Date of Award

Spring 6-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Joan Lakebrink, Ph.D

Second Advisor

Gayle Mindes, Ed.D

Third Advisor

Erin Mason, Ph.D


The purpose of the study was to explore the lives of six, economically disadvantaged, African American, middle school students who are demonstrating school success to discover how their home, school, and community experiences influenced their academic achievement.

A phenomenological inquiry approach was applied in this qualitative study to investigate the lived experiences of the student participants and identify the factors that contributed to their academic achievements in spite of the various challenges they encountered. The qualitative data consisted of three individual interviews. Using a semi-structured protocol, questions focused on the students’ perceptions of the factors that contributed to their academic success and the challenges they experienced; how the students made meaning of their academic lives in the school setting; and how the students’ home and community experiences influenced their academic achievement.

The seven step modified van Kaam method was employed to analyze the data obtained from the six student participants. The findings revealed that all six-student participants had the same perception of what it means to be a high achiever. Most of the student participants encountered challenges within family and home factors that varied, but the data revealed perceived negative influences of the community from most participants. However, all of the student participants developed ways to maintain their academic achievement despite their challenges. The student participants attributed their academic success to having an inner will to achieve, working hard, remaining focused, and staying out of trouble. Each of the student participants were goal oriented and aspired to attend college. Most of the student participants shared how their peers served as a positive influence on their academic achievement by providing help with difficult work and serving as a motivator as they engaged in healthy competition. Student participants also identified teacher and parental support as having a positive impact on their academic achievement.

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