Date of Paper


Type of Paper

Clinical research paper

Degree Name

Master of Social Work (M.S.W.)


Social Work

First Advisor

David Roseborough, Ph.D., LICSW


Social Work


With less than half of students educationally labeled as having an Emotional or Behavioral Disorder (EBD) graduating from high school, this student demographic faces both lower graduation rates and higher dropout rates when compared to their peers. Previous research findings provide several theories for these students’ lack of academic success, including: their likely exposure to risk factors such as mental health concerns and living in poverty, challenges in building and maintaining positive social relationships with peers and school staff resulting in a higher likelihood for school disengagement and lack of belonging, and the tendency for these students to be taught in a more restrictive and sometimes punitive special education classroom, isolated and alienated from their peers. Conversely, previous research also offers evidence-based suggestions for promoting school engagement and fostering academic success in EBD students, including: highlighting the importance of positive relationships with school staff, the importance of providing a nurturing and supportive classroom environment, and the importance of providing adequate mental health services in schools. The purpose of this qualitative study was to determine how a sample of school social workers view and foster success with EBD students in the classroom, defined both in terms of school engagement and academic success, leading to high school graduation. Eight school social workers were interviewed on the topics of school engagement, academic success, classroom environment, and characteristics of an ideal EBD program. The findings of this study attribute school engagement, positive relationships with school staff, positive social contexts, adequate mental health services, a supportive and nurturing classroom environment, and school staff unity to the social and academic successes of EBD students. Additionally, the findings support the need for increased funding and resources for urban school districts, as they were found to have the greatest need and least amount of resources to foster social and academic success for EBD students.

Included in

Social Work Commons