Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Cindy Gerstl-Pepin

Second Advisor

Katharine Shepherd


Public school educators strive to address a variety of student needs. Factors such as poverty, trauma, Limited English Proficiency, and the presence or risk of disabilities contribute to students' learning profiles and require educators to rely on the best practices of an interwoven network of specialists so that they can meet these needs. Utilizing a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach, aimed at fostering school improvement and collaborative research, this study paints an in-depth, holistic cultural portrait of a diverse PreK-5 elementary school in the mountains of northern New England. The lead researcher collaborated with the leadership of the school with the goal of creating a more inclusive learning environment. The school studied is unique in that the arts are used as a vehicle for instruction and inclusion of students from diverse backgrounds, including students with disabilities. The study weaves together feminism, ethnography, arts integration, and disability studies to explore the potential multiple benefits of arts-based instruction and a social skills curriculum for meeting the needs of diverse learners. Through interviews, observations, document review, and reflective journaling, the study collaboratively explores the beliefs and practices of three interrelated micro-cultures within the school: school leaders, classroom teachers, and parents. This study -- conducted over the course of one school year -- provides a snapshot of how one unique school community worked to create an inclusive learning environment through arts integration and a social skills curriculum. Additionally, it documents the benefits and challenges of a PAR approach to supporting and sustaining school-wide change.



Number of Pages

173 p.

Available for download on Sunday, May 05, 2024