A study of at-risk youth and how they respond to life's challenges
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Students who attend alternate education programs are often the most vulnerable population in the school system. These youth face numerous challenges in their lives, including poverty, trauma, academic struggles, mental health issues, domestic and community violence, racism, and discrimination. At-risk youth have many ways of responding to these challenges, both maladaptive and adaptive. We tend to see what is visible to us: their maladaptive responses, such as self-harm, substance misuse, or other risky behaviour. This action research project explores the topic of at-risk youth and the various ways they respond to life’s challenges. Also in question is whether the youth find the school programs that teach adaptive ways of responding to life’s challenges, as valuable and meaningful to them, and how this research could influence future programming at the school. The findings from this research have provided a better understanding of how at-risk youth respond to life’s challenges and how school programs can play a supportive and active role in contributing to their responses. The data revealed that although a small proportion of the youth did have maladaptive responses involving substance misuse and self-harm, they had many more adaptive responses. These included the programs offered by the school, which included yoga, expressive arts, self-regulation and mindfulness practices. Recommendations of this action research project for the alternate school include: expanding the yoga and expressive arts programs; continuing to be leaders in the areas of self-regulation and mindfulness; and incorporating adventure programming within the physical education program. These recommendations can be applied to alternate programs working with at-risk youth throughout the educational system.