Degree Name

MA in Sustainable Development

First Advisor

Kanthie Athukorala


This study set out to look at the experience of young people at Roca, Inc., a youth development center in Chelsea, Massachusetts, through a grounded theory research approach. Originally, my focus was going to be looking at what support young people need once they’ve dropped out of the traditional school system, but grounded theory intends for the researcher’s developing theory to emerge from the data and research situation. Over the course of listening to the 13 young people who participated in these in-depth interviews, my focus shifted to learning how the traditional public school system could be adapted to a more relevant 21st century model in order to better serve youth from all backgrounds in a much more significant and engaging way. Many patterns and similarities began to emerge as I coded and sorted the data. I found three main categories to explain why the participants dropped out of school: 1.) Factors directly related to the school system, 2.) External factors such as home life, peer influence, life circumstances etc., and 3.) Internal factors including feelings and choices. There are many improvements that could be made in order for schools to be better equipped to hold and support students when such powerful external and internal factors come into play. More relevant content and engaging learning methods are needed, along with increased personal connection with teachers and other adults. A stronger sense of ownership of a student’s personal education must be fostered in addition to a safe, supportive learning environment. Though top-down education reform does not seem to keep up with the times, there are many creative and innovative educators and schools with new approaches who demonstrate great potential for education reform to move much faster from a ground-up approach.




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