Listen Up! Amplifying Student Voices

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Several months ago in a blog post, I wrote about traveling to collect qualitative data from stakeholders. Last month, the effort continued as we gathered valuable qualitative data from students. This time, our data collection effort was different because Xcalibur and the grant leadership agreed to conduct the focus groups during a GEAR UP summer camp. This was strategic since all the students were in one location engaging in rich programming and I did not have to travel across the state to the different schools. This is an improvement on our data collection process because we were able to save time and financial resources. Another advantage to conducting the focus groups during summer camp was that participant attrition was non-existent since the focus group session times were already embedded into the camp schedule. 

Gathering students’ viewpoints regarding programming provides valuable insights into their experiences, challenges, and suggestions for program improvement. Before diving into the focus group session, students complete a brief 4-5 item pre-focus group questionnaire and read and sign an assent form. I always open with an icebreaker to get students comfortable, create a safe, open environment, and establish rapport. I love it when they ask me to respond to the icebreaker question too 😊. We use a structured discussion protocol to guide the focus group discussions. I must add that at Xcalibur, these protocols are created using multiple bases such as the grant evaluation questions and data from student surveys.   

As I begin the thematic analysis of the data, one thing is clear across the school sites – students appreciate GEAR UP resources and the staff. They openly shared about the services they find helpful and how they think the program can be improved upon to better help students. Ultimately, key insights/themes and recommendations, supported by student quotes will be shared in the form of report briefs, qualitative data dashboards and presentations to the grant leadership and program sites. Gathering student feedback and reporting back to the grant leadership creates an opportunity for the grant to make programming adjustments simultaneously. This iterative continuous improvement process ultimately improves the grant for students in the grant pipeline.