Education after expulsion : a program evaluation

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Education after expulsion : a program evaluation
Stricker, Scott
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
University of Colorado Denver
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Thesis/Dissertation Information

Doctorate ( Doctor of Psychology)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
School of Education and Human Development, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
School Psychology
Committee Chair:
Crepeau-Hobson, Franci
Committee Members:
Harris, Bryn
Stein, Rachel M.


This program evaluation seeks to determine whether a new expulsion program established in a suburban school district in the Mountain West region of the United States was successful in its goals of reengaging expelled students and preparing them for a successful transition back to a traditional school. This new program was designed as a foil to computerbased programs of previous years and adopted a social-emotional focus to increase student resiliency. Quantitative student data, as well as qualitative data from student focus groups was analyzed to gauge program effectiveness. Findings indicate that students earned significantly more credits and had significantly fewer absences than students from the previous year’s program. Focus groups suggested that a warm, welcoming environment staffed by caring, supportive adults was critical to increasing student engagement. Additionally, direct instruction and practice of social-emotional and resiliency skills contributed to a sense of preparedness to return to a traditional school environment.

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University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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Copyright Scott Stricker. Permission granted to University of Colorado Denver to digitize and display this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.


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EDUCATION AFTER EXPULSION: A PROGRAM EVALUATION by SCOTT STRICKER B.A., The Ohio State University, 2011 A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Psychology School Psychology Program 201 9 ! ! !




iii The thesis for the Doctor of Psychology by Scott Stricker has been approved for the School Psychology Program by Franci Crepeau Hobson, Chair Bryn Harris Rachel M. Stein Date: May 18, 2019


iv Scott Stricker (PsyD, School Psychology Program) Education After Expulsion: A Program Evaluation Thesis directed by Associate Professor Franci Crepeau Hobson. ABSTRACT This program evaluation seeks to determine whether a new expulsion program established in a suburban school district in the Mountain West region of the United States was successful in its goals of reengaging expelled students and preparing them for a succe ssful transition back to a traditional school. This new program was designed as a foil to computer based programs of previous years and adopted a social emotional focus to increase student resiliency. Quantitative student data, as well as qualitative data from student focus groups was analyzed to gauge program effectiveness. Findings indicate that students earned significantly more credits and had significantly fewer absences than students from the previous year's program. Focus groups suggested that a warm , welcoming environment staffed by caring, supportive adults was critical to increasing student engagement. Additionally, direct instruction and practice of social emotional and resiliency skills contributed to a sense of preparedness to return to a tradit ional school environment. The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication. Approved by: Franci Crepeau Hobso n


v TABLE OF CONTENTS ! CHAPTER I. ! INTRODUCTION ÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉ ................... II. ! LITERATURE REVIEWÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉ ÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉ ... .................... a. ! School Exclusion b. ! Disproportionalities of Exclusion c. ! Outcomes for Expelled Students d. ! Resiliency Theory e. ! Fostering Resiliency in Expelled Student s III. ! METHODS OF RESE ARCH DESIGNÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉ ................... a. ! Conceptual Framework b. ! Evaluation Questions c. ! Methodology d. ! Data Collection e. ! Data Analysis IV. ! RESULT SÉÉ.ÉÉÉÉÉÉÉ ÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉ ........... . V. ! DISCUSSIONÉÉ.ÉÉÉÉÉÉÉ ÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉ ............... ...... . REFERENCES ÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉ ................ ........... APPENDIX . ÉÉÉÉÉÉ ÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉ ÉÉÉÉ ............... 1 4 11 15 32 39 46


1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION In 2014 2015, the national public high school graduation rate rose for the third straight year, improving to 83% (McFarland et al., 2017). Despite this promising trend, each year millions of students are removed from their classrooms, their schools, and fr om the path toward graduation. The U.S. Department of Education office for Civil Rights (2018) reports that during the 2015 2016 school year alone, approximately 2.7 million students received one or more out of school suspensions and another 120,700 were e xpelled. It may come as little surprise that students who are expelled from school typically perform worse academically than their peers (Skiba & Rausch, 2006) and are as much as ten times more likely to drop out of high school (Gonzales, Richards, & Seel ey, 2002 ). School exclusion removes students from what is often their most stable and supportive environments; and while alternative education programs for expelled students exist, some families choose to opt out of these programs (Morrison et al. , 2001). These families may instead choose home based programming; but if an expelled student's parents work, there is a serious risk that the child will not pursue these programs . Such situations significantly increase the likelihood that the child will engage in maladaptive, inappropriate behaviors with other individuals who promote them (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013). Offerings of quality programming are essential for the long term success of expelled students . Although there is a great deal of research related to programs and interventions that seek to prevent expulsions, there is little on the topic of high quality programming for students once they are expelled. Coleman (2015) argues that with the right prog ramming, expulsion does not have to be a tragedy; instead, it can represent an opportunity to intervene in the types of


2 behaviors that may have been holding students back. She suggests that interventions based on resilience research may improve outcomes fo r expelled students . S uch strategies include : (1) directly teaching resiliency building strategies; (2) developing meaningful relationships with caring, supporting staff; and (3) fostering a sense of community belonging, (Coleman, 2015). A suburban school district in the mountain west region of the United States has recently established an expulsion program largely based on these core principles. In previous years, students in this district who were expelled were enrolled in an after school, computer based , credit recovery program. The district recognized that this program was not meeting the needs of all expelled students, many of whom had experienced previous psychological trauma. T hese students were struggling with their social emotional functioning that precluded them from success at their previous schools and progress toward graduation. Therefore, a new expulsion program was designed and implemented in the 2017 2018 school year. The new expulsion program adopted a modified schedule that ran during the traditional school day, providing one to one instruction in behavioral/resiliency strategies, individual and group counseling, substance use interventions, mindfulness/meditation practices, and yoga, all while students continued earning academic credit. Th e program also provided music and art enrichment, animal assisted therapy, community excursions and field trips, as well as frequent opportunities for community building through shared family meals, birthday/holiday celebrations, and outdoor games and acti vities. All of these elements were implemented with the expressed intent of reengaging students with school so that they might successfully achieve their personal and academic goals. The overall focus of the program evaluation was to determine if the ne w expulsion


3 program was successful in meeting its goals of reengaging expelled students and assisting them in transitioning back to a traditional school setting and the path to graduation. Evaluation Questions The evaluation was gu ided by the following questions : 1. ! To what extent did the district's new 2017 2018 expulsion program represent an improvement upon the previous 2016 2017 program? 2. ! How satisfied were students with their experience in the 2017 2018 expulsion program? a. ! What aspects of the program co ntributed to a positive / negative experience? 3. ! To what extent did students feel sufficiently ready to return to a traditional school setting after their experience in the 2017 2018 expulsion program? a. ! What aspects of the program best supported a student's r eadiness to return to school? b. ! How might the program be changed to better support student readiness to return to school?


4 CHAPTER II LITERATURE REVIEW School Exclusion Over the past two decades, youth crime has been on the decline (Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2017). In fact, the National Center for Juvenile Justice's 2014 report estimates a 42% drop in total delinquency fr om 2005 to 2014 (Hockenberry & Puzzanchera , 2017 ). Despite these trends, public fears, stoked by images of violent youth in the media, continue to fuel a "lockdown philosophy" (Fuentes, 2014, p.40) of school safety and discipline. In the wake of the Gun Fr ee Schools Act of 1994, schools and districts throughout the country sought to take a " tough on crime approach " to discipline (Mallett, 2016 ). Schools increasingly utilized the police and criminal justice systems, spent millions on surveillance technology, and adopted punitive, zero tolerance policies for misbehavior (Justice Policy Institute, 2011; Gonzalez, 2012; Muschert et al., 2014; Schiff, 2018). Zero tolerance is a philosophy of enforcing inflexible, predetermined consequences to a given offense. Whe re once school exclusion was reserved for extreme offenses, over time, districts expanded the scope of zero tolerance to include lesser offenses including the possession of illicit substances and repeated behavioral disruptions (Skiba & Peterson, 1999; Ski ba et al., 2011). This practice has resulted in the widespread use of exclusion ( out of s chool suspension and expulsion) in our nation's schools (Arcia, 2006; APA, 2008; Kang Brown, et al., 2013; Skiba, et al. 2014; Schiff, 2018). Expulsion, as defined by the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (2018), is the removal of a student from their "regular school for disciplinary purposes with or without educational services provided to the student" (p.13); although, research rarely distinguishes between expelled students who are and are not receiving alternative educational


5 services (Gregory, Skiba, & Noguera, 2010). In the 2015 2016 school year alone, approximately 120,700 students were expelled from school (Department of Education Office of Civ il Rights, 2018). An additional 219,000 were referred to law enforcement or arrested (2018). So, while some call for reforms that better consider the adolescent brain's difficulty regulating emotions and actions (Cohen & Casey, 2014), expulsion from school remains a cornerstone of many school and district discipline practices (Fabelo, 2011; Skiba, et al., 2014). Disruptive students are removed from school in the belief that it will create a safer school community, turn the focus back on learning, and incre ase the consistency of discipline practices (Skiba & Rausch, 2006; APA, 2008; Gonzalez, 2012), despite considerable evidence to the contrary. High rates of school exclusion have been long associated with student and staff perceptions of a more negative, unsafe school climate (Bickel & Qualls, 1980; Skiba & Peterson, 2000; Steinberg, Allensworth, & Johnson, 2013). Furthermore, removing disruptive students does not appear to free up any time for teaching and learning, as schools with high rates of exclusion often spend even more time managing behavior and discipline (Scott & Barrett, 2004). Additionally, the American Psychological Association's Zero Tolerance Task Force (2008) found that there "is no evidence that zero tolerance has increased the consistency of school discipline" (p. 854). In fact, Skiba (2015) found that a school principal's preference for harsh discipline is one of the strongest predictors of high exclusion rates. These rates can vary dramatically between schools, districts, and states (Losen & Martinez, 2013; Rumberger & Losen, 2016), creating a school to prison pipeline that has disproportionately affected students of color and students with disabilities (Kaufman et al., 2010; Losen & Skiba, 2010; Fabelo et al., 2011; Skiba et al., 2011; Vincent & Tobin, 2011) .


6 Disproportionalities of Exclusion For decades , studies have shown that Black students have been disproportionately excluded from school (Children's Defense Fund, 1975; Wu et al.,1982; Skiba et al., 2002; Losen & Gillespie, 2012). For example, i n 2015 2016, Black males made up only 8% of total enrolle d students yet accounted for 23% of all students who were expelled from school (US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, 2018). In addition, Wallace et al. (2008) found that of 74,000 surveyed 10 th graders, 50% of black students had been suspe nded or expelled, compared with just 20% of white students. They also found that this rate of exclusion had actually increased in the years from 1991 to 2005, while trends decreased for other racial and ethnic groups (Wallace et al., 2008). Since there is no evidence to suggest that Black students exhibit more disruptive or dangerous behaviors than white students (APA, 2008), it is then more likely that these students simply receive harsher consequences for less serious infractions like disruptive behavior (Skiba, et al. 2002). Unfortunately, there has been less research conducted on school exclusion disproportionalities for Latinx and American Indian students (Brown & Di Tillio, 2013). Nevertheless, there is some evidence of disproportionality among these groups, as well, particularly at the secondary level (Skiba et al., 2011; Peguro & Shekarkhar, 2011; Losen & Gillespie, 2012). There is, of course, an unfortunate link between race, ethnicity, and poverty in this country and lower socio economic status ( SES) has been found to be a consistent risk factor for discipline and school exclusion (Wu et al., 1982; Skiba et al., 1997; Petras et al. 2011). Though, even when studies have controlled for SES, race continues to be a significant contributor to dispropor tionate discipline outcomes for students (Skiba et al., 2002; Wallace et al., 2008).


7 Skiba et al. (2011) argue that demographic characteristics such as low income, history of low achievement, and residence in high crime neighborhoods may put students at greater risk for engaging in behaviors that result in discipline outcomes, but there is "no evidence to suggest demographic factors are in any way sufficient to Ô explain away ' the gap" (p. 60). These disproportionalities are also present among students with disabilities. Although students with disabilities make up only 12% of total enrolled students, they account for approximately 24% of all expelled students (US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, 2018). Christle et al. (2004) found that students identified with emotional or behavioral disabilities were 11 times more likely t o be excluded from school. Yet, even among students with disabilities, rates of exclusions vary significantly between non White and White students (Vincent, Sprague, & Tobin, 2012). Outcomes for Expelled Students There is no shortage of evidence for the negative outcomes resulting from school exclusion. Students who are expelled perform worse academically, are more likely to be incarcerated, are at greater risk for substance abuse, and are as much as ten times more likely to drop out of high school as their peers (Gonzales, Richards, & Seeley, 2002; Arcia, 2006; Wallace, 2008, Fabelo et al., 2011). For these students, dropping out of school can be life threatening. A person's level of education is one of the leadin g risk factors for poor health (Muenning et al., 2010) and individuals who have dropped out of high school report higher levels of chronic health conditions including asthma, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure ( Maynard, Vaughn, & Salas Wright , 2015 ). The most significant risk for poor health outcomes, however, is poverty (Muenning et al., 2010). Some estimates show that a high school dropout earns approximately


8 $400,000 dollars less over their lifetime. As such, they are at an increased risk fo r poverty and associated health issues ( Sum et al., 2009 ). These outcomes also present a significant financial cost to the rest of the country. Rumberger and Losen (2016) estimate that youth who drop out due to harsh disciplinary practices are estimated to cost tax payers more than 11 billion dollars, with each dropout generating approximately $391,110 in economic losses (Belfield & Levin, 2007). Resiliency Theory As early as the 1970s, researchers have sought to understand why some individuals struggle within the context of adversity, while others persist or even thrive (Werner, 1971; Garmezy, 1974; Werner & Smith, 1977; Luthar, Cichetti, & Becker, 2000). Early resiliency research represented a shift from the historical deficit model of examining psychol ogical disorder toward a more strengths based approach of mapping out the characteristics, conditions, and processes that lend themselves to positive adaptation to adverse experience (Luthar, Cichetti, & Becker, 2000; Masten, 2001; Windle, 2011). Although there is still some tempered debate over resilience as a human trait versus a human process (Windle, 2011; Fletcher & Sarkar, 2013), many scholars have moved away from an emphasis of personal qualities of the exceptional resilient few (Connor & Davidson, 2003), to a broader examination of resilience as a common adaptive human phenomenon (Masten, 2001). Today, definitions of resiliency highlight the dynamic process that requires both: 1) exposure to adversity, and, 2) positive adaptation in spite of it (Lu thar, Cichetti, & Becker, 2000; Masten, 2001; Werner, 2005; Fletcher & Sarkar, 2013). This integrative definition carries a general acceptance that both individual characteristics and environmental factors "contribute to


9 individual resilience and are criti cal for positive youth development and the avoidance of risk behaviors" (Hodder, et al. 2011, p.2). Resiliency, therefore, is a fluid process, depending as much upon environmental circumstance as it does psychological predisposition. As Rutter (1987) expl ains, "resiliency cannot be seen as a fixed attribute of the individualÉ people who cope successfully with difficulties at one point in their life may react adversely to other stressors when their situation is different" (p. 317). Therefore, across one's li fespan, one's resilience may vary from situation to situation, given the available resources at one's disposal (Windle, 2011). Fostering Resiliency in Expelled Students Given the high degree of variance within the resilience experience, interventions and programming seeking to promote resiliency in young people should be multi dimensional, dynamic, and draw upon as many internal assets and environmental resources that are available (Masten, 2001; Murray, 2003; Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005; Windle, 2011). Effec tive programs promote resiliency through strengths based approaches which focus on enhancing the protective factors already present in young people's lives (Luthar, Ciche tti, & Becker, 2000; Zimmerman et al., 2013; Chandler et al., 2015). Many of these pr otective factors can be found within the individual ; for example, self efficacy, self esteem, and positive emotions (Kidd & Shahar, 2008; Gu & Day, 2007; Tugade & Frederickson, 2004). Others must be cultivated, like social competence, problem solving, auto nomy, and a future purpose (Benard, 2004). And others still must be provided regularly for the individual, such as positive relationships with prosocial adults (Furrer & Skinner, 2003; Werner, 2005; Marsten, 2007).


10 So, while Masten (2001 ) may be correct i n asserting that there is no magic resiliency bullet that will work with every student every time, there are fundamental components that all successful intervention programs should have. Southwick & Charney (2012) suggest that any resiliency intervention p rogram should meet needs in the following areas: 1) cognition and behavior; 2) emotional regulation; 3) social environment; 4) physical health; and, 5) neurobiology. They recommend that programs should be dynamic in their approach to train students to regu late emotions, practice cognitive behavioral strategies to reframe negative thoughts, educate students on physical health issues around sleep, exercise, and nutrition, support social awareness through positive community building, and address neurobiology t hrough Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) therapy, ideally coupled with technologies to provide real time neurofeedback (Southwick & Charney, 2012). In sum, if it is indeed the purpose of an expulsion program to prepare students to return to a more traditional educational environment, then fostering student resiliency must take center stage (Coleman, 2015 ). A successful expulsion programs must adopt a strengths based approach to resiliency, promoting the protective factors already found within the i ndividual, while also providing targeted interventions around student cognitions, emotional regulation, social development, physical health, and neurobiology.


11 CHAPTER III METHODS OF RESEARCH DESIGN Conceptual Framework A primary aim of the program evaluation wa s to determine if the district's new expulsion program (2017 2018) represents an improvement upon the previous after school expulsion program (2016 2017). In order to make this determination, this evaluation analyzes both quantitative student data (attendance and credits earned), as well as the lived experiences of students enrolled in the program to ga uge their satisfaction and identi fy any program elements that support resiliency, achievement, and readiness to return to school. As s uch, this evaluation takes a mixed methods approach whereby both quantitative and qualitative data are analyzed with a focus on outcomes or the "practical implications of the research" (Creswell, 2007, p. 28). The findings from this evaluation contribute to the literature by offering insight into pedagogical practices and interventions that may benefit expelled students. Evaluation Questions 1. ! To what extent did the district's new 2017 2018 expulsion program repre sent an improvement upon the previous 2016 2017 program? 2. ! How satisfied were students with their experience in the 2017 2018 expulsion program? a. ! What aspects of the program contributed to a positive / negative experience? 3. ! To what extent did students feel sufficiently ready to return to traditional school after their experience in the 2017 2018 expulsion program? a. ! What aspects of the program best supported a student's readiness to return to school?


12 b. ! How might the program be changed to better support student r eadiness to return to school? Methodology To adequately address the evaluation questions and evaluate the effectiveness of the new 2017 2018 expulsion program, this evaluation require d a mixed methods, case study approach to collecting quantitative and qu alitative data. Case study methodology allows for in depth understanding of a program and its impact on individuals through an analysis of various data sources (Creswell et al., 2007). For the purposes of this evaluation, quantitative student performance data (attendance and credits earned) was collected in addition to qualitative student perception data related to the program. The quantitative data can help determine if the new program is providing measurable benefit toward student performance relative t o the previous year's program. Collecting qualitative data is especially important in supporting an understanding of "why" or "how" the program might be benefitting students, Data Collection Quantitative student performance data was collected from records maintained on the district's internet student information system (SIS), Infinite Campus (IC). The sample includes only those students who attended either expulsion program for at least 9 weeks, (n=17 for the 2016 2017 program and n=20 for the 2017 2018 pr ogram). A student's attendance was determined by summing the number of unexcused absences and unexcused tardies. A student's credits earned was determined by summing the total number of credits completed while enrolled in an expulsion program according to their official transcript.


13 Qualitative data related to student perceptions and experience was derived from focus group interviews. Participation in the focus group was completely voluntary. Since the interviews w ere recorded for transcription purposes, participation was dependent upon the return of a signed parental consen t form and student assent form. Students who we re over the age of 18 need ed only to sign the student assent form . Homogenous criterion sampling divided students into two groups to help facilitate focus group interviewing (Creswell, 2007). The first group was comp o sed of students who were enrolled in the program during the fall semester. These students had completed the requirements of their expul sion and had since returned to a traditional school environment. The second group was comp o sed of students who remained enrolled in the program during the spring semester. T he group of fall semester students consist ed of six 10 th grade students. Of these, 4 we re male and 2 we re female. The group of spring semester students consist ed of 3 male and 2 female s . This group included students from three grade levels : one student wa s in 10 th grade, three we re in 11 th grade, and one wa s in 12 th grade. Each focus group interview was based on a semi structured interview guide (Appendix A .), conducted during regular school day hours and lasted approximately 45 minutes. Given the natural evolution of the program, as well as adjustments and improvements made over the course of the school year, some aspects of student experiences and perceptions of program service delivery varied between the fall and spring semester student s. Data Analysis T tests for independent samples were used to examine differences in attendance, tardies, and academic credit hours earned between student participating in the two expulsion programs. Focus group interviews w ere audio recorded and manually transcribed. A focused coding


14 technique use d the interview guide questions to establish an a priori code list. Focus group transcripts w ere then coded to identify common themes, or ideas , and concepts derived from the data. Themes wer e organized into categories or sensitizing concepts. Thematic findings were used to identify any program offerings, teacher practices, or instructional strategies that support resiliency, achievement, and readiness to return to school.


15 CHAPTER IV RESULTS I. Evaluation Question # 1 One of the primary goals of the new 2017 2018 expulsion program was to reengage students so that they could eventually return to a more traditiona l school s etting. Therefore, attendance and academic credit data were examined in order to answer evaluation question #1, " to what extent did the district's new 2017 2018 expulsion program represent an improvement upon the previous 2016 20 1 7 program?" Data was obtained with district consent from records ma in tained by the district's student information system, Infinite Campus (IC). T tests for independent samples were used to examine differences in attendance, tardies, and academic credit hours earned between student participating in the two expulsion programs . Since students could be enrolled in the program at any point in the year, it was necessary to eliminate those students who were enrolled only briefly, thus establishing requirements for data inclusion. Therefore, only those students who were enrolled in ei ther program for at least nine weeks were included in the sample. This resulted in a final sample size of n=17 for the 2016 2017 program (Program #1) and n=20 for the new 2017 2018 program (Program #2). Student Attendance For the 2016 2017 school year, Pr ogram #1 recorded 341 student absences ( Figure 1) . Of the 17 students included in the sample, ten of them had 10 or more absences and eight students had more than 20 absences. For the 2017 2018 school year, Program #2 recorded an approximate 66.6% drop in attendances, recording a total of 114. Of the 20 students included in the sample, only four had more than 10 absences and only two had 20 or more absences.


16 Analyses revealed that s tudents in Program #2 had significantly fewer absences ( M =6 .0 , SD =9.80) tha n those in Program #1 ( M =21 .3, SD =19.5 ; t (35)= 3.00321 , p =.01) Figure 1. ! Though there was not a statistically significant difference, t ardiness also decreased with Program #2 ( Figure 2 ). In 2016 2017, there were 134 recorded student tardies. But in 2017 20 18, Program #2 recorded only 81 student tardies, a decline of approximately 40%. Not only were students attending more frequently, but they were arriving on time more often than students in Program #1. Figure 2 .


17 Credits Earned Another measure of the program's success is the amount of academic credit students earned. The 2016 2017 program was based primarily around online credit recovery, whereby students could take self directed classes, each worth up to five credits. The district determined that stud ents were not earning the amount of academic credit required to stay on track to graduate and successfully transition back to a traditional school after their expulsion. As such, the new 2017 2018 program offered a flexible menu of options for students to earn academic credit through traditional classes taught within the program; elective credit for art, physical education, and participation in social emotional skill groups called "behavioral strategies" , as well as continued opportunities for online credit recovery. This led to an increase in total credits earned, as well as an increase in average credits earned. Specifically, in 2016 2017, students earned a total of 221 credits in Program #1 ( Figure 3 ); however, one student accounted for approximately 35% of those credits, earning 77 alone. When that individual outlier was removed, students earned, on average, only 9.6 credits during their time in Program #1 ( Figure 4 ). Additionally, nine of the remaining 16 students in the sample earned fewer than 10 cred its total and only three students earned more than 15 credits. During 2017 2018, in Program #2, students earned a total of 317 total credits ( Figure 3 ). Of those, only five students earned fewer than 10 credits, while 12 students earned more than 15 credi t hours and 9 students earned more than 20 credits. On average, students earned approximately 17.6 credits while enrolled in the program ( Figure 4 ). With the one outl y ing student in Program #1 removed from the analysis, on average, students in Program #2 e arned significantly more credit hours ( M =17.6, SD =7.3) than student s on Program #1 ( M =9.6, SD = 13.8; t (34 )= 2.08404 , p =.05) .


18 Figure 3. Figure 4. II. Evaluation Questions 2 and 3 Repeated comparative analysis was used to identify themes or patterns in focus group interview data that answered the following research questions: 2. ! How satisfied were students with their experience in the 2017 2018 expulsion program? a. ! What aspects of the program contributed to a positive / negative experience? 3. ! To what extent did students feel sufficiently ready to return to a traditional school setting a fter their experience in the 2017 2018 expulsion program?


19 a. ! What aspects of the program best supported a student's readiness to return to school? b. ! How might the pro gram be changed to better support student readiness to return to school? General Themes Across Program Students Focus group coding schemes yielded commonalities in the participating students' experience in and degree of satisfaction with the new 2017 2018 expulsion program. These commonalities were considered major themes across participants and thus organized into what were viewed as key components of the student experience, including student reflections as to the impact of the program on school readiness and suggestions for program improvement. Selected quotes from individual students were included based on how well they illustrated these themes; thus, some participants are quoted more frequently than others. Perhaps as a result of the evolution of the pr ogram and improvements made throughout the year, the fall semester's group had a more negative tone than the spring semester group, focusing much of their insight on areas for improvement. Nevertheless, commonalities among groups were still found and are d escribed below. Program Vision: Preparing Students to Return to School A Life Buoy Something that became evident in reviewing focus group transcripts was the perception that the 2017 2018 expulsion program represented an authentic second chance for stude nts. Although students were held accountable in terms of why they ended up in the program, they were able to express an unyielding sense of hope. This hope allowed them to see beyond their immediate situation and look toward their future.


20 One student exp lained, "the program is a way for kids who struggle with academic environmentsÉto come together and say that it's not over." Students rallied behind the program's messaging that expulsion does not mean the end of education, nor the end of hope. Another stu dent stated that the program was "the support that we needed to bounce back into school and get back on track." Some students were even able to use the program as a catalyst for looking at their own behavior. A student confessed, "I didn't want to be the bad kid anymore." But, without the program, one student said that they'd "keep doing whatever they were doing [bu t] at least with [the program] it makes you think about, it's not the end, it's a mistake and you can make up for it." Students saw the program's practicality, highlighting how it is "revolved around getting that expelled kid back in school" by "breaking o ld habits and forming new ones." Within that practicality, students were relieved of some of the complex requirements of other environments. A student explained, "this is my second chance once again, and I have a very simple task every day to get my work d one and continue to do right." Get Right with Your Feelings; Get Right with Your Mind Another aspect of the program that students highlighted was the program's focus on the whole child, including their social emotional health and how that translated into future success. Some students recognized the benefit of this social emotional focus, with one student stating, "this program is based on support and like your personal needs, like emotionallyÉit allows you to grow in different areas rather than just what you grow in school." One such area of focus of the program is the ability to recognize and manage difficult emotions. Many aspects of the program centered around students checking in with their emotions including daily group opening and closing circle ceremonies. A student described the challe nge


21 and benefit of this practice, explaining, " stopping and thinking of how you feel ÉI was never good at thatÉ[b] eing able to put emotions into a number every day is a lot to ask Éand being able to do that it really helps ." The program's mental health l ens was designed to emotionally prepare students for the demands of a traditional school. Students were able to identify the advantage of this focus, sharing that the program was "more like mental health, like talk about how you feel" and that "it makes a huge difference that one of [the staff members] is a psychologist because there is no way that a regular person that hasn't learned about a human's emotions would know how to like talk to strangers." As a result of this focus, some students felt more prep ared to return to traditional settings. One explained that once outside of the program "there's going to be more temptation, there's going to be more fun when you go back, but now, you have that mindset: " I have to think before I do something, or I am goin g to wind up here again. " Another shared, "I feel more mature. I feel like the program made me more matureÉthe program taught me to really believe in myself. Before I got expelledÉI thought: I can't do this, these classes are too hard for me, I am just goi ng to drop them . But here, I really like learned that working hard and putting in all that work is a reward when you are done." Another said, "the program helped me build up the motivation that I lost in high schoolÉit made me realize like who I want to be and what I want to do." New Tools in the Toolbox of Life Ð Takeaways Students explained that in addition to the program helping them shift their mindsets, it also taught them relevant and practical skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. A s tudent explained that they learned to control their anger, stating that after the program they now have a "higher tolerance to the things that make [them] mad."


22 Other students discussed how they learned the difference between formal and informal settings a nd what language is appropriate to use for either. The program taught them to consider other people's feelings before saying something, particularly in a more formal setting such as school. One student shared, " while it's great to make jokesÉ you have to b e careful, because what you say can hurt someone ' s feelings and it can affect, especially teachers and adults who are trying to help you, it can affect them in ways that you can ' t really see. So, when you say something like, I don't know, that sounds stupi d, but like, in your mind that's funny, in a teacher 's mind: well you just kind of bagged on my whole activity that I just set up for you ; that hurts my feelings ." Students were given strategies on how to effectively examine potential consequences, which one student identified as a critical skill for them to learn. They said they now know how to, " take like ten seconds to just breathe and think about it És ee the consequences, and if you're down with the consequences, that's on you. " Another explained that t hey learned how to better regulate their emotions and respond to problems, rather than react emotionally, explaining, "when something happens, it's ok ay to feel mad or sad about it; but, it's in the way that you respond to the situation and how you handle that. I think we worked a lot on that [in the program] and it helped me control my emotions more. Now when I get mad or sad or something, I think: is this really big enough, like worth making me mad?" One student expanded on the value of the material cove red in the program, stating that "the major difference between like normal school and this and what makes this a little bit more beneficial is because all the things they teach you in school is just kind of like throwing information at you, but you are kin d of just like taking it all in and hoping something is going to


23 stickÉa nd like, this program, the things we learned here, can be applied to day to da y life, every dayÉa n example of that would just be like fixed and growth mindsets." Other students identi fied mindfulness and mindful meditation as another relevant skill that could also be applied in everyday life. A student shared that one of their classmates " would have never learned about meditation and mindfulness if [they] never came hereÉand that can l ike completely change your life. " The point of mindfulness, according to one student, " is to learn about your inner thoughts ." Another explained that mindful meditation "made me more laid back and chill." But, for one student, being exposed to mindfulness and mindful meditation was transformative. Through mindful meditation, they realized, " all of my thoughts are, rather than just having them like free flowing waterfall I can't control, are like a river I can guide ." They continued, "mindfulness is somethi ngÉ that I know I'll use for the rest of my life ." But for all of these practical skills, perhaps the most impactful and enduring is the ability to be open to new ideas and new experiences. As one student shared, "the program has definitely inspired me to try new things, like all the timeÉand I really appreciate that." A Caring, Supportive, Connected Community No Place Like Home Focus groups also revealed student appreciation for the program's culture, including the physical environment, which allowed students to feel connected and accepted. This culture contributed to student comfort and willingness to engage in the program. Students said that the program had "a good atmosphere" and described the space as "kind of like a home." Others admitted, "it was actually pretty nice being there." This appreciation for the program's culture also spilled into interpersonal relationships. One student explained, "I was expecting teachers to be cold and stuff like that and, I don't know,


24 after that I realized that all you guys really want to do is like talk to us and see how we are feelingÉyou don't do any of that stuff that I guess normal teachers and faculty feel like they are obligated to do. I just feel like that made it a lot more comfortable for me." Students de scribed a community in which they knew they belonged and were accepted, unconditionally, stating, "even the students and I mean, the teachers, everybody was so accepting and welcoming. I think more schools should do that, should focus more on like interact ing with students rather than just doing their job." One student describes their expulsion meeting and how the program staff put them at ease, sharing, "[she] was there and I was really nervous and really doubtful and not wanting to come [to the program] b ut the way she introduced herself and came to me with open arms almost, she just made me feel comfortableÉ.there's a certain level of comfortness [sic] we get from our teachers." An Adult to Guide You Review of the transcripts showcased the gratitude and admiration that students had for the 2017 2018 program's staff. They were warm, caring, and invested in the whole child. They see more than just the student in front of them or the problems that student is facing. As one student explained, " I think they lo ok at you at like a deeper level rather than like most teachers would look at their students É they look if we are feeling ok emotionallyÉthey look at us as people, rather than students. And like, try to find the reasons we are who we are and they like help us grow those things ." The staff members of the 2017 2018 program invested in their students as people and made connections that allowed self belief to take root. The relationships that were formed were so authentic that one student claimed, "t hey treat u s like their own children almost ." This, for one


25 student, allowed them to "feel closer to the teachers and the students and [the program] kind of feels like a family." Students described the staff as exceptionally caring, yet also able to maintain high ex pectations. One student elaborated about a teacher, saying, "when you are doing something wrong, she doesn't slide, but when you are doing stuff good, she will compliment you." They don't hold grudges and will instead, "still help you, even when you are d oing something bad, like back talking or something." Staff members were able to distinguish a student's behavior from the child themselves and still provide the consistent, supportive care that student required. They provided unwavering patience, even in the face of extreme behaviors, as illustrated by one student who shared, "when I was like having a bad day or something and I would go into the mindfulness room or something and she would talk to me and she knew I would get pissed and I could say anything in there and she literally wouldn't care. I could cuss at her, do anythingÉ[she] knew that I just needed time." Students appreciated the transparency of the program's staff. They knew where they stood with them and could expect direct conversations and ex plicit feedback, as one student explained, "[they were] also realÉ if you messed up or did something bad, [they'd] be like you can't do that and you have to fix this. " Another student expressed a similar opinion, sharing, " I think they were really real. I r emember when I got really mad and was like everything here is stupid and I'm not getting any education at all, then they 'd be like: well you were the one who put yourself here and you ' re the only one who can get yourself out of it ." Another explained, "the y were realÉthey didn't just tell us something and like move on." The staff established a community based upon mutual respect. A student shared, " I feel like respect is a huge thing. Like, there's no way we would be allowed to be in the computer


26 room for five minutes without [the staff] in there if [they] didn't like know that we respected [them] and the rules that [they] put in placeÉ[they] have some sort of trust in us, that even though we are expelled, we can do the little things ." As another student so thoughtfully summarized, the program staff " pretty much support like every positive decision that we make. They are like our moms. They a re there for usÉ th ey are there when we need them." The students could come to rely on staff members for the ir authenticity, their consistency, their respect, and their compassion. In It Together Students also identified one another as sources of support which contributed to an overall positive sense of community within the program. A student described the ea se of this community building, explaining, " all of us could relate to each other because we were all expelled at the moment, so we were all in there, we could talk about it and how we got there and stuff and just rela te easily and get along better." Throu gh their shared expulsion experience, students were able to more easily connect with one another and rely on each other for support. A student shared, " we all talked and shared our experiences É knowing that you're not the only one that's here for a reason a nd you ' re not the only one who got in trouble and you have friends around you that support you É once we had that connection that we have all been through the same thing there 's no judgement going aroundÉ I just feel like that makes you feel comfortable. " T hrough the program's activities, students were able to build on their shared experience and connect even more. For example, one student believed that opening and closing circle ceremonies had a significant impact on their ability to connect with peers, sh aring, " I feel like the morning circle and the c losing circle built community an unbelievable amount. I mean there is no way I would know everyone's name with out closing and opening circle."


27 This program activity also helped students learn how to engage w ith and support one another. The student continued, "t here is no way that we would all be able to like see almost how to treat each other, like in the beginning, when someone feels like crap and they say they are 3, you act a littl e bit differently knowing thatÉ you don't say sarcastic things that you would've said if they said they were a 10 and you like woul dn't say like small put downsÉy ou would just try to bring them b ack up as high as they can go." A student elaborated on the program's sense of communi ty, explaining that "the closeness that we have toward e ach other in our relationshipsÉ I just don't think that's really normal for a school environment ." It was this closeness, according to another student that allowed for them to say that " we have each other and we are going to get through this. " Students were able to be themselves and find belonging in the program, where perhaps in other environments, they lacked that belonging. As one student explained, "we are all pretty weird; but we are all al so gen uine. " Flexible, When You Need It Students perceived the program as individualized and flexible, particularly on days they found personally difficult . For students who may be struggling emotionally and not in a space to participate with the planned lesso ns, staff provided other options until student participation was possible. A student explained, " I don't think really that they forced you into doing some stuff É t hey ' d be like you could do this alternative or go into the mindfulness room and color if you wanted to ." Students emphasized that there was an expectation within the program to lean in and try new things, but there was still flexibility. One student stated that the staff would say, " just like give it a shot and if it's not for you that's fine. "


28 T he staff was also able to understand and appreciate that on some days, for some students, basic needs had to be met before learning could continue. For example, one student explained, "i f something happened that was kind of devastating or traumatizingÉ they still talk to you, but they also have a certain level of backing off and you can do what you need to do today. If you don't feel like you are in the mindset for work, you don't have to work. You can take a nap, you can do whatever you want so long as it i s within the guidelines of our rules. " The program also offered student choice and gave students the space to do their work at a pace that was manageable. Unlike their previous school experience, one student felt that as though they " could go in [the progr am] and just chill and do my work É and have that time to just like have time É instead of being rushed or pushed to do papers." Another student noted, " the best thing [about the program] is the flexibility and like the assortment of activities. Like, normal school, they wo uld just like give you a paper... and be like : here, do this activity . But we do tie dye, we do dreamcatchers, sledding, we do all sorts of things. " The program offered a balance between social emotional learning, academics, and fun. A student described this balance, saying " it ' s great how we can go from like academic stuff to like kind of unwinding and taking a mind break and doing something that's like, I don't know, kind of fun and creative. And, then coming back to academics. I think that's just a nice way to make your mind kind of flexible. " That flexibility was also individualized in order to meet the needs of students. For one student, having the opportunity to create art was particularly meaningful. They said, "when I first came here, [the staff] made sure that I got art time, which was like huge for me because I didn't know whether or not I was going to get that in school ." Another remarked, " I liked the fact that it all feels customized to your personal needs ."


29 Thoughts for Improvement Where's the Challenge? Student focus groups also yielded criticisms of the program, particularly around a perceived lack of traditional academics. The program's focus on social emotional wellness was not agreeable to all students, some of who m expressed concern that they would be even further behind academically when they returned to a traditional school setting. A student explained this dilemma sharing, "we have to complete specific classes in order to graduateÉand [in the program] you couldn 't make any headway on specific classes. All we were doing was elective credits." This student continued, "y ou may be getting knowledge on how to deal better with people, but even if you are learning how to deal with people better, it ain ' t helping you in reality to complete school at all ." Another expressed similar frustration, stating, "I came to school to do school and I didn't feel like it was doing school. I know that I am an expelled student, but still I came to school to do school, not talk about how I feel." A Little Space, Please ! Furthermore, while students could appreciate the support they received from the program's staff, there was also a perception that the staff could be over supportive or even invasive. One student explained that, " if you were in a bad mood, [the staff] a re like : what's wrong? Are you ok ay ? What can we do to help? And even if you ask for space, they ' re always like : let me help, what ' s wrong, let me talk to yo u. " Another student referred to the staff as " helicopter parents." A student wished that they woul d focus on the problem at hand, but instead, they'd "hover all over you" and "try to get into our business" A student claimed that one staff member was "too nurturing". While another elaborated, sharing, "I feel like their intentions were trying, were good . They just overloaded us


30 with that stuff." It would seem that staff was so invested in supporting the social emotional health of their students that, at times, students felt they went too far. As one student simply put it, "I think the students need a lit tle bit more space." Expelled Students are People Too Lastly, focus group transcripts revealed a perception that, at times, staff members treated the students like young children and underestimated their abilities. Initially, program policies were very str ict. For example, a student explained, "they had a zero music tolerance and then we had to convince them that music helped us work and stuff. It's like how do you guys know if music is helping us or not?" Students interpreted this policy, as well as the li ne of sight policy as particularly offensive to their sense of independence and maturity. A student explained that, while at school, "we couldn't even go to the bathroom by ourselves" while another added "t hey sometimes wouldn't even wouldn't let us use t he bathrooms when we had field trips, by ourselves, even though we weren't at school. " For one student, the biggest struggle they had coming into the program was adjusting to the "supervisionÉ [and the staff] following me." A student felt that "[the staff} babied us a little bit too much too É like if we say a bad word, say you can't say a bad word in school. Don't just say: fire words . " Another student added, "that's kind of another thing that's unrealistic. They'd be like you can't say any of this, but lit erally anywhere elseÉ that's how people talkÉ they always made it seem like everything we are learning here is exactly how the world is going to be and it's not at all. People cuss in the world. People have phones in the world." A few students expressed th at they just wanted to be treated like they were maturing young adults. As one student put it, "c ome on, we are in high


31 school. We may not be the brightest of the bunch, especially if you were expelled in stuff. But we understand the basics ."


32 CHAPTER V DISCUSSIO " ! Students who are expelled from school underperform academically compared to their peers, are more than ten times more likely to drop out and are at an increased risk for engaging in maladaptive behaviors that may have contribut ed to their expulsion in the first place (Skiba & Rausch, 2006; Gonzalez, Richards, & Seeley, 2002; American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013). In recognition of the need to improve the quality of programming for expelled students, one suburban district in the mountain west region of the United States set about transforming their after school, computer based credit recovery expulsion program. The new program operated within typical school day hours and adopted a curriculum with a significant focus on social emot ional development. The district aimed to increase student resiliency and positive associations with school challenge so that they would be better equipped to handle many of the internal and external stressors that they had faced prior to expulsion (Benard, 2004). Quantitative and qualitative data collected from this program evaluation suggests that the district was successful in its aims to design high quality programming for expelled students that directly taught resiliency skills, provided opportunities to develop meaningful, prosocial relationships with supportive adults, and fostered a sense of community belonging (Coleman, 2015). The new program more successfully reengaged students with school than in years past. For example, students in the new p rogram had significantly fewer absences. Additionally, students in the new p rogram academically outperformed students in the previous expulsion p rogram. On average, students in the new p rogram earned significantly more credit hours than student s who partic ipated in the old p rogram .


33 Student respondents in focus groups attributed their success to many personal and environmental factors that they felt were supported by the program. Students spoke to their increased resiliency that they had developed through so cial emotional lessons around skills such as reacting vs. responding, anger/frustration management, and mindfulness practices. Students also alluded to the dynamic approach the program took to teaching these skills, including helping students identify thei r emotions, address automatic negative thoughts, and practice mindfulness based stress reduction techniques . Furthermore, student respondents identified the warm, welcoming environment of the program and the people in it as critical to their success. Studi es have shown that attending to these positive changes in school/classroom environment have been shown to contribute to student resilience and avoidance of risk behaviors (Hodder, et. Al, 2011). Many of the students suggested that the physical environment of the program was calm, inviting, a place that felt like home, and a place that they enjoyed coming to. In having a space that students could call their own, they felt more welcome and were more likely to attend and engage with the academic and behavioral demands of the program. Since expulsion often has the result of removing students from what is frequently their most stable and supportive environments (Morrison et al., 2001), it is imperative to create a new environment of stability and belonging. A maj or contributor to this environment is the work of the caring, supportive adults of the program. Students suggested that their relationships with the adult staff were instrumental in their ability to learn, grow, and return to a more traditional school set ting. According to the students, adults were able to provide flexible, individualized attention that addressed their immediate needs so that they could then participate more fully in the program's activities. Staff members approached their students through authentic compassion, holding high expectations for behavior,


34 while simultaneously meeting students where they were on any given day. Research suggests that positive relationships, more so than risk factors, have a more significant impact on an individual's life direction (Wern er & Smith, 1988; Howard, Dryden, and Johnson, 1999 ). Adults in the program adopted a philosophy that no child is ever lost, and it is never too late to change (Howard, Dryden, & Johnson, 1999) . They were transparent, respectful, and genuinely invested in m aking deep, personal connections with their students. These prosocial adult relationships in many ways served as the model for student relationships which contributed to the program's positive sense of community. Students described the power of their sha red experience and how they leveraged that in order to relate to and support one another. Rutter (1984) suggests that schools can provide positive experiences for students beyond traditional academics that build their feelings of success. These experiences can be relational, such as many of the daily program rituals like opening and closing circles. By engaging in these routines every day , students were able to learn and practice social awareness and behaviors that they would need to be successful upon thei r return to a traditional school ( Southwick & Charney, 2012). The program's practices helped students develop a close bond that allowed them to encourage one another and feel successful at school. Students explained that the program provided a safe place for students to express themselves and their frustrations free from judgement or ridicule. They felt they had a place where they belonged, which made them more successfully engaged with school. Limitations This evaluation is not without limitations in scope and execution. Given that this evaluation examines the experiences of only two cohorts of one academic year, there is a question as to the evaluation's overall generalizability. The experiences of these s tudents may


35 not mirror experiences of other students who have been expelled. In fact, experiences of the two cohorts were quite different. For example, Cohort #1 had a more critical view of the program than C ohort #2. Although students in C ohort #1 were ab le to identify positive aspects of the program, they were more inclined to find aspects they felt needed to be improved. This may reflect personality differences between students in the two programs. It may also be reflective of improvements in practice th at the program made throughout the year. As the makeup of personalities change within the group, so too do the relationships between students and staff. Therefore, it is possible that year to year and cohort to cohort, the aspects that students identify a s contributing to their success may change as well. As such, it is difficult to state with a degree of certainty what the most successful aspects of the program are without continued evaluation year to year. Additionally, this evaluation is limited in it s collection of student experiences. Although focus groups contributed to lively discussions which yielded considerable data, some individuals were more vocal ; thus , the experiences of some were emphasized over those of others. Future evaluations should include individual interviews to better understand unique experiences of students in relation to the positive and negative aspects of the program. Individual interviews may also provide greater insight into student readiness to return to traditional school settings. Lastly, while this evaluation considered attendance and academic performance data, there was a lack of more traditional behavioral data to demonstrate specific improvements in student social emotional functioning through participation in the pr ogram. Ideally, future evaluations will collect baseline measurements of student social emotional skills related to resiliency, social awareness, and mindfulness skills. With baseline data collected, program staff could collect progress monitoring data thr oughout the year to demonstrate student growth in specific areas of a


36 student social emotional functioning. As this is one of the main focuses of the program, it would be beneficial for future evaluations to collect more traditional data points in this are a. Implications for Practice Although the circumstances of districts, schools , and students may vary , there are some fundamental considerations all districts should make moving forward. The first is to identify the goal of the expulsion program. Traditi onally, students who have been expelled are already behind academically and disengaged from school ( Skiba & Rausch, 2006 ). If districts continue to deny them the opportunity to develop skills and relationships that support their social emotional growth, i t is unlikely that they will be better prepared to make positive choices in the future. Districts need to decide whether or not they believe, as the research suggest s , that it is never too late for a child to change the direction of their life. If districts commit to educating students who have been expelled with the expressed belief that they can be reintegrated into traditional school environments, then they must dev elop student resiliency. Based on the literature and results from this evaluation, expulsion programs can increase student resiliency by attending to a few key areas of program development. First, programs should consider the possibility of holding progr ams during traditional school hours. Evening programs, can be disruptive and demotivating , especially for employed students . By holding the program during the traditional school day, students may be more likely to attend, especially if the program's enviro nment is safe and welcoming. Districts should consider providing the program with their own, consistent classroom space, rather than expecting expelled students to share facilities. This may contribute to a more developed sense of normalcy and community fo r


37 students. Attention should be given to the physical environment and layout, with an emphasis on comfort, flexibility, and open space to increase opportunities for group activities. Next, programs should consider the personal qualities of adults that are most beneficial to developing student resiliency. Prior research and results from this evaluation point to the significance of positive relationships with warm, caring, supportive adults in the lives of young people. In making hiring decisions, districts may want to consider the personal traits that students within this evaluation found to be valuable in the adults who cared for them. These include: honesty, patience, and flexibility. Adults in the program were described as warm, caring, and invested in th e whole child. They were in tune with and responsive to students' emotional states which allowed them to address a student's behavior without making judgements about a student's character. These adults fostered mutual respect through transparency, consiste ncy, and the ability to make students feel heard and valued. Districts should also work to find a more appropriate and responsive balance between academic expectations and social emotional skill building. Many students are entering expulsion programs with deficits in their social emotional and resiliency skills , exhibiting behaviors that are "fueled by a desire to be accepted by peers, demonstrating an external locus of control and little autonomy" (Coleman, 2015). This is frequently the reason why the se s tudents are expelled in the first place. As such, it is imperative that districts develop curricul a and design programming to address this area of need. While the balance between academics and social emotional learning will change depending upon the needs of individual students, generally, programs should devote considerable time to addressing the social emotional wellness of their students , as there is evidence that social emotional competencies are linked to academic success ( Blum, McNeely and Rinehart, 2 002; Osterman, 2000) . Programs should commit to key skill


38 instruction around identifying emotions, addressing and responding to automatic negative thoughts, managing frustration and anger, developing prosocial relationships, making effective choices, and e ngaging in mindfulness based stress reduction practices. Lastly, while focusing on developing these skills, programs can also support student resiliency by attending to creating a positive program culture and fostering connectedness through shared experie nces, daily rituals and routines, and community excursions. Students benefit when they feel they belong to a safe, supportive community. This community can be supported through rituals and routines like opening and closing circle, shared meals, creative re creational activities, and physical exercise. Additionally, the more opportunities the students are given to leave the program and engage in the community as a group, the more that connection between students can grow. Field trips to the zoo, the theater, or to restaurants build connectedness through shared experiences. When students feel that they belong to something larger than themselves and that their individual experience has value within the group, they are more likely to share, engage, and find succe ss at school after expulsion. ! ! !


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46 APPENDIX SEMI STRUCTURED FOCUS GROUP INTERVIEW GUIDE 1. ! What is the program? Why do you think it was created? 2. ! Were there any parts of the program that took adjusting to? 3. ! What were some strategies / skills that you and other students were expected learn and work on while in the program? a. ! How useful / important did you find those skills / strategies? 4. ! Describe your relationship with the program staff. a. ! How did adults in program support strategies / skill? b. ! How did Phoenix staff demonstrate care for their students? 5. ! Describe the sense of community in the program. To what extent would you describe it as caring or supportive? a. ! What contributed to that sense of community? b. ! Is there anything that the program could do differently to better foster community? 6. ! If you had to rate your time in the program from 1 10, what rating would you give? Explain. 7. ! In your opinion, does the program help students? a. ! How? b. ! Did it help you? c. ! How have you changed since the program? 8. ! To what extent did Phoen ix help prepare you to return to a traditional school?