Education Specialist (Ed.S.)
Degree Granting Department
Psychological and Social Foundations
Shannon Suldo, Ph.D.
Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick, Ph.D.
Jennifer Mariano, Ph.D.
Advanced Placement, high school, International Baccalaureate, positive psychology, student voices
Students in accelerated curricula tend to have greater stress when compared to students in general education (Suldo, Shaunessy, & Hardesty, 2008). It is important for stakeholders to be able to help these students reach their goals and attain happiness. One potential method to help these students is to attend to their character strengths. People who effectively utilize their character strengths have achieved numerous positive outcomes including greater levels of well-being, self-esteem, and positive affect (Proctor, Malby, & Linley, 2011; Quinlan, Swain, Cameron, & Vella-Brodrick, 2014; Wood, Linley, Maltby, Kashan, & Hurling, 2011). Unfortunately, there is a lack of research on students’ strengths, and there is no research looking specifically at the strengths of students in accelerated curricula. This study addressed this gap in the literature by examining the character strengths of students in accelerated curricula. Participants included 253 ninth-grade students in accelerated curricula, specifically enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) classes or a pre-International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma program. A mixed-method design was utilized. For the quantitative part of the study, the researcher looked at the most frequent self-identified character strengths of all the participants and examined if the endorsed strengths differed for subgroups of students based on ethnicity, academic program, academic risk, or emotional risk. The most prevalent strength was humor, followed by love, creativity, kindness and curiosity. More Asian students identified with love of learning compared to students from other ethnic groups, and more White students identified with social intelligence. Across program, more AP students identified with creativity and fairness, and more IB students identified with self-regulation and kindness. In regard to risk status, more students without academic risk identified with persistence/perseverance. More students without emotional risk identified with creativity, persistence/perseverance, leadership, and teamwork, whereas more students with emotional risk identified with love, hope, and humor. For the qualitative part of the study, the researcher examined a subset of 121 participants who participated in a selective intervention because they were identified as demonstrating early signs of academic or emotional risk. The researcher examined how these students described their behaviors and actions in a way that illustrated their strengths. The qualitative analyses revealed three main themes: Manifestation, Importance, and Origination. This thesis can assist educators understand how high-achieving students describe and view their character strengths as meaningful. The rich descriptions of each character strength can be useful for educators in targeting character strengths in students and creating strengths-based interventions to increase students’ happiness and overall flourishing, according to the PERMA framework (which is made up of positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment). Further research should be conducted on why strengths differ between AP and IB students, as those findings may have implications for those who participate and ultimately succeed in these rigorous programs.
Scholar Commons Citation
Gilfix, Hannah L., "Character Strengths of Ninth Grade Students in Accelerated Curricula: A Mixed-Methods Investigation" (2019). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.