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Staff Perceptions of the School Bonding Strategies Employed at a Pennsylvania Urban Charter High School as Part of a Federally Mandated School Turnaround and Race to the Top Grant Open Access

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Between 2011 and 2015, K-12 education experienced an infusion of funds by the U.S. Department of Education going directly to school districts that implemented reforms in key areas to address truancy, dropout and achievement in our nation’s most severely underperforming schools. There is limited research studying truancy reduction, relationship building and dropout prevention during this period. This study sought to discover how one high school undergoing a federal turnaround built relationships and bonds with students. Knowledge of how to best build student and staff relationships is necessary to inform leaders and districts the appropriate approaches to take to keep students engaged in the school day in today’s competitive and accountability-driven environment. Therefore, these were the overarching research questions: (a) how did staff at an urban Northeast turnaround Renaissance charter high school describe the strategies and tactics the school utilized between 2011-2014 to support the formation of relationships, social bonds, and attachments and (b) how do school personnel perceive that these strategies and tactics support students in bonding with the school and its personnel?After interviewing central office personnel, the principal, teachers, a dean, counselor, and an assistant principal, and after reviewing documents, this study found that five approaches were critical in the formation of bonds, attachments and relationships between school staff and students. Those approaches included: (1) parent and community engagement(2) a supportive approach to discipline (3) school bonding activities (4) professional development (5) structured extracurricular activitiesIn addition to these strategies, it emerged that staff perceived that the school could have been less rigid at the beginning and more restorative in its discipline approach, to better address student truancy and dropout. From these themes, the following major findings surfaced: (a) initial face-to-face communication with parents coupled with other follow-up strategies supported stronger school-student relationships; (b) a supportive discipline system with a focus on staff-student relationships was essential; (c) school-wide bonding activities focused around postsecondary success and robust extracurricular activities were vital to relationship building.

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