Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


International and Multicultural Education


International & Multicultural Education EdD

First Advisor

Melissa Canlas

Second Advisor

Rosa Jiménez

Third Advisor

Nicola McClung


For many students, the classroom represents a place of oppression, stress, and routine, in which their voices are silenced and they are expected to sit still, listen, take notes, and regurgitate the arbitrary information their teachers share (Freire, 1970/2000; Robinson & Aronica, 2015). Conversely, for many youth, sports are a source of joy, self-expression, creativity, and empowerment that naturally capture their interest and engagement (Duncan-Andrade, 2010; Spooner, 2002). Unfortunately, our education system fails to utilize the passion student-athletes demonstrate for sports to motivate them in the classroom. The purpose of this study is to explore the experiences of high school student-athletes in both academics and athletics, specifically focusing on their engagement in each setting. I enacted a youth participatory action research (YPAR) project at a rural high school in Northern California, in which I worked directly with student-athletes as co-researchers from July to December 2021. As a team, we developed a protocol for semi-structured one-on-one interviews and focus groups with their student-athlete peers to center their voices in the research and accurately document their experiences and ideas for change. Through the lens of embodied culturally relevant pedagogy, this project provided a space for student-athletes to envision and voice their ideas for a pedagogy that would more deeply engage the student-athlete population in school. The findings support that embodied culturally relevant pedagogy would serve to improve student-athlete behavioral, emotional, and cognitive engagement in the learning process. This study also calls attention to the potential for YPAR to be utilized to jumpstart student engagement, as this methodology embodies the pedagogical practices that student-athletes in this study requested for their education. Lessons for future applications of YPAR and the need for structural, systemic change are discussed.