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"It Starts Out With Little Things": An Exploration of Urban Adolescents' Support-Seeking Strategies in the Context of School


by Gretchen Brion-Meisels — 2016

Background: Student support systems have become a permanent structure in most U.S. public schools, responsible for ensuring equal access to support services. Typically utilized before special education is deemed necessary, these supports often include a range of school- and community-based services such as tutors, mentors, out-of-school time providers, and mental health clinicians. Unfortunately, little is known about how adolescents make decisions about choosing and using these supports in the context of schools.

Purpose: This article shares findings from a study investigating how adolescents make meaning of the supports available to them. Specifically, this article outlines a set of questions that adolescents appear to ask themselves as they make decisions about when and where to access support.

Setting: Data are drawn from a collaborative research project conducted with a team of adolescent researchers in a midsized urban community in the Northeast. The standardized test scores in this racially and socioeconomically diverse community reflect persistent achievement gaps across demographic groups; however, the community has many youth serving organizations that offer local adolescents access to support services. Two sets of young people represent the participants in the study: the youth researchers and local adolescents who were recruited by them to be study participants. Both the youth researchers and the study participants were ages 14–19; their identities largely reflected the diversity of the community.

Research Design: The study design was mixed-methods in nature. It included the collection of survey data to provide quantitative information about patterns in support-seeking behaviors, as well as interviews and focus groups to provide qualitative data about local adolescents’ experiences with learning supports.

Data Analysis: The findings presented in this article come from a secondary analysis of these data conducted by the study’s principal investigator. This analysis builds on the work of the research team, but adds additional dimensions to the work by using grounded coding strategies and discourse analytic methods. In addition, it draws upon ethnographic data and exit interviews with the youth researchers.

Findings: Findings provide evidence of a set of questions that many adolescents appear to ask themselves as they make decisions about support seeking. These questions highlight the importance of adolescents’ interpretations of a specific problem or need, the context in which this problem is occurring, and the available support providers. Regarding the latter, findings highlight the importance of trust, relational style, and expertise.

Recommendations: Implications include the importance of consulting adolescents about their support-seeking needs, particularly in the context of school. Schools might collect data about how students construct support, make support-seeking decisions, and experience available supports. In addition, schools should consider including adolescents in meetings about their own support service plans.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 1, 2016, p. 1-38
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18223, Date Accessed: 12/15/2017 2:29:03 PM

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About the Author
  • Gretchen Brion-Meisels
    Harvard University
    E-mail Author
    GRETCHEN BRION-MEISELS is a lecturer in the Prevention Science and Practice Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research seeks to explore holistic student support processes that build on the local knowledge of students and communities. She is particularly interested in finding ways to incorporate students in the researching and reforming of student support systems and school climate. In addition, Brion-Meisels' work explores the intersections of bullying and discrimination in prevention research and practice. Her work has appeared in the Harvard Educational Review (2014), Urban Education (2014), and the Berkeley Review of Education (2011), in addition to several edited volumes.
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