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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Exploring the Long-Term Impact of an Institutional Agent: Success of the Freedom Writers
by Martinez, Jessica, Ed.D., California State University, Long Beach, 2018, 191; 13425593
Abstract (Summary)

Demonstrated by this study, teachers as institutional agents can make a significant difference in the lives of their students during their educational endeavors and beyond. However, institutional agents remain rare within urban education, and adolescents’ access to these individuals in low-income communities is particularly low. This study used Stanton-Salazar’s theory of social capital and construct of institutional agents as a lens to understand the experiences of 14 individuals who participated in the Freedom Writers program. By giving a voice to students two decades after completing high school, this study conveys a critical perspective to the urban educational field. With there being a limited understanding of the lasting impact of such individuals on students as they transition onto adulthood participants’ personal accounts were explored to better understand their experiences.

As a qualitative study, this research inquired into the actions that guided the participants at the individual and situational level to having successful experiences. Data collection occurred through the utilization of an in-depth, semi-structured interviewing method, which provided rich data of the roles and functions of their high school teacher, Erin Gruwell, as an institutional agent. Additionally, providing data of their use of certain supports as provided by or made possible through Gruwell, four themes emerged from the findings of this study: (1) survival mode, (2) journey to Freedom Writers, (3) finding support, and (4) life after Freedom Writers. Within these themes, an in-depth exploration of the findings indicated the careful attention Gruwell placed in assessing the needs of students in order to provide the necessary supports as permitted by her social network and available resources, which involved access to additional institutional agents or other networks; significant forms of information; and other supportive forms of resources. The findings further indicated there being a critical impact to participants’ social development, and academic and career success. Through positive teacher-student relationships teachers can provide positive educational experiences that can have lifelong implications to empower students and create opportunities for life changes. Through the perspectives of the 14 participants, this study can influence the work of practitioners and policymakers in focusing on the needs and concerns of students attending urban high schools as well as in supporting teachers as institutional agents at the high school level.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hansuvadha, Nat
Commitee: Hill, Robert, Li, Xin
School: California State University, Long Beach
Department: Educational Leadership
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 80/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Secondary education
Keywords: Freedom Writers, Gruwell, Erin, High school students, Institutional agents, Positive teacher-student relationships, Success
Publication Number: 13425593
ISBN: 978-1-392-07408-4
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