The impact of service-learning programs in the leadership skill development of at-risk high school students : an explanatory sequential mixed methods study.


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Following testing policies for accountability purposes is not enough (Nehring et al., 2019) to prepare high school graduates for the next steps of their lives. Academic skills alone are no longer sufficient to be successful in college or the workforce as high school students need self-confidence to make decisions, finish tasks, and have the flexibility to work with others (Tokke, 2017; Villarreal et al., 2018). Depriving the youth of experiencing leadership opportunities while in school jeopardizes their financial future as they tend to earn less in their lifetime (Kuhn & Weinberger, 2005; Whitehead, 2009). Furthermore, the youth’s lack of leadership skills negatively affects the employment rate and the economy and will generate a mismatch between the supply of young adult labor and the industry (Okolie et al., 2020). The purpose of this explanatory sequential mixed methods study was to explore how the experiences of at-risk high school students participating in a summer service-learning project (n = 14) assisted them in developing leadership skills compared to those enrolled in traditional summer school programs (n = 14). Participants responded to a pre- and post-survey that measured their perceptions of task-orientation, self-efficacy, leadership flexibility domains, and the overall scale score. Then, four students from the qualitative group who presented the most growth were selected to participate in semi-structured interviews for the qualitative portion of the study. I presented the results of the quantitative and qualitative data analysis and then the mixed methods integration. I found no statistically significant difference between the service learning and the control group pre- and post-Roets Rate Scale of Leadership survey (Roets, 1997). The qualitative data revealed that the participants developed different skills and that they learned they could achieve more by working with different types of people, especially when they listen to each other’s points of view. The service-learning experience helped the participants value their strengths and use them to make a difference in other people’s lives. During the projects, students ventured out of their comfort zones and felt empowered to use their voices. Most importantly, service-learning projects provided an avenue to improve mental health, self-esteem, and empathy.