Co-constructing college-going capital in a rural high school English class

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Compared to their urban and suburban counterparts, rural students have lower college enrollment rates. Despite many school and community benefits including small class sizes, close student-teacher relationships, and strong

Compared to their urban and suburban counterparts, rural students have lower college enrollment rates. Despite many school and community benefits including small class sizes, close student-teacher relationships, and strong connections among community members, many rural high school students’ post-secondary educational opportunities are constrained by factors such as: fewer college preparatory courses, narrow school curriculums, geographic isolation, high poverty rates, and limited access to college and career counseling. This action research study was conducted to examine how and to what extent underserved rural high school students constructed college-going capital through their participation in an English class designed to supplement their school’s limited college-access services. The study took place over a 19-week semester at Seligman High School, a small rural school comprised of approximately 55 students. To support their construction of college-going capital, students’ junior- and senior-level English class curriculums blended traditional college preparation activities with college-level reading and writing assignments focused on the U.S. educational system and its college-access inequities. The theoretical perspectives that framed this study included: social cognitive career theory, sociocultural theory, and critical literacy. Further, research on perceived post-secondary educational barriers and supports, dialogic discourse, and college access informed the study. By using a concurrent, transformative mixed methods research design, both qualitative and quantitative data were collected simultaneously. Then, while maintaining an advocacy stance, the data were analyzed separately and brought together to determine convergences and divergences. Drawing data from student surveys, student and researcher journal entries, student and college coach interviews, dialogic discussion transcripts, and an image elicitation process, this study showed that, through their participation in an English language arts college-going class, students developed college-going skills, knowledge, self-efficacy, and critical literacy. The study also revealed the following: students acquired varying levels of critical consciousness; students benefited from adult mentors coaching them about college-going; and students did not experience significant changes in their perceptions of barriers to and supports for college-going during their participation in the course.