Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Pursuing a Dream: The Lived Experiences of Early Leavers and Their Return to Alternative High School

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Pursuing a Dream: The Lived Experiences of Early Leavers and Their Return to Alternative High School

Article excerpt

The importance of completing high school cannot be overestimated. It is well documented that failing to do so can have far reaching consequences for the individual and society in general (Canadian Council on Learning, 2009; Montmarquette, Viennot-Briot, & Dagenais, 2007; Polidano, Tabasso, & Tseng, 2015). Levin, Belfield, Muenning, and Rouse (2006) underscored the implications associated with education and asserted, "An individual's educational attainment is one of the most important determinants of their life chances in terms of employment, income, health status, housing and many other amenities" (p. 2). As noted by the Canadian Council on Learning (2009), although most people understand the fundamental importance of completing high school, less may appreciate the intangible and tangible costs associated with leaving school early. Cited costs highlighted by the Canadian Council on Learning include diminished personal growth, a reduced sense of control over one's life and life circumstances, and decreased personal satisfaction.

According to Ferguson, Tilleczek, Boydell, and Rummens (2006) a universally accepted definition of early school leaver or dropout does not exist. Consequently, these authors define early school leavers as, "students who leave school (not including transfers) before they graduate with a regular diploma" (p. 3). They also point out that students can leave school before entering the ninth grade however, most withdraw during high school.

To provide some context regarding this topic, the Province of Manitoba (Manitoba Education and Training, n.d.), reports that the provincial high school graduation rate for 2016 was 78.3%. However, a distinction between non-Indigenous and Indigenous populations can be drawn. More specifically, the graduation rate for non-Indigenous students was 86.2% and 47.6% for Indigenous students.

Ferguson, Tilleczek, Boydell, and Rummens (2006) investigated early school leavers. In doing so, they identified a myriad of factors that contribute to young people leaving school prior to graduation. These authors note that early school leaving is the consequence of a long process of disengagement and alienation, and they provided a detailed conceptual framework that considers macrosystem (e.g., societal and cultural influences), microsystem (e.g., neighborhood, family and peer/school factors), and mesosystem (e.g., relationship between school and home) factors. They also underscore that the risk factors associated with early leaving are multilevel, systemic, and cannot be isolated to one single issue.

Although substantial attention has been directed toward the personal and societal consequences associated with leaving high school prematurely, minimal attention has been devoted to the learners who return to school (Berliner & Barrat, 2009; Terry, 2008). Regarding the latter, Barrat, Berliner, and Fong (2012) elaborated, "The customary perception is that students who drop out vanish from school enrollment rosters for good. This is an incomplete picture of the complex dropout story; dropping out is not necessarily a permanent high school outcome" (p. 217). Despite less favorable academic experiences, personal challenges, and obstacles, there are early leavers who decide to return to school in pursuit of their high school diploma.

Although a comprehensive literature search revealed that information regarding the lived experiences of early leavers is unavailable, alternative education has a long history and can be traced back to three European philosopher/educators: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, and Friedrich Froebel (Miller, 1995). Miller (1995) cites Rousseau's 1762 influential book on alternative education, Pestalozzi's work in the early 1800's as well as the early work of Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. According to Miller (1995), alternative education evolved into a widespread social movement during the 1960's. …

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