Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Family Consumer Human Development

Committee Chair(s)

Randall M. Jones


Randall M. Jones


Brent Miller


Kathy Piercy


Jay Schvaneveldt


Richard Krannich


Shelley Knudsen Lindauer


This study explored the influence of peer relationships on students who have a history of school difficulties. Peer Relationship Surveys I and II assessed school-based peer group status, relationship qualities, school-related behaviors, attitudes, and intentions (BAJs); substance (i.e., alcohol and tobacco) use; and identity development in relation to experiences at traditional (survey I, retrospective accounts) and alternative high schools (survey II). Both surveys were administered in five classrooms to students at an alternative high school (i.e. Cache High) during the first academic term (August 1999) and in January 2000. Eighty-five and 83 predominantly Caucasian adolescents between the ages of 15 to 19 completed surveys I and II, respectively. Twenty-one students were interviewed.

The majority of participants indicated that peer group membership and status were less salient at the alternative school and that the quality of their peer relationships at the alternative school was better than what they had experienced at their traditional high schools. Quantitative analyses provided less support for the linkages between peer relationship quality, school-related BAIs, and grades, but interviews with students consistently supported the premise that supportive peer relationships contributed to improvement in school BAIs. Compared to responses about their traditional high school experiences, students reported more positive school-related BAIs and fewer negative BAIs at the alternative school. Analyses of differences or change in identity statuses showed that moratorium scores, which are characterized by greater exploration of choices in personal beliefs, educational goals, and interpersonal relationships, were statistically significantly different based on comparisons of responses to surveys I and II.

Findings suggests that school environments (traditional and alternative) do influence peer status, peer relationship qualities, school-related BAIs, grades, and identity status development. This study demonstrated that adolescents who were labeled as unmotivated and possibly academically underachieving in traditional high schools found that with encouragement and individualized attention at the alternative school they could change their school-related attitudes and performance. Conclusions from this study emphasize the importance of tailoring educational experiences to the needs of students rather than expecting students to conform to existing school structures and procedures, which are clearly ineffective for some learners.