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In this study, we worked closely with a community school partner to better understand the perceptions of alternative high school students in regards to the characteristics that they feel contribute to a mentally healthy school space. Using the definition of mental health offered by the World Health Organization, which suggests that a mentally healthy space is one in which individuals feel safe to thrive and realize their potential, we sought to give a platform for students to express their visions of a mentally healthy school.

**This research was made possible by a 2017 FUSE grant.**

This poster presentation will offer the results of a qualitative study that utilized focus group research with alternative high school students in order to better understand their various perspectives of the components of a mentally healthy school space. Eight (n = 8) alternative high school students participated in the in-depth focus group. The results of the focus group were transcribed, coded using methods common to Grounded Theory research, and themes were developed.

Alternative schools are often a school system's frontline defense against school dropout (Souza, 1999) and often serve students labeled as "at-risk" (Conley, 2002). Our study pushes back against the rhetoric of risk and instead considers students "at-promise" (Swadener & Lubeck, 1995). This study offers a platform for the biggest stakeholders in alternative schools, the students, to express their concerns and ideas regarding mentally healthy school spaces. The results of this study offered three major themes: "Care as Pedagogy," "Alternative Schools as Platforms for Identity Development," and finally, "Designed for Us: Purposefully Designed Classrooms." In this poster presentation, we will explore these themes and as well as offer suggestions for classroom teachers and school administrators in regards to producing more mentally healthy and inclusive school spaces for students at-promise.


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  • Subject
    • Education

  • Date submitted

    19 July 2022

  • Keywords
  • Additional information
    • Author Biography:

      Adam is an assistant professor of special education in the college of education and was a former alternative middle and high school teacher. Desmond and Allison are both students in the Elementary/Special Education program at UNG with aspirations for becoming classroom teachers.