Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Education (Ph.D)


Administrative and Instructional Leadership

First Advisor

Randall F Clemens

Second Advisor

Rosalba DelVecchio

Third Advisor

MaryEllen Freeley


The purpose of this phenomenological qualitative study is to explore the extent to which a career and technical education (CTE) setting offers students with and without special needs what they need to be successfully engaged. This study will be positioned within James Paul Gee’s affinity spaces theory as it is viewed from the perspectives of students. Participants in this study are 11th and 12th grade high school students with and without special needs. This study will follow a heuristic approach to phenomenological research and make use of comparative analysis to simultaneously generate themes and theory. Phenomenology is an approach that makes determinations about what an experience means for those who have “lived” it. Manen (2016) refers to phenomenology as investigating the “originary emergences” of human experience and meaning.

Learners’ experiences are often a reflection of the degree to which they are free to exercise choice in their learning according to their needs and interests. The freedom to choose, says Covey (2016, p. 77) is one of those “endowments that make us uniquely human.” Success often lies in the results. Consequently, the degree to which the learning environment responds to the needs of students is always being examined. When a learning environment is nurturing as it is defined by Gee (2013b), it can assist in the successful engagement of a high school CTE student. Gee (2013b) writes that learning is a “conversation” so meaningful that we react and reflect with the world. Perhaps what is most important, says Gee, is that the learner needs the world to respond. This also describes the very nature of learning in career and technical education (CTE). A CTE education is one that keeps skills in their contexts of application and meaning in the world (Gee, 2017).