Engaging Marginalized, "At-Risk" Middle-Level Students: A Focus on the Importance of a Sense of Belonging at School
The philosophy of middle level education is to intentionally create a learning environment that supports every young adolescent. The literature around engagement points to the need for students to experience (among other requirements) a sense of belonging at school (SOBAS). When the need for belonging is not achieved there may be significant consequences, including an impact on intellectual performance, and hence, learning potential may not be achieved. For students with marginalized
... inalized identities, an intensification of factors that create challenges places them at-risk of disengaging and their sense of belonging at school is more likely to be compromised. Nurturing SOBAS is positively associated with the retention of students who are at-risk of dropping out of, thereby being an aspirational goal of education. Methods: The findings of a systematic literature review related to young adolescents and the importance of SOBAS forms a focused literature base. We highlight findings from a study that explored the effectiveness of engagement strategies for marginalized students in one educational jurisdiction in Australia. Data in the form of a series of interviews and focus groups conducted with 25 students, 25 of their teachers, and 39 school leaders provides a rich data set for thematic content analysis. Inductive analysis and in vivo coding led to a framework that summarized each of the sub-group data sets to convey emergent themes. Results: Five themes related to SOBAS emerged from the data: (a) Relationships in School; (b) School Climate; (c) Pedagogical Practices; (d) Specific Programs and Activities; and (e) Other Issues, mainly variables such as family, mental health, trauma and poverty that impacted on a student's SOBAS. Conclusion: The systematic literature review and the findings of the empirical study presented in this paper highlight aspects of SOBAS that can be formalized into a series of strategies to increase retention of marginalized students.