Youth participatory action research (YPAR) is a form of critical participatory action research that provides young people with opportunities to identify injustices in their current social realities, to gather and analyze data about these phenomena, and to determine actions that will begin to rectify their negative outcomes. A growing body of evidence suggests that YPAR projects improve outcomes for individual youth as well as the organizations/settings they act on. Despite this, the extent to which YPAR can and should be used in institutions that reproduce dominant cultural power dynamics remains a subject of debate. Building on recent studies that explore the tensions inherent in school-based YPAR projects, in this theoretical essay Gretchen Brion-Meisels and Zanny Alter put three fundamental tenets of YPAR—participation, purpose, and level of analysis—into conversation with each other. Illustrating their points using examples from an ongoing YPAR project that explores barriers to on-time graduation at an urban high school, they describe the ways in which these tenets are central to YPAR projects and identify several elements of schooling that complicate decision making around these fundamental ideas.

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