How can you know what kind of non-academic barriers to graduation at-risk students face and how to address them?
Ask a few students at Dixie Heights High School, or graduate social work students at NKU. The students have galleries of pictures to illustrate their personal barriers as a result of a partnership between the Kenton County School District and NKU led by Dr. Dana Harley.
In collaboration with Dr. Willie Elliott in her first year at NKU, Dr. Harley piloted a non-invasive approach to mentoring that enables students to identify perceived barriers and explore their personal feelings about them through photo-journaling. The pilot project met with such success that the Department of Counseling, Social Work and Leadership lined up grant support and signed up two more high schools to participate this year.
Dr. Harley is the recipient of the 2012 award for Excellent Performance in Outreach and Public Engagement for this innovative project.
Dr. Harley holds a B.A. in mental health rehabilitation from Wilberforce University and a master’s in social work from University of Cincinnati. She earned a doctorate in social work at The Ohio State University in 2011 with a major focus in child and adolescent mental health. She promptly put her education into action at NKU in a program the homeless education coordinator for Kenton County Schools calls “a dream come true.”
The project utilized a technique called “photovoice” to address ethical and liability issues that prevent NKU from offering clinical therapy services to students. The methodology combined mentoring with photography to help at-risk students conceptionalize barriers to graduation. Here’s how it worked:
Dr. Harley paired 15 students in the master’s program in social work at NKU with 15 Dixie Heights students identified as homeless or at-risk. Each pair met weekly at Dixie during the school day. The high school students were given disposable cameras to take pictures of both barriers and academic support. At each weekly meeting, the mentors and students discussed the subjective meaning of the photographs.
The program enabled the graduate students to get a first-hand look at the problems at-risk students face, such as lack of family support, financial strain, medical care and transportation. It helped Kenton County parents, faculty and administrators better understand students’perspectives on non-academic issues and their impact on academic performance.
NKU expanded the program this year to Scott High School and Dayton High School with a two-year contribution from Kenton County Schools and a University Community Partnership Grant. The support enables Dr. Harley to provide mentors for up to 25 students at each school.
MSW students participating in the program will conduct a data analysis of the photographs and student-perceived meaning from the project in Spring 2013 and Spring 2014. The graduate students will then make recommendations to community leaders, policy makers and educators on ways to promote student success.
If you visit one of those high schools, don’t be surprised if a student walks up to you when you least expect it and says, “Smile, you’re on Candid Photovoice.”