This qualitative instrumental case study explores how student members of an alternative educational program in a successful public middle school constructed identity, and how they interpreted their schooling experiences in relation to hegemonic educational practices. It draws on sociocultural and postmodern theories to focus on these youths’ identities and on their perspectives of self and school practices. Its multiple methods collected data through alternative and mainstream classroom observations, focus group sessions, semi-structured individual interviews with students, parents, and school professionals, and an analysis of school documents. The youth participants of this study held multiply-constructed identities, and actively resisted and affirmed others’ constructions of their “differences.” Additionally, they readily deconstructed educational practices and offered a number of suggestions for reforms. This study adds to the literature on identity construction and advocates for the inclusion of non-conforming youths’ own sociocultural and change oriented perspectives, along with increased reform efforts targeted towards this lesser-recognized population.


Identity, At-Risk, Alternative Education, Case Study, Non-Conforming Youth, Middle School, School Practices

Author Bio(s)

Alice M. Harnischfeger is an Assistant Professor of Education at Keuka College, Keuka Park, New York. She completed her graduate studies at The Warner School of Education, University of Rochester, with a PhD in Teaching and Curriculum. She had over 20 years of prior teaching experience at the public middle and high school levels, mostly in the areas of Alternative Education and Special Education. Her research interests include exploring constructions of identity in youth, critical analysis of the effects of school practices on non-dominant youth, and the connection of place to institutional practices.

Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Alice M. Harnischfeger at, Assistant Professor of Education, Education Division, Keuka College, Keuka Park, New York, 14420; E-mail: aharnischfeger@keuka.edu.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
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