Academic journal article High School Journal

Redefining the Experiences of Students in Continuation High Schools: A Narrative Profile of a Latino Youth

Academic journal article High School Journal

Redefining the Experiences of Students in Continuation High Schools: A Narrative Profile of a Latino Youth

Article excerpt

Continuation education programs have increased over the last fifty years and the fact that there is a gap in knowledge on how they serve students is of great concern as they enroll a marginalized student population (Kelly, 1993; Malagon, 2011). This exploratory qualitative case study draws on narrative profiles to illustrate the experiences of Esteban, a Latino male, attending an urban public continuation high school in one of the largest school districts in the nation. This study draws on a larger sociocultural framework and ecological theories to understand how Esteban navigates various ecological spaces (i.e. home, school, and neighborhood) and how they shape the way he engages in continuation school (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Figueroa, 2016; Smith, 2002; Vygotsky, 1978). Esteban's narrative profile highlights the support and challenges within the various ecological spaces and how they unfold during the process of reintegrating into school. This study contributes to the literature as the narrative of Esteban challenges the deficit frame on continuation schools and it documents the collective action of his family, caring educators, and community partnerships that have advocated for him to reach his academic goals. Further policy, research, and practice implications are explored to support students in alternative schools and programs.

Keywords: Latino males, continuation schools, alternative schools, case study, narrative profiles


I felt whenever I did something wrong they wanted me out even more, rather than trying to help me and fix the situation. They rather just transferred me and let another school deal with me and that's how it was for a good while. (Esteban)

Esteban (pseudonym) is one of tens of thousands of students pushed out of traditional schools in the United States each year as a consequence of school suspension and expulsion policies (Gregory, Skiba, & Noguera, 2010; Skiba et al., 2011). Like Esteban, many students attend schools that have not served them well, and, as a result, they encounter significant academic difficulties and alienation from school (Gregory et al., 2010; Skiba et al., 2011). In his own words, presented in the epigraph of this study, Esteban provided a description of a practice commonly referred to by administrators and scholars as exclusion. He was handed off from one institution to another--treated as a "problem" that nobody wanted to educate. As a result, the process of exclusion led to time out of the classroom and delays in (re)admission to school, both of which can lead to significant gaps in learning and difficulties in reintegrating back into school (Brown, 2013; Gandara & Contreras, 2009; Gregory et al., 2010; Kennedy-Lewis, 2012). Once excluded, Esteban and many other youth transition into alternative schools which serve to provide a different education for students who have been labeled at risk as they might have dropped out, are pregnant or parenting, have behavioral problems, or need a more flexible schedule to accommodate work or other responsibilities (Foley & Pang, 2006; Kelly, 1993; Warren, 2016).

In California, the term "alternative school" refers to seven types of schools and programs that provide a range of academic and social needs for students (see Warren, 2016, p. 3). This study examines one of the seven types of alternative schools in particular, continuation schools (1), which are one of the oldest and largest dropout prevention programs in the state. In 1965, only 13 continuation high schools existed in California (Kelly, 1993; Malagon, 2011), and as of 2016, there were 452 continuation high schools located in urban, rural, and suburban communities through the state (California Department of Education [CDE], 2016). In addition to their rapid growth, California's continuation schools serve nearly 10 percent of the high school student population. This includes an overrepresentation of low-income, students of color, non-English speaking students, specifically Latino males (Malagon, 2011; Warring Jr, 2015). …

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