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“What We’re Doing Here Matters": School Culture of a California Model Continuation High School

  • Author(s): Hernandez, Edwin
  • Advisor(s): Teranishi, Robert T
  • et al.

In educational research, narratives exist about the unfulfilled promise of continuation schools as many of them are not living up to their full potential; many argue that continuation school students are not adequately being prepared beyond high school (Kelly, 1993; Ruiz de Velasco et al., 2008). This narrative poses threats to these environments by stigmatizing continuation schools, dehumanizing students for their failure, blaming educators for the lack of student success, with little attention to the institutional and structural barriers that might impede students from thriving personally and academically. To gain a deeper understanding of the school culture of a continuation school, this study examines Puente Baluarte Continuation High School, a continuation high school that serves a high proportion of racial/ethnic minority youth and has been deemed a model institution.

This qualitative case study is framed within theories of cultural production which draws closer attention to how students and educators construct and make meaning of their identities in these cultural spaces (Foley, Levinson, & Hurtig, 2000). In addition, the Paradigm to Understand and Examine Dropout and Engagement in Society (PUEDES) which examines and interrogates the structure, culture, and individual agency of students and educators (Rodriguez, 2013). Drawing on multiple sources of data including: 1) ethnographic observations, 2) document analysis, and 3) semi-structured interviews with students (n = 33) and educators (n = 9), this study presents narrative profiles of three students and three educators as a form of analysis and interpretation of the findings.

The focal narrative profiles document the assets and “imperfections” within the school structure and culture of Puente Baluarte (Lightfoot, 1983). For instance the findings demonstrate the agency and active involvement of continuation school youth in their communities and school. Furthermore, the experience of Black male students revealed some of the “imperfections” of the school, such as being harassed due to a school culture of control and hyper-surveillance. Despite these tensions, other students reported various sources of institutional support, specifically for foster youth and teen parents. Findings also demonstrate the importance of leadership and school structure, as educators described feeling supported by the school leadership and school district. In return, educators enacted their agency to expand opportunities to continuation youth in the classroom and strengthening their relationships with the community to build institutional capacity. Consequently, the educators in this study view continuation youth from an asset framework as they believe in providing a genuine alternative to the students they serve, opt to resist the social and academic stigma of continuation schools. The findings of this study have implications for policymakers, researchers, educators, as well as community agencies who work to intervene and provide the appropriate resources, programs, and support for this student population.

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