Peers as an Academic Resource: An Investigation of an Afterschool Program to Socialize At-risk Students with Disabilities into Greater Academic Engagement Dissertation

thesis or dissertation chair

fiu authors

  • Pellegrini-Lafont, Cynthia


  • One of the most evident signs that a child is on the path to dropping out of [BT1] school is disengagement from school (Kortering & Christenson, 2009). Given the amount of time that young people spend with their peers and the influence that peers have (Monahan, Steinberg, & Caufman, 2009), there is a need to better understand the role that peers play in the decision to drop out of school (Farmer, Estell, Leug, Trott, Biship, & Caims, 2003). Using Ericson’s stages of psychosocial development (1956), social identity theory, and self-categorization theory as a framework, an afterschool program in the form of a social club was designed and implemented. The goal was to foster friendships between academically engaged students and disengaged students, using a short-term, cost effective intervention. It was hypothesized that the new friends would act as role models giving the disengaged students a more accurate perception of positive academic behaviors and the related benefits, thus leading to a positive change in academic engagement.

    This study used a mixed-methods design: a quantitative phase consisting of pretest-posttest surveys administered to teachers and students in order to assess possible changes in student academic engagement and a second pretest-posttest survey administered to students in order to determine if any new friendships between academically engaged and at-risk students had formed. A second, qualitative phase used focus groups to gain insight into the students’ perceptions of their academic experience.

    The findings of this study contribute to the current literature on dropout by providing insight into the possibility of utilizing peers as a catalyst to academic engagement in students who are at risk for school failure and high school drop out, in particular those with disabilities. In addition, the findings reiterate the importance of positive student-teacher relations and the importance of ongoing attempts to create those relations. The results of this study remind us that there is no single approach to solving the problem of high school dropout. However, by providing diverse opportunities for at-risk students to develop positive perceptions of the academic experience it is possible to ultimately increase academic engagement and reduce dropout.

    [BT1]Abstract body text must not exceed 350 words.

publication date

  • June 22, 2016


  • academic engagement
  • adolescence
  • after school programs
  • dropout
  • dropout prevention
  • peer relations
  • school clubs

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)