Graduation Date


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department or Program


Department or Program Chair

Elizabeth Truesdell PhD

First Reader

Jennifer Lucko, PhD

Second Reader

Shadi Roshandel, PhD


A large body of research shows that academic tracking has the potential to negatively impact a student’s feeling of belonging on campus. However, students express a greater sense of belonging when they take classes with students who mirror some aspect of their identity. The purpose of this study was to understand the complex ways in which students in tracked or low-level classes develop their identity as learners and experience belonging at school with a predominantly white students and staff. Participants included students who were enrolled in Academic English and Support English classes during the 2017-2018 school year. Support students participated in one focus group, and all students participated in an anonymous survey. Two teachers in the Support program also were interviewed for the study. This study found that schools can avoid some of the pitfalls of the tracking system by building programs that explicitly recognize and work to remedy students’ complex and often negative past experiences with school. When students have a history of negative experiences at school, individual teachers must work to regain the trust of the student to help the student in constructing a more hopeful vision of their future. Alongside this, the study found that meaningful relationships with teachers and peers help students develop greater resiliency and feelings of belonging on campus. The findings demonstrate the importance of strengths-based instruction and social-emotional learning in the classroom to help students build resilience and develop attainable goals for the future.