Date of Paper/Work


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Sarah J. Noonan, Ed.D.; Robert J. Brown, Ph.D.; Eleni Roulis, Ph.D.


A case study was conducted to learn about the experiences of American Indian students attending a virtual high school who successfully completed coursework. Appreciative inquiry was used to gain student and coordinator perspectives regarding the factors contributing to successful course completion. Data from interviews, document analysis, and observations were analyzed using a critical and culturally responsive lens. Gang influences, pregnancy and parenting, social isolation, and disengagement with traditional forms of schooling led students to leave high school and later enroll in a virtual school to pursue the goal of a high school diploma. Enrollees were drawn to the virtual school for a variety of reasons, including the 24/7 availability of coursework, the opportunity to complete lessons online, and another chance to graduate. Course completion and graduation rates improved over time, demonstrating the need for sustained investment and programmatic adjustment based on student needs. Additional support beyond the coursework served as factors in student success. This included career education and cultural programming. A financial analysis showed the level of investment needed to offer an alternative program and also compared the costs associated with the virtual school to alternative educational program costs required to serve high need students. A comprehensive program to promote academic engagement should include a variety of student incentives to learn, provider flexibility, engaging coursework, enrichment programs, and program-wide integration of Tribal language and culture. Virtual delivery alone does not guarantee student success and district and state budgetary constraints put program sustainability at risk due to the high cost of serving at risk students. Recommendations included ways to counter financial challenges associated with initial low completion rates as well as a description of the added programming needed to support one of the most at risk populations with regard to educational attainment in the United States.


Experiences of American Indian students, Virtual High School, Career Education, Cultural Programming

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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