The Chilliwack Social Research and Planning Council is working in partnership with the Chilliwack School District on an exciting research project. It aims to have high school –aged Alternative Education youth help create and lead research on what helps and hinders student success in schools. Over the past few years, the local school district has been concerned about the number of students who don’t complete their high school education a year after their expected graduation date. One group that is overrepresented in not finishing high school includes students who attend an Alternate Education school. In order to learn more about these young people’s experiences with school, Fred Chou, a Trinity Western University Master’s student, was tasked with helping youth study the phenomena themselves. He is using Participant Action Research, a method of research that aims to have the population under study to participate in the creation and interpretation of the research. Instead of researchers deciding what questions need to be asked and answered, those on the front-line can drive the direction of the research.
Fred’s goal is to ensure “the voices of youth are properly represented” and is currently meeting with eight young researchers to teach research skills and ethics. The second half of the project, which will begin second semester, is to send the newly trained, adolescent co-researchers out to collect information from their peers and sort it into themes. Fred reports that the students who volunteered to participate are really enthusiastic about the project, and see it as an opportunity to help other youth. In fact, the team has named themselves “Raising Hope”, since the aim of the project is to improve the experiences of other young people in the school system. Fred reports that his young co-researchers have expressed how important this project is and are looking forward to having their voices, and those of their peers, heard.
The young people involved appreciate their experiences in the Alternate school system, and want to be able to express what helped them stay connected and successful in school. I used to work at the Education Centre, so I know how hard the staff (at all of our Alt Ed sites) works to build relationships and meet the needs of the students. There are as many different stories leading to Alternate Education streams as there are young people enrolled, but hopefully this project will identify themes that will guide how we provide educational services for all young people.
All young people in our community are future voters, parents, and business owners. The greater the degree we empower them to contribute and give them opportunities to have their voices heard the more likely they will be involved as adults. This project gives young people the tools to tell their story, and those of their peers and have them heard and valued by current decision-makers.
Marie Amos, MA, RCC, is a Mental Health Therapist with Child and Youth Mental Health of MCFD, Chilliwack.