Beyond School Spirit: The Effects of Youth-Led Participatory Action Research in Two Urban High Schools


  • This research was supported by a William T. Grant Scholars' Award and a William T. Grant Scholars Supplement to Mentor Junior Researchers of Color.
  • The authors express deep appreciation to Elizabeth Hubbard, Gary Cruz, Adee Horn, Morgan Wallace, Brian Stanley, and the participating students for their long-term collaboration with the project; LaWanda Mohammed, Richard Duber, Andrew Ishibashi, Barnaby Payne, Gregory Peters, Norm Ferrer, Janet Schulze, Minh Q Luc, and the teachers and counselors of the participating schools for collaboration with the research; Kevin Roy, Valerie Leiter, Steve Athanases, Edward Seidman, and Thomas Weisner for helpful comments on earlier drafts; Thomas Cook, Meredith Minkler, Lawrence Green, Rhona Weinstein, and Penny Hawe for their consultation; Laura Douglas, Yoli Anyon, Marieka Schotland, Sami Newlan, and Maggie Gaddis for their research assistance; and Kathryn Steckler, Teresa Igaz, Eric Koo, and Christina Law for their assistance in data collection.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Emily J. Ozer, 50 University Hall, University of California Berkeley School of Public Health, Berkeley, CA 94720. E-mail:


Prior research highlights the mismatch between adolescents' growing capacities for autonomy and the limited opportunities for influence in U.S. secondary schools. Youth-led participatory research (YPAR), an approach in which young people research and advocate for change on problems of concern to them, could increase students' autonomy in secondary schools. This qualitative study of YPAR examined whether and how the intervention meaningfully affected the interactions and roles of students and adults in two distinctive urban high school settings, identifying concepts for further empirical investigation. Results suggested that YPAR enabled processes of student professionalization that led to novel student-adult “collegial” interactions, expansion of domains of student influence, and diversification of students with opportunities to influence policies and practices across these two schools.