Methods: An alternative school in Los Angeles County that provides education and vocational training to formerly incarcerated youth served as the case site. Enrolled students (n=117) were mostly African American/Black (54%) and male (67%), aged 18.7 (on average), and 74% had been involved in some aspect of the justice system. Data collection consisted of 12 months of field observations (n=33), interviews with school personnel (n=4) and Black male students (n=8), one focus group with case managers (n=4), and a review of organizational documents, class handouts, and student work. Data analysis and interpretation consisted of a range of inductive techniques, including coding, constant comparison, and memoing (Charmaz, 2006; Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Merriam, 2009).
Results: Study findings reveal that offering arts-based activities throughout the school day and after school to foster a climate in the alternative school that allowed formerly incarcerated young Black men to build caring and supportive relationships with their peers and school personnel. Instructional practices that integrated music and poetry as part of the learning process also provided meaningful opportunities for the young Black men to participate. These approaches helped to enhance their attitudes (i.e., self, others, learning, school) and academic self-efficacy and problem-solving skills, which appeared to lessen their psychological and emotional distress.
Conclusions and Implications: Study findings provide insights regarding how the mechanisms within an arts-based program in an alternative school can support the healthy development and academic achievement of formerly incarcerated young Black men transitioning into adulthood. Directions for future research concerning resilience and the influence of alternative schools on young Black men’s post-incarceration academic success and well-being is posed.