Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


College of Education, Doctoral Program

First Advisor

Hall, Horace

Second Advisor

Gnilka, Philip

Third Advisor

Mason, Erin


This two-phase qualitative study was designed to explore the hope levels of high school students receiving special education services for mild intellectual disabilities or emotional/behavioral disabilities using a narrative inquiry approach. In order to better understand how student participants perceived their special education experiences and how their individual perceptions related to their hope levels, the Adult Hope Scale (AHS) was administered to seven students and scored during the study’s first phase. Semi-structured interviews were subsequently conducted with five high school students chosen from the original group for the study’s second phase. Interviews were reported in narrative form and key common themes were identified. Since researchers have demonstrated hopeful thinking is a precursor to multiple positive outcomes, including significant academic achievement, more resistance to pain, increased happiness, and improved sports performance, the rationale for this study arose from a desire to improve students’ lives by finding ways to increase their hope levels. Five key findings emerged after analysis of the data. First, the hope levels of participants in this study were positively influenced by the accommodations they received through special education services. Second, interviewed participants described hope in terms of future goals, paths to those goals, and motivation to reach those goals. Third, interviewed participants viewed their special education experiences in a mostly positive light. Fourth, the narratives shared by the students explained their AHS scores by describing their daily struggles with depression, anxiety, anger, and various other obstacles to hope. Lastly, the narratives shared by the students converged with the scores they received on the AHS. Recommendations derived from this study include making general education classes more adaptable to students with emotional disabilities by providing them with more academic challenges in supportive settings, ensuring the continuation of special education services for those students who would otherwise become high school dropouts, and using the Adult Hope Scale as a screening device to identify low-hope high school students who might need extra emotional support in order to succeed at school.