Exploring Positive Youth Development Among Young People Who Leave School Without Graduating High School: A Focus on Social and Emotional Competencies

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Much qualitative and quantitative research has examined the individual and contextual risk factors of youth who have left high school without graduating. However, few studies have examined their strengths and, to the authors’ knowledge, no studies have used a positive youth development (PYD) perspective. To begin to fill this gap, we explored a component of the PYD process, an individual’s social and emotional competencies, among 27 youth (57.64% male; 45% African American and 24% Hispanic) who had previously left school without graduating. We used an interpretive phenomenological approach in combination with the competency framework proposed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning to examine whether (and, if so, how) these youth expressed these social and emotional competencies. Contextualized within their lived experiences, we found that youth exhibited multiple competencies, including making responsible decisions, creating and implementing strategies for goal pursuit, and understanding how their thoughts, feelings, and experiences related to their development. Implications for policies and programs that support youth at risk for leaving school without graduating and for reengaging these youth are discussed.

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