Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Educational Administration


Educational Leadership, Counseling, and Foundations

Major Professor

Causey-Konate, Tammie; Killacky, Cecil J.

Second Advisor

Hall, Renee

Third Advisor

Welch, Brett


All school systems throughout the country serve students referred to as at risk. Research documents that these students are at a greater risk of dropping out of school due to characteristics that contribute to school disengagement. By exploring the perspectives of male inmates aged 18-30 regarding their educational experiences, this study's data illuminated how school personnel and the schooling process may theoretically contribute to negative outcomes such as incarceration. The focus of the study was to identify commonalities and phenomena in relation to educational experiences, school engagement levels, deviant behavior, and school staff-student interactions as related to the at-risk student population. Interviews of a sample group of prisoners were utilized to gather rich data from their experiences. A qualitative/phenomenological research method was employed. This study introduced a revised and expanded term to replace the at-risk term when describing students who are at risk of school failure. This new term is COPE (Children Of Promise in Education). The acronym COPEr will be used when referring to the individual student who is at promise for academic success. COPErs will be used when referring to multiple students of promise for academic success. Six themes emerged from the data analysis. The six themes were as follows: characteristics of the respondents as k-12 students, student-staff interaction, engagement, disengagement, negative outcomes, and reflection and advice. An analysis of the themes is represented by quotes from the study's participants. This analysis allowed for the emergence of data that substantively contributes to the gap in the literature pertaining to a continued need for qualitative research examining the schooling experiences of at-risk youth, juvenile delinquents, high school dropouts, and, as in this study, inmates. Few studies have examined the perspectives of inmates regarding their schooling experiences. Most research regarding inmates has examined correctional education within the prison system. After the findings of the study are revealed, the implications of the study are presented. Implications for school staff and student development through communication and positive interaction are addressed. Suggestions for future research related to positive academic and social development of COPErs in the educational system are suggested.


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