Method: A life history methodology was used to study four high-school-aged Latino males experiences and perceptions of attending alternative schools in Southern California and Nevada. Data collection consisted of in-depth interviews and participant observations. Institutional documents were also reviewed to better understand the daily student experience and how the school context shaped students’ aspirations. Analysis included inductive and deductive analytic techniques, allowing for themes to emerge from the empirical data and the literature concerned with Latinos in education, alternative schools, and students on the educational margins (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007).
Results: The findings focus on three themes. The first, institutional context, refers to participants perceptions of how the structure of alternatives schools create and hinder their opportunities to build community with outside partners and agencies. Participants in California perceived a peer mentor program at the school to help them to understand and feel validated in their lived experiences, whereas participants in Nevada perceived the physical and social environment of their school to mirror that of a local prison. The second theme highlights the curriculum and instruction as another structured opportunity that shaped the young men’s schooling experiences. Participants in California perceived the unstructured, self-directed curriculum to influence them to assume responsibility for their academic success by taking the initiative to ask for assignments, while participants in Nevada completed their assignments on Internet modules with limited interactions with instructors. The third theme illuminates the role of teachers and counselors in shaping participants’ aspirations towards higher education. In California, participants were surrounded by social supports that promoted college and career development, and the alternative school in Nevada stressed to participants the importance of “staying out of trouble” and to consider new pathways.
Conclusions and Implications: Study findings are important because they identify structured opportunities within alternative schools that can improve the academic experiences of Latino males, and increase their chances of post-secondary enrollment. We stress that future research and policies aim to improve Latino males social and academic experiences in alternative and traditional schools, so as to create pathways that can adequately prepare this group for stable and secure to competitive career training and postsecondary education.