Succeeding in school: a qualitative study of primarily American Indian students' use of an online intervention.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Academic achievement (Management)
Native Americans (Educational aspects)
Authors: Zyromski, Brett
Bryant, Alfred, Jr.
Deese, Brenda Dial
Gerler, Edwin R., Jr.
Pub Date: 12/01/2008
Publication: Name: Professional School Counseling Publisher: American School Counselor Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Family and marriage; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 American School Counselor Association ISSN: 1096-2409
Issue: Date: Dec, 2008 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 191213593
Full Text: This article provides an abbreviated description of a qualitative study of the Succeeding in School (SIS) program, an Internet-based intervention designed to help students reflect on key elements of academic and career success. The American School Counselor Association's National Standards call for school counselors to focus on the academic, career, and personal/social development of students. Strengths-Based School Counseling (Galassi & Akos, 2007) suggests that school counselors should implement that call through promoting context-based development for all students, promoting individual student strengths, and promoting strengths-enhancing environments. Students used the SIS program to identify personal strengths and characteristics, as well as strengths-enhancing aspects of their environment useful for achieving academic and career success.


Most school counselors find useful and creative ways to enhance student achievement. Galassi and Akos (2007) have suggested that one role of strengths-based school counselors is to help students academically by stimulating collaboration among home, school, and community and by stimulating students' personal and situational interests. Further roles of strengths-based school counselors are to facilitate students' acquisition of self-evaluation skills as well as goal-setting and planning skills (Galassi & Akos). Similarly, the ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2005) has encouraged school counselors to use research-based interventions that have positive effects on the academic achievement of all students.

The Succeeding in School (SIS) program is a Web-delivered, asynchronous intervention that helps students to identify their own strengths and to reflect on the strengths of respected, successful individuals at school and elsewhere (Gerler, n.d.). The original version of the SIS program, delivered in the classroom using paper and pencil, showed evidence of improving academic achievement in mathematics and reading (Gerler & Anderson, 1986; Gerler & Drew, 1990). The program also was used as a dropout prevention program and led to an awareness of skills needed to succeed in school (Gerler & Herndon, 1993; Ruben, 1989).

The SIS program has been used in the past with students from 10 years old to 14 years old. Both the online program and the paper-and-pencil program contain 10 units or sections aimed at helping students examine factors that contribute to success in school. As students progress through each of the 10 units, the prompts force them to reflect on key strengths in themselves and their environment that contribute to their achievement (Gerler, n.d.). The students can use their results to then positively impact their achievement in school.

The online instrument is organized into the following sections: (a) "Models of Success," (b) "Being Comfortable in School," (c) "Being Responsible in School," (d) "Listening in School," (e) "Asking for Help in School," (f) "Improving at School," (g) "Cooperating with Peers," (h) "Cooperating with Teachers, (i) "The Bright Side of School," and (j) "The Bright Side of Me." Many of these units directly align with a Strengths-Based School Counseling framework. Students explore their own strengths in units (a), (d), (g), (h), and (j), and they explore strengths-enhancing environments in units (b), (c), (e), (f), and (i). This article focuses on the first section of the program, "Models of Success," and presents a qualitative examination of how 10-to-12-year-old students, primarily of American Indian heritage, responded to items in the program related to role models of success in school and elsewhere.


The online SIS program was given over 10 weeks, primarily by classroom teachers. The online intervention replicates the 10-unit structure of the original paper-and-pencil intervention. Students responded online to questions, comments, and picture prompts.

Participants were fourth- and fifth-grade students attending an elementary school (K-6) in southeastern North Carolina. The classes and student participants were a convenience sample. The ages of the participants ranged from 10 to 11 years old for the fourth graders and 11 to 12 years old for the fifth graders. Three classes of fourth graders and three classes of fifth graders participated in the study. A total of 77 fourth graders (42 males and 35 females) and 62 fifth graders (24 males and 38 females) participated in the study, for an overall total of 139 participants. Of the 77 fourth graders, 69% were American Indian, 17% were Hispanic, 8% were African American, 3% were White, and 3% were multiracial. Of the 62 fifth graders, 74% were American Indian, 17% were Hispanic, 6% were African American, 2% were White, and 1% were multiracial. Of the total school population, 76% were American Indian and 50% of the population was female.

In qualitative research, the researcher is acknowledged as a participant in the research process; therefore, researcher reflexivity strategies were implemented in an effort to reduce the chance for researcher bias to skew findings. The analysis was conducted from a constructivist epistemology (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Racher & Robinson, 2002). Themes that emerged led to essences of the students' perceptions of the SIS intervention. These essences served to explicate how the students understood, interacted with, interpreted, and responded to the instrument as a whole, as well as to each section of the SIS program (Miles & Huberman; Racher & Robinson). An auditor examined a sample of the data, the coding books applied to the data set, and resulting themes to reinforce validity. Kappa was used to measure interrater agreement. Although a kappa score of .70 is usually acceptable to support interrater reliability, all pairs of kappa coefficients exceeded .80 for our team.

Strategies such as utilizing a coding team, strengthening interrater reliability, using theme checks against members' words, utilizing researcher reflexivity strategies, and using an auditor strengthened the trustworthiness of the results (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Weston et al., 2001). Trustworthiness was further strengthened by utilizing a member check to confirm that the final codes used by the coding team were accurate. Due to space limitations, a fuller description of the methods is available from the first author upon request.


The first section and lesson of the SIS program focused on students' identification of characteristics and strengths of successful people. Students' responses are presented to each of the six prompts. Note that the results are presented in authentic student responses, including all typos and incorrect grammar. One possible explanation for this may be the current culture of instant messaging and using short, quick phrases to communicate. Other explanations may be that anonymous responses on the Internet encourage careless use of language or that some students simply possess deficient academic skills.

1. What Do You Think Makes a Person Successful?

This prompt required students to consider the characteristics of successful people. Students participated in a strengths promotion exercise as they recognized strengths that led to success for others. The themes associated with students' responses illustrated that they identified successful people as possessing a positive mindset, possessing motivation and confidence, and possessing a strong work ethic. For example, one student submitted that "successful means a person who believes in their self and will never give up on their self. They no they can accomplish hard tasks." Another student thought that success means "believeing that you can do it. Knowing you can do something. Not giving up." A third student illustrated the importance of a strong work ethic: "HARD WORKING AND DETERMINATION." However, students also identified having

strong natural abilities as important to success, as "Smartness" and "Smartness makes a person successful" support students' contention that "willingness and ability" are keys to success.

2. Write the Name of Someone Successful

Students identified context-specific successful role models. Friends, family members, and peers were identified as successful people students knew. One student could identify many models of success in his or her fife, such as "my morn, my dad, Ms. Amy, my teachers and ALL OF MY BEST FRIENDS!!" Another followed suit: "my mom, my dad, my brother, all of my friends, ms. amy, all of my teachers." When identifying successful people, students often identified peers by name: "Someone successful here is Esmeralda." Often, students would submit names of people they considered a success without specifying who they were. These successful people were identified by name without further explanation. Therefore, we know "melinda tiffany d.j. erica april" or "Julie" or "Luis" are successful; however, we don't know what relationship they possess with the student.

3. How Can You Tell That This Person Is a Success?

Students related success with specific strengths such as hard work, a positive mindset, and focus. These strengths resulted in accomplishment, usually in academics. Students who "work every night," "work hard," and "work hard at school" are all on their way to success. However, they also must possess "a good attitude toward their self. They no they can take on a challenge and not fail." If students possess the work ethic and mindset, they can emulate one student who "achieves different goals and she always succeeds in whats right." Or another, "She makes good grades she is hard working at school," or a third who "PASED ALL HER GRADES."

4. Tell Why You Might Want to Be Like This Person

Students identified an increase in ability as the main benefit to those who emulated successful family and friends: "I would like to be like this person because I would like to be smart and pass my classes." "I want to be like that person is strong." Themes expressed students' desire to imitate the successful person in order to obtain increased intelligence: "She is so smart." "Cause shes smart." The successful people served as role models for the students: "I see what this person has accomplished and how people look up to him and I want to be like him." "COUSE SHE IS A GOOD ROMODEL TO EVERYONE." "They are strong independant people and i just admire them very very much."

5. List Some Things You Might Need to Do to Be as Successful as This Person

Students functioning within an environment where role models exhibited strengths leading to success identified steps toward building those same strengths. To achieve levels of success similar to those of their role models, students expressed the need to change their mindset, to focus, and to work hard. One student expressed, "HAVE A GREAT ATTITUDE, LISTEN AND PAY ATTENTION!!" Another commented that to achieve success, a student must "believe that you can go on, believe in yourself and everyone else, and be strong in hard times." Working hard to succeed was a common theme. "Work harder," "start studying harder," and "study hard and listen to the teacher" are representative of the focus toward a renewed work ethic.

6. Tell Why You Expect to Have Success in Your Life

When a prompt attempted to bridge what students needed to do to be successful and why they expected to become a success, students responded by identifying goals for the future, an academic facet that strengths-based school counselors promote, as well as an aspect of strengths-based career development growth (Galassi & Akos, 2007). The goals were presented in both negative and positive terms. Those presented in positive terms referred to educational accomplishments. One student referred to attending the local community college or university, "I want to go to RCC or UNCP!!" Another student expressed a changed mindset regarding educational goals, "I have made up my mind, I'm gonna go to school and make good grades and go to collage." Goals were expressed in both specific and general terms. In addition to setting goals, students revealed that they would be successful because they held themselves in high esteem and positive regard. A student would become successful "because I believe ion my self," "cause i could achieve anything i would like to," "cause i know i wlii succeed," and "because I am stong and I believe in myself and others."


A concept map summarizing the main prompts and themes related to section and lesson 1 of the Succeeding in School program is illustrated in Figure 1.


The ASCA National Model (2005) has called for school counselors to support the academic development of students. Strengths-Based School Counseling (Galassi & Akos, 2007) has promoted the identification of individual strengths that students can use to achieve greater academic development. School counselors also need to recognize how the environmental and contextual influences surrounding students impact their development. Strength-based school counselors help students recognize internal strengths and environmental/contextual strengths. "Thus, Strengths-Based School Counseling focuses on helping students build on or further enhance their current strengths as well as develop additional ones that have been shown to be associated with positive development" (Galassi & Akos, p. 5). In order to build upon these strengths, students need to recognize what they are. Section 1 of the SIS program illustrates one activity that enables students to identify their own strengths. Students also identify positive role models who show how to utilize personal strengths to achieve success. As a result of the SIS intervention, students identified strengths such as hard work, a positive mindset, focus, a great attitude, good listening skills, determination, and a strong belief in self, and they also identified how these strengths could lead to academic success. Students set specific and general goals, and they articulated that a high positive self-regard would be important to achieving those goals.

Practicing school counselors also can use the other elements of the SIS program to help students reflect on their own personal strengths and on characteristics useful in achieving academic success specific to their contextual environment. School counselors and students participating in the SIS program gain a better understanding of the home, school, and community environments that are strengths enhancing by reviewing student reflections from the SIS program. Indeed, the primary goal of the strengths based school counselor is "to promote and advocate for positive youth development for all students and for the environments that enhance and sustain that development" (Galassi & Akos, 2007).



American School Counselor Association. (2005). The ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author.

Galassi, J. P., & Akos, R (2007). Strengths-Based School Counseling: Promoting student development and achievement. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Gerler, E. R. (n.d.). The Succeeding in School program. Retrieved April 17, 2008, from web%20files/

Gerler, E. R., & Anderson, R. F. (1986). The effects of classroom guidance on children's success in school. Journal of Counseling & Development, 65, 78-81.

Gerler, E. R., & Drew, N. S. (1990). Succeeding in middle school: A multimodal approach. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling, 24, 263-272.

Gerler, E. R., & Herndon, E. Y. (1993). Learning how to succeed academically in middle school. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling, 27, 186-198.

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Racher, F. E., & Robinson, S. (2002). Are phenomenology and postpositivism strange bedfellows? Western Journal of Nursing Research, 25, 464-481.

Ruben, A. M. (1989). Preventing school dropouts through classroom guidance. Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, 24, 21-29.

Weston, C., Gandell, T., Beauchamp, J., McAlpine, L., Wiseman, C., & Beauchamp, C. (2001). Analyzing interview data: The development and evolution of a coding system. Qualitative Sociology, 24, 381-400.

Brett Zyromski, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. E-mail:

Alfred Bryant, Jr., Ph.D., is an associate professor at University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Brenda Dial Deese, Ph.D., is the director of student services at Public Schools of Robeson County, Lumberton, N.C.

Edwin R. Gerler, Jr., Ed.D., is a professor at North Carolina State University, Raleigh.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.