Date of Conferral







Susan Marcus


Students with emotional behavioral disorders (EBD) are at greater risk for dropping out of high school than other students, and are likely to experience fewer employment options and more societal marginalization. Alternative schools have been viewed as a last chance and best option for educating many students with EBD who have not actually been diagnosed. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore persistence and retention in the alternative school setting for students who may or may not have been diagnosed with EBD. Students in this study will be referred to as EBD. Although they have not been formally diagnosed, all of the students suffered with symptoms of emotional and behavioral disorders. Interview and observational data were examined through the theoretical lens of the Bandura's theory of self-efficacy and Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. The research questions focused on the meaning of academic persistence for students in an alternative school, the institutional efforts to retain students, and the processes and consequences to improve student engagement and retention. Seven teachers and administrators from an alternative school in Georgia were interviewed, and analysis and interpretation of data from the interviews, observations, and field notes revealed five major themes: support, acknowledgment for incremental gains, struggle to focus, and we are family. These results indicated that some of the most challenging students can persist when they are provided with support (parental, academic, emotional, and community), and future longitudinal research is needed on students' post-high school functioning. The results also showed the need for systemic changes that include formal assessments and diagnoses because access to psychological services are not provided until students have been properly diagnosed.