Peacock Scholarship

Self-Control Themes in Reflective Writings of At-Risk High School Students' as Indicators of Post-Prevention Behavioral and Academic Growth

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In 2010-2011, urban high schools across New Jersey reported suspension rates that ranged between 10 and 20%. This rate translated into increased dropout rates and low graduation rates. The purpose of this study was to examine the factors that influenced suspension rates, dropout rates and graduation rates of an urban New Jersey high school. More specifically, this study began as an inquiry into the effectiveness of the Student Youth Development (SYD) program, an alternative to an in-school and out-of-school suspension developed to help at-risk students to recognize and replace dysfunctional behavioral and academic decisions. An innovative practice, added to SYD in its fourth year, was assigning the student to write a reflective essay. The theoretical lens for this mixed-methods study was Duckworth’s concepts of grit and the value of self-control in the expression of learners who demonstrate grit (Duckworth, Gendler & Gross, 2014), The assumption that guided this study was that students who expressed self-control were more likely than those who did not to develop appropriate school behaviors and complete their courses for the year. Six coders, who were educators in the high school trained to recognize expressions of self-control, read 30 reflective essays written by at-risk students during the first semester of the 2015-2016 school year, examining them for themes of self-control. The student-authors’ self-control scores were then compared to their subsequent behavioral and academic performances. While the multiple comparisons found no statistically significant correlation between self-control themes and a student’s behavioral and academic outcomes, the patterns of students’ subsequent performances did show that participating in the SYD program yielded moderately significant positive outcomes with respect to the subsequent behavior records and academic performances of the at-risk students. In debriefings that followed the coding of the essays, staff members articulated the value of the concept of self-control for understanding and interacting with the at-risk students. Based upon these unanimous reports, the researcher recommends the following interventions: the implementation of emotional intelligence training for staff and students; opportunities for reflective writing in the History and English curriculum; and, the addition of a certified counselor to proactively assist students with emerging issues of character development.

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  • 10/12/2023
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