Creating a caring community for at-risk girls: A case study of “The Caring Project”

Aileen Carlin Giannelli, Fordham University


Ever since the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, the needs of students “at risk” have been a major concern of educational reformers. Programs and policies have been developed at every level of the educational endeavor to address the challenges presented by these students. This case study seeks to add to the conversation concerning at-risk students by examining “The Caring Project,” a program established in a suburban Catholic girls' high school in 1991, and continuing in existence until 1997. The program's philosophy and design were strongly influenced by Nel Noddings' (1992) proposal for school reform based on the principle of ethical caring, and on the Catholic view of the school as an intentional community (Bryk, 1996). The program developed support groups, a mentoring system, and a curriculum of life skills essential to young women struggling with familial, economic, social, cultural, psychological, and academic stress. Its larger aim was to transform the school into a caring community focused on the neediest of its students. A case study methodology was employed in examining the program through the voices of those who participated in it. Twenty-two teachers and students responded to written or taped interviews and their responses were examined by means of the constant comparative method. The interviews with students and faculty were enhanced by archival records and reports. The case study determined that “The Caring Project” provided a safe space for students to express their concerns and find caring relationships with adults. It taught skills that helped to improve the emotional intelligence of at-risk students and to develop their competence in dealing with the stresses of life. However, it failed to reach all of the students who needed the program, and to train sufficient numbers of faculty and staff to make an effective outreach possible. It also failed to reach its goal of developing a caring community when a merger of two schools caused division and malaise in the faculty, profoundly altered school culture, and weakened the connection between administrators and the program. The study suggests that administrative leadership that promotes a “hierarchy of ideas,” and the creativity of faculty, staff, and students are best suited to developing programs for at-risk students.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Religious education|School administration|Academic guidance counseling

Recommended Citation

Giannelli, Aileen Carlin, "Creating a caring community for at-risk girls: A case study of “The Caring Project”" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3003021.