This qualitative study examined the experiences and perceptions of males aged 16 – 19 who did not complete a traditional high school diploma program because of feeling alienated from the school system. Five participants described their school experiences from elementary school through the point in high school when they decided or were asked to leave. Participants engaged in three semi-structured interviews and one perception check conducted over a six week period. Transcriptions of the 15 interviews were the data used for this analysis. Analysis followed the Modified Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen Method (Moustakas, 1994), which includes pre-reflective descriptions by the participants and interpretive reflections by the researcher. The purpose of this study was to discover the implicit essence of alienation from school setting. Descriptions by the five participants revealed common themes throughout the structure of their school experience. These themes which repeated in the substructures and were viewed in terms of movement along a continuum of school engagement were: (1) participant’s need to achieve peer acceptance despite negative consequences, (2) participant’s loss of trust in school and school adults, and (3) participant’s fear of failure and fear of disappointing self and family. The invariant structure (essence) that emerged was the interrelationship among the constituents of peer acceptance, trust, and fear of failure and disappointment.
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