Perceptions of Belonging in Secondary Independent School: A Retrospective Case Study Comparing Experiences of Former Scholarship and Non-Scholarship Students
Belonging, competencies, opportunities, motivations, perceptions, lived experience, peer association, place attachment, scholarship, storytelling, community.
Daniel W. Love Abstract Doctoral Defense An abstract of the dissertation of Daniel W. Love for the degree of Doctor of Education in Leadership, Learning, and Community Presented on Date: November 15, 2022 Title: Perceptions of Belonging in Secondary Independent School: A Retrospective Case Study Comparing Experiences of Former Scholarship and Non-Scholarship Students Abstract approved: Name: Suzanne Gaulocher Dissertation Committee Chair The purpose of this study was to determine the sense of belonging between low-income scholarship students and non-scholarship students in the independent school setting by examining stories of their lived experience. This study builds on previous research in higher education that examined students’ struggles to belong, which are particularly reported by minorities and other historically marginalized groups. The study aimed to reveal assets and barriers related to equity and access at secondary private schools through personal stories of students’ experiences. Recently matriculated participants aged 18-21 from the same independent school in central New Hampshire were recruited through a snowball sampling method. Through this recruitment approach, 26 individuals participated. Participants recounted their experiences during their time at the secondary independent school. Using a narrative inquiry approach with semi-structured interviews, data were analyzed through an ongoing and iterative process. All data were aggregated and analyzed using hand coding by transcribing each interview, coding the data, and determining interrelated themes for each of the different groups of codes. Findings from this study confirm four integrated concepts: competencies, opportunities, motivations, and perceptions. Each of these concepts may impact an individual’s ability to feel accepted, respected, included, and supported by others in the school social environment. Results address a gap in the literature, specifically how students perceive a sense of belonging compared between low-income scholarship students and non-scholarship independent school students. In contrast to previous research, results from this study indicate that a sense of belonging, as determined by the individual storyteller, was not significantly different between the two groups of students. Results from this study determine this was due to a concerted effort on behalf of the secondary independent school to promote a sense of community. Findings from this study have the potential to inform independent schools’ equitable practices, especially among diverse groups.