Research Communications

Engaging Appalachia 

Ohio University education major explores student disengagement in high school

May 4, 2010

ATHENS, Ohio – Drugs. Family issues. Lack of drive or intelligence. All are often cited as reasons why high school students aren’t interested in the classroom. But a new study of students in Appalachia by Ohio University graduate student Katie Hendrickson suggests that the reasons for disengagement can be more complex.

Hendrickson, a master’s student in education, has spent two years teaching in Appalachian classrooms, and wanted to learn more about why some students sleep, goof off in class and challenge teachers.

Photo by: Erica McKeehen

Hendrickson conducted primary research on student disengagement, and then spent about eight weeks observing interactions between students, teachers and others at a high school in Appalachian Ohio. She next strategically selected seven students, juniors and seniors, to complete interviews for her study.

“I wanted to know what was going on in their lives that made school unimportant,” Hendrickson said. “I wanted to see if there was a relationship between living in a working-class environment and becoming disengaged with educational opportunities.”

Hendrickson, who was advised on the project by Associate Professor of Educational Studies Jaylynne Hutchinson, noted that the theory of social reproduction suggests that students who come from working-class families will remain in the working class, a theme that reflects the disengagement of the students with whom she spoke.

Through her observations and interviews, Hendrickson found that many of the students interviewed didn’t see the value of their education, and didn’t believe that their classes were useful.  Some blamed the rural area in which they live. Students often mentioned that they valued vocational programs such as welding and cosmetology because they prefer hands-on courses that lead to careers, said Hendrickson, who used a $1,000 grant from the College of Education Graduate Research Fund to complete her study.

Hendrickson, who hopes to land a mathematics teaching job in the Athens, plans to use her study findings in her own classroom to foster discussions with her future students about the value of education.

Hendrickson is one of 600 students who will present their research, scholarship and creative work at the 2010 Student Research and Creative Activity Expo, from noon to 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 13. For more information, visit: