Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling and Psychological Services

First Advisor

Joel Meyers - Chair

Second Advisor

Ramona W. Matthews

Third Advisor

Christine Siegel

Fourth Advisor

Barbara Meyers


This qualitative study used naturalistic methods to compare a local implementation of a state funded early intervention program (EIP) with its stated goals. A large suburban elementary school began serving academically at-risk students through small, self-contained classrooms after funding for more inclusive practices was cut from the state budget. This study took place within two fifth grade classes, situated within a non-Title I elementary school. Participants included EIP teachers, system administrators and mother/child dyads. Each participant was interviewed twice. Information from a pilot study, classroom observations, program guidelines and archival records were used to provide additional depth to interview data using recursive strategies. Data analysis procedures included constant comparison among interview data, formal and informal observations, ongoing dialogue with participants, and archival data. This research study was informed by constructivist learning theory, literature on classroom environment, parent involvement, and educational policy. Findings suggested students were placed in self-contained classrooms based on informal data, either from teachers or past educational performance, rather than formal criteria from the state department of education. Results highlighted the impact of classroom context, student-teacher relationships, and the impact of state policy at the local level. Participant satisfaction with the program was influenced by the student-teacher relationship. Two groups of students, thrivers and survivors emerged. The former were students who developed strong teacher relationships, which seemed to benefit academic performances as well as peer status. Parents and teachers of these students felt the small group EIP was beneficial. In contrast, the second group, the survivors, had less positive relationships with teachers. These students demonstrated less engagement in the classroom dialogue and expressed little understanding of their learning strengths or weaknesses. Parents of survivors described placement in the EIP self-contained as having a negative impact on their child’s achievement and self-esteem.