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Sch Psychol Q. 2012 Dec;27(4):198-209. doi: 10.1037/spq0000006.

With graduation in sight: perceptions of high- and low-aggression students of the journey to high school completion.

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  • 1Health Promotion and Behavior, The University of Georgia.


This study explores students' perceptions of the paths to high school graduation using an ecological framework. Specifically, it identifies the challenges, influences, and motivations differentiating students who remained in school despite being at high risk for dropping out-defined as consistently high levels of aggression-from students at low risk of high school dropout. We analyzed inductively 16 focus groups conducted in Northeast Georgia with 81 eleventh graders participating in the Healthy Teens Longitudinal Study. Eight focus groups consisted of 11th graders who consistently scored high on aggression from 6th to 10th grade on the Problem Behaviors Frequency Scales (n = 40; 56% boys; 54% Caucasian, 39% African American; 7% Hispanic), and 8 groups consisting of students scoring low in aggression at all time points (n = 41; 40% boys; 45% Caucasian, 50% African American; 3% Hispanic). Findings derived from the constant comparative method revealed 4 distinguishing themes. High aggressive students highlighted a) the salience of structural barriers, b) stress due to external (vs. internal) factors, c) preference for concrete sources of motivation, and d) the strong influence of coaches. At the microsystem level of the ecological model, school psychologists can engage students through cognitive behavioral methods to foster realistic academic goals and to improve management of external sources of stress. At the mesosystem level, school policies can target 9th grade as a critical juncture for academic success. The final finding supports the involvement of adults at the mesosystem level, and coaches in particular, to promote positive social and academic development.

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