Date of Award

July 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Joseph Shedd


Big Picture School, Career Readiness, College Readiness, Student-Centered Learning, Student Perspective

Subject Categories



The outdated industrial education system, dropout crisis, and disengagement in the learning process are not new issues within the educational debate and continue to raise concerns among school stakeholders. The role of education should be to encourage students to be creative and foster a love for continuous learning; however, this does not seem to be the case in many traditional school systems. In order to address the growing needs of different types of learners who are no longer engaged in traditional settings, alternative education sites have become a popular answer for some families.

This qualitative case study focuses on one particular alternative learning environment that implements the Big Picture School model of learning in a rural setting. This model emphasizes student-centered learning within a supportive environment that assists students in taking ownership of their learning through a student-interest-based curriculum. The ultimate goal of this type of school is to teach one student at a time through authentic learning opportunities that are student-interest driven.

The purpose of this study is to examine how students experience the Big Picture School model of learning and how the school structures that experience, from the perspective of students. Through participant observations, interviews with students and school stakeholders, focus group sessions with students, and the analysis of school documents, the findings reveal an alternative learning environment that focuses truly on student learning. Listening to students and utilizing their interests to write meaningful, relevant curriculums, while incorporating internships and college course work with high school required academics, and collaborating with community businesses all contribute to higher levels of student engagement and motivation in the learning environment.


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