a) school climate, (b) academic environment, (c) discipline, and (d) relationships with teachers. Interview data were combined with the researcher's observations as a teacher in the school as well as examination of students' attendance records.

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The issue of school non-attendance is an increasingly serious problem facing society The link between chronic absenteeism in high school and dropping out has been well documented (Attwood & Croll, 2006; Ekstrom, Goertz, Pollack, & Rock, 1986; Gleason & Dynarski, 2002; Mensch & Kandel, 1988), and dropping out has been associated with an increased likelihood of unemployment, dependency on welfare, and incarceration (Center on Education Policy & American Youth Policy Forum, 2001; Harlow, 2003; Snyder & Sickmund, 1995; Sum, et al., 2003). Because of the impact this problem has on society in both social and economic terms, solutions clearly need to be explored.

Research into the issues of school non-attendance, truancy, and dropping out, has traditionally examined social, family, and personal variables that place students at risk for such behaviors. However, from my interviews with students who were previous non-attenders, it was apparent that the cause of their detachment from school lay within the school setting itself. Likewise, positive characteristics of the school setting were related to their motivation for attending an alternative education site.

Although research has been conducted on the reasons students disengage from school (Christenson, Sinclair, Lehr, & Godber, 2001; Trusty & Dooley-Dickey, 1993), skip school (Elliot, 1999; Roderick, 1994; Rumberger, 1995), and drop out of school (Christenson, et al., 2001; Ekstrom, et al., 1986; Mensch & Kandel, 1988), little research has been conducted on the factors that motivate students to attend school. This critical gap needs to be filled, as it sheds light on the motivating factors within schools, which if known, can direct school reform.

Categories of School Non-Attenders

A focus in the extant literature has been the identification and labeling of different categories of students with behavior most commonly referred to as "school refusal" (Bernstein & Garfinkel, 1986; Elliott, 1999; Granell de Aldaz, et al., 1994; Kearney, Eisen, & Silverman, 1995; Last, et al., 1987; Ollendick & Francis, 1988; Paige, 1996; Phelps, Cox, & Bajorek, 1992; Thyer & Sowers-Hoag, 1986, 1988). Recently, Pellegrini (2007) proposed that students' behavior should be described as "extended school non-attendance," which presents the behavior in neutral terms and directs attention to the school environment. In line with this reasoning, the term "school non-attendance" will be used in this paper, except when specifically referring to research on "truants." Most researchers maintain the distinction between truants--conceptualized as those who skip school without their parents' knowledge and attend intermittently (Pilkington & Piersel, 1991; Reid, 1993), and those with "school phobia" (Phelps, Cox, & Bajorek, 1992; Retting & Crawford, 2000). It is generally agreed that the latter do not willingly skip school, but do so out of chronic fear or anxiety (Fremont, 2003; Heyne & Rollings, 2004; Kearney, Eisen, & Silverman, 1995; Phelps, et al. …

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