Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Leigh K. D’Amico


The need for new and innovative alternatives to traditional high schools has never been greater. Alternative schools operate today as a secret, hidden educational system, often providing much needed support for at-risk students. These schools often have little to no accountability for student achievement. Enrollment at alternative schools is increasing at an alarming rate mainly due to zero tolerance policies and students feeling disengaged with the traditional methods of education. For many years the education system has been rather traditional in teaching/content delivery format. One of the greatest advancements has been technology. However, during the Covid-19 virus pandemic, beyond the heavy implementation of technology, the educational system has had to transition to alternative methods of instruction and delivery. Subsequently, several strategies utilized and observations gleaned during this time can have a positive outcome on the operations, administration, environment, instruction, engagement, and performance at alternative schools. For students who are enrolled in alternative schools, implementation of pandemic methodologies can foster students’ favorable perceptions of engagement and encourage their intrinsic motivation for academic and personal success-- positive educational outcomes.

This action research sought to answer questions surrounding student achievement and their perception of the critical factors they deem are effective for success at an alternative school. Embedded by a theoretical framework developed from critical theory, self-determination theory, and student voice, this action research examined students’ lived experiences in an alternative school program and compared instruction of a traditional setting to determine if their educational needs were being met and identify any opportunities for improvement. Findings suggest that learning environment, flexible curriculum, and teacher-student relationships are paramount in the success of alternative schools.


© 2022, Tara D. Cunningham Cantey