Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"The Things They Carried:" The Experiences of Working-class White Students at an Independent School
by McGrail, Brendan Joseph, Ed.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2018, 130; 10839458
Abstract (Summary)

U.S. independent schools, once exclusively the domain of the White, male, upper class, have recently focused on diversifying their student bodies in greater numbers. With an expanded demographic base, a reexamination is necessary to be certain that independent schools are supporting students from non-traditional backgrounds. My experience as an administrator, admission officer, and teacher at elite independent schools has taught me that working-class, White students represent an invisible diversity that is often underserved and understudied at these schools.

For this study, I attempt to make the invisible visible. Student voices were the heart of this investigation and data collection methods included both extensive individual and focus group interviews. I interviewed students who received at least 50% need-based financial aid and self- identified as White at a K-12 independent school in the North-Eastern part of the United States. In this qualitative exploratory study, I asked these students to tell me their stories. I wanted to learn what they “carried” with them when they first arrived at the school. I also sought to learn more about the supports and barriers that shaped their transition into the school.

What I learned was that the students each experienced a difficult transition into the school, but eventually created a generally positive school experience. They made meaning of their experience by developing a sense of determination and resiliency, all the while recognizing that their school experience was different than most of their peers. In addition, the students developed high level self-advocacy skills and learned to ask for what they wanted. Absent an organized affinity group, these students found connections with athletic teams, music groups and in advisory. They made authentic connections with adult mentors in the community. These connections to groups and adults eventually helped them to feel a sense of belonging and to find their places in their new school environment.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kuriloff, Peter
Commitee: Cox, Joseph, Reichert, Michael
School: University of Pennsylvania
Department: Educational and Organizational Leadership
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 80/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Higher education
Keywords: Connections, Diversity, Independent school, Socioeconomic status, White, Working-class
Publication Number: 10839458
ISBN: 978-0-438-33913-2
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