Chronic truancy and absenteeism are two considerable issues currently facing our youth at increasing rates nationwide. Quantitative research supporting chronic truancy and absenteeism as national problems is abundant (Hendricks, Sale, Evans, McKinley, and Delozier Carter, 2010). Research indicates that students who identify as truant during the middle school grades and beyond are at a higher risk of drop out and may experience a lower quality of life in terms of academic, career, and social emotional preparedness overall (Spencer, 2009). Students qualifying for Special Education are at a higher risk of experiencing truancy at some point in their educational careers.
Qualitative research conducted with youth experiencing truancy in the middle grades is minimal. Among those students labeled truant, a significant number also identify as receiving Special Education services for learning disabilities (Spencer, 2009). Qualitative research exploring truancy from the perspective of students identifying as learning disabled could assist in the identification and implementation of targeted interventions aimed at reducing truancy rates among this population. Through two phenomenological studies, this dissertation explores (a) truancy from the unique experience of chronically truant middle school students identified as learning disabled, and (b) school staff interactions and relationships as experienced by chronically truant middle school students with learning disabilities. There were 8 participants identified for this research and the same 8 participated in both phenomenological research studies.
The first study focused on the experiences of chronically truant and learning disabled middle school students’ experiences of their own truancy. This study yielded 5 common themes experienced among the 8 participants: (1) I don’t feel connected to school or supported by the adults, (2) I like school mostly for friends/social aspects, (3) Home feels comfortable and predictable, (4) Missing school is sometimes not my choice, and (5) Missing school and returning to school both increase negative emotions like stress, guilt and anxiety.
The second study focused on how chronically truant and learning disabled middle school students experienced school staff. This study yielded 4 common themes among the 8 participants; (1) I don’t feel connected to the adults in the building, (2) I need more help from school staff because I am behind and stressed out, (3) I want to feel better connected to my teachers, and (4) I like teachers and classes that are interactive.
Results from each study varied in terms of how participants experienced their own truancy vs. how they experienced the adults at school as truant students. Similarities arose when participants discussed feeling disconnected from school and lacking supportive relationships with teachers. Students all experienced feelings of disengagement and disconnection for various reasons and overall felt torn between a desire to attend school and a desire to stay home. Similarly, students felt disconnected from teachers but wanted closer relationships to help them get back on track. It is important for school leaders to hear and consider the perspectives of their most at risk populations when they construct school based intervention programs addressing issues such as truancy. It is hoped that through this research, school leaders will consider specific program implementations aimed at increasing school engagement and fostering positive student-staff relationships as well as increasing multicultural competency among staff for working with learning disabled students.