Date of Award

Spring 2011

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas H Schram


Youth who are at risk of dropping out of high school are often challenged by significant emotional and behavioral support needs, and are typically disengaged from the educational process and the social networks that can help them succeed in their homes, in school, and in their communities. This research project investigated the experiences of four youth, two females and two males, who were at significant risk of dropping out of high school as they were engaged in a supportive intervention designed to build skills in self-determination, school-to-adult life transition planning, and leveraging social resources. Using social capital as a sensitizing concept, the researcher spent 18 months in the field using an ethnographic methodology to collect and analyze narratives from the four youth. Through an iterative process of coding, grouping, re-coding, categorizing and contextualizing the data, the analysis identified four social processes that were critical to the meaning-in-context perceptions of the youth as they engaged in the intervention: positive reciprocity, negative reciprocity, agency and control of social goods. These social processes occurred within contexts or situational elements that converged across youth and across events. The analysis culminates with a description of four critical purposes of the youth's responses and social actions: to attain success, to avoid harm, to maintain relationships, and to increase control. The researcher found that each youth wanted to be successful in the traditional academic and vocational senses, however, multiple environmental, contextual, and relationship factors worked to thwart their social inclusion and hampered their abilities to access social goods. The researcher also found that attempts by adults to control the actions or outcomes for each youth were unsuccessful. In effect each youth accepted help and guidance only in the context of what they perceived as a caring relation. The analysis concludes with recommendations for additional research and for practice in schools.