Using a Psychoeducational Approach to Increase the Self-Esteem of Adolescents at High Risk for Dropping Out

By Wells, Don; Miller, Mark et al. | Adolescence, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Using a Psychoeducational Approach to Increase the Self-Esteem of Adolescents at High Risk for Dropping Out


Wells, Don, Miller, Mark, Tobacyk, Jerome, Clanton, Robert, Adolescence


Over 10% of white adolescents, 15% of African-American adolescents, and 35% of Hispanic adolescents drop out of school (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1995). In addition, Kelly (1963) contends that many young adolescents continue to attend school even though they have mentally dropped out.

There are numerous reasons why adolescents drop out of school, including lack of interest in school, low grades, misconduct, low reading and math abilities, financial problems, personality problems, parental influence, family background, and other socioeconomic factors (Browne & Rife, 1991; Buhrmester, 1990; Horowitz, 1992; Kupersmidt & Coie, 1990; Sarigiani et al., 1990; Zarb, 1984). Finally deciding to drop out, however, appears to be a decision made over time. Many adolescents, by the time they do drop out, have lost all confidence in their ability to succeed in school (Nunn & Parish, 1992) and have developed feelings of inferiority (Cairns, Cairns, & Neckerman, 1989). This study addresses the issue of feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem in adolescents. Specifically, it describes the changes in self-esteem of high-risk students who participated in an eight-week residential program designed to reduce dropout rates.

METHOD

An eight-week summer program was designed and implemented to prevent high-risk adolescents from dropping out of school. Identified by their high school counselors as being at high risk for dropping out, participants were provided a total immersion curriculum which included academic and vocational instruction, as well as personal counseling services. They were housed on a southern university campus for the entire eight weeks, including weekends. Five days a week, participants received four hours of academic instruction by master's level school teachers and four hours of vocational instruction. Each evening, they received 1-4 hours of individual and/or group counseling by counseling psychology graduate students.

Participants

The participants were 80 economically disadvantaged adolescents who were at high risk for dropping out. They ranged from 14 to 16 years of age. There were 32 females and 48 males.

Instrument

The Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory-School Form (Coopersmith, 1986) was administered to measure the participants' self-esteem. This 58-item measure consists of five subscales: General Self; Social Self-Peers, Home-Parents, School-Academic, and Total Self. A pretest was administered to participants upon entry into the program, and a posttest administration was completed eight weeks later, just prior to leaving the program.

RESULTS

Table 1 provides the results of the two administrations of the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory-School Form for participants in the program. Significant differences were found between pretest and posttest self-esteem total scores (i.e., Total Self) (t = 3.24, p < .003), as well as between Home-Parents subscale scores (t = 4.22, p <.001).

A follow-up study of participants' school retention rates was conducted over the two years directly after participation in the dropout prevention program. The first year after intervention yielded a dropout rate of zero. Following the second year, the dropout rate of participants was 6%. For a control group of similar individuals not receiving intervention, the dropout rate was 21.2% for the same time period.

DISCUSSION

The psychoeducational theory providing the foundation of the program involved removing adolescents from their current home environments. Therapists and educators were then afforded the opportunity of presenting an alternative to their current course, that is, potentially dropping out of school. In addition to increasing academic abilities and providing prevocational training, the program offered participants the opportunity to consult with counselors on a daily basis, all of which most likely contributed to the success of the program in reducing dropout rates. …

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