Researchers in the West Virginia University College of Human Resources and Education are adding personal stories to data that may help curb the high school drop-out rate and encourage students to pursue a secondary education.

HR&E’s Program Evaluation and Research Center recently videotaped interviews with six high school students in Kanawha County. Led by Dr. Malayna Bernstein, the video testimonials are part of The Education Alliance’s Walk the Talk, a program that pairs high school students at-risk of dropping out with community mentors to learn about college and career opportunities and become re–engaged in the learning process.

“The interviews allowed us to gather qualitative data to understand why the students were at-risk of dropping out and how they are succeeding now,” said Malayna Bernstein, an assistant professor in HR&E’s Department of Curriculum & Instruction and Literacy Studies.

The interviews focused on external barriers students’ experiences as they complete high school and how support from Walk the Talk impacts their future.

“We heard beautiful stories about personal redemption as well as family and community struggle,” Bernstein said. “They have experienced many difficult circumstances: witnessing death; growing up without parents at home; being surrounded by drugs and gangs; having family members in jail—an enormous range of hardships that make success in school that much harder.”

Bernstein believes these trends increase understanding for retention research in West Virginia.

“While these hardships are normally considered urban trends, they are occurring in rural areas. That data adds nuance and complexity to the social circumstances that must be considered,” Bernstein said.

The research also exemplifies how WVU is fulfilling its land-grant mission.

“Walk the Talk is a wonderful example of the purpose of land-grant education. The research really benefits the people of West Virginia while contributing to the national conversation around retention and drop-out rates,” Bernstein said.

Students qualify for Walk the Talk based on attendance, academic performance and disciplinary record.

“The interviews engage a range of experiences in their lives. They are learning to take responsibility for bad behavior that is not conducive for attending college. Walk the Talk also prepares them for college admissions, including details that may not be discussed at home like standardized test scores and GPA.” Bernstein said. “With support of Walk the Talk, the respective high schools, and the students’ mentors, all six of these students are college bound.”



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CONTACT: Christie Zachary, Human Resources and Education