Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Leadership in Urban Schools

First Advisor

Tricia Kress

Second Advisor

Ray Shurtleff

Third Advisor

Jessica Geier


This Youth Participatory Action Research study explores how alternative education has been reconceptualized in UpStream, MA, a low-income community with a low graduation rate. This project was conducted by an alternative high school student researcher and myself. I chose YPAR because as a methodology, it gives a typically marginalized population of students a voice and an opportunity for their expert voices to be heard. My co-researcher and I gathered data through the use of slambooks (anonymous journals), interviews, school artifacts, and other data sources. Through our analysis we illustrate how the educators at Perseverance Achievement Academy (the alternative school) have refashioned alternative education in this town by offering multiple pathways towards graduation, creating community among students and faculty, offering employment opportunities in partnership with the local work development board, and holding high academic standards for their students who had been previously excluded from the traditional high school. Despite the extraordinary academic and social opportunities provided at PAA, the community continued to perceive alternative education through deficit lenses; the alternative school was considered a "dumping ground" with "lazy," "good for nothing" students. The implications that such a stigma has on the students in the alternative high school are considerable, as it results in contradictions and conflicts in their identities. Ironically, the students that attended this alternative school were also benefiting from the stigma because it was not the preferred place for education in this city. Because other community members saw this as a bad place to be, these cast off students were being given opportunities that they would not have been able to access had they not been excluded from the traditional high school. The analysis concludes by profiling my co-researcher who was a typical example of an alternative student who was excluded from the traditional school and sent to the alternative school. Through her autobiography, final chapter illustrates the complexity of growing up in an impoverished town and attending an "exile" high school. She endured the negative stigma associated with that of an alternative high school student for four years, but graduated from the school, and is now attending a four-year university. This study has implications for other communities seeking to reconceptualize alternative education, and it sheds light on the ways that social context influences education and student identity.


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