This mixed-methods case study examined the impact of a mandatory service-learning intervention college preparatory elective class on at-risk students in a Southern California charter high school. At-risk was defined as, disadvantaged high school students from low income families and possessing poor health, cognitive problems and/or behavior issues that might hinder educational attainment. The embedded design analyzed two years of archival data from four student cohorts (n = 133), all of whom had the same instructor, who was trained to lead the class. The study included a quantitative survey taken by the students at the program’s beginning and end, demographic information, students’ GPAs, attendance records, and reflective journals and notes from the teacher of the class. The examination of academic achievements of participating students found that student participants increased their school attendance and overall GPA following completion of the class. Including student voice in instructional activities and reflection in writing journals contributed to developing the students’ understanding of leadership capabilities. These leadership capabilities included their change in self-awareness that they and their friends could assume positive leadership roles. Following the class, female students significantly increased their participation in clubs and organizations on campus. During data analyses, the data coders noted that over the course of the study, the instructor became more focused and included more activities into the class. In year one more than 50% of students were unable to participate in the service-learning project (SLP) prior to the semester’s completion. In year two, the program instructor decreased the time spent on formal curriculum to allow students the opportunity to increase their time spent working on actual SLP. Since then, the service-learning program has been embraced by students and administration as these at-risk students build relationships with their peers and identify student leaders based on their experiences in the ACT program. Recommendations include that the SLP increase hands-on activities and seek formal opportunities to engage students in diverse communities. In that process, the SLP should garner student input in the implementation and design of the SLP to ensure that the curriculum, activities and projects remain relevant to at-risk SLP students.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Organizational leadership; High school students; Problem youth -- Education; College preparation programs

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Hiatt-Michael, Diana B.;