Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 12-20-2019


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Professional Doctorate in Educational Leadership (ProDEL)


School of Education

Committee Chair

Connie M. Moss

Committee Member

Carol Parke

Committee Member

Patrick O'Toole


student voice, school membership, ninth grade, adolescent development, gender, high school


Adolescence marks a developmental period of rapid cognitive, emotional, and physical growth where teenagers are tasked with establishing an identity and strong sense of self. Students and parents often report that transition to ninth grade is a formidable social challenge amidst increased academic demands and stress, and some research suggests that females have a more difficult time in the transition to high school than males. Student voice is a range of student opportunities to interact, collaborate, and partner with adults in an exploration of ideas and perspectives. However, student voice opportunities are often only available to a select group of students through school government and other smaller programs. School membership, or feeling that one belongs to the school community, is a key influencer that can improve student learning, confidence, and the overall school culture. Research suggests that student voice and school membership are protective factors for the risks associated in adolescence. This study sought to evaluate 9th grade student and teachers perceptions of student voice and school membership to determine the importance of these constructs during the transition to high school. A mixed methods cross sectional design was utilized with 102 participants (n=73 students, n=29 teachers) at Upper St. Clair High School. Participants completed a self-report survey on perceptions of school membership and voice during the second semester. Analyses included descriptive statistics, multiple independent sample t-tests, bivariate correlations, and a summative content analyses with latent content analysis to interpret summarized findings of qualitative data. The sample of students reported to have limited opportunities for student voice but indicated voice is important. There were significantly different experiences and student perceptions of overall student voice (pd=1.24) and school membership (p=.003; d=.66) based on gender that were consistent across quantitative and qualitative analyses. Male students reported having more opportunities for student voice and higher feelings of school membership than female peers but also less desire for student voice, membership, and adult relationships than female peers. Qualitative analyses suggested that students value the expression of ideas in an open, genuine conversation with school adults more than partnership or power in school-wide decision making. Interestingly, content analyses found that students interpret student voice expression as a reflection of their self-worth and esteem. Teachers and students agreed that open, genuine conversations with students about ideas is student voice and more appropriate and valuable than partnership in school-wide decisions. Overall, this study highlighted the importance of student-teacher relationships beyond the instructor-learner role. The results suggest that school leaders should partner with teachers and students to design and operationalize a systematic, school-wide process for regular student voice expression for all students. School leaders and researchers might also devote resources to fully explore the differences in student needs based on gender during the transition to high school.