School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Matthew Ozolnieks


adverse childhood experiences, trauma-informed practice, school success, resilience, childhood trauma, protective factors


Curriculum and Instruction | Education


The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological study is to describe the K-12 school experiences that contributed to resilience in adulthood for individuals with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The theory guiding this study is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as it explains how students’ achievement and engagement in learning, as well as their barriers to the same are related to students’ unmet basic needs, the pursuit of safety, and feelings of fear and mistrust. The research questions will explore how resilient adults with ACEs describe the K-12 classroom experiences that contributed to their resilience in adulthood, the classrooms where they were most and least successful, and the academic practices that were the most impactful for their success. A purposeful sampling method was used to select 13 participants who were resilient as Oklahomans (where ACEs are high), have a degree or serve as a manager, and are wounded healers (ACE score of at least four with significant altruism). Data was collected from writing prompt responses, and interview and focus group transcripts. Moustakas’ transcendental phenomenological research design was utilized to analyze the data, leading to the identification of factors in K-12 school experiences that contributed to resilience in adulthood for individuals with ACEs. The rich description of the shared experiences that emerged as the essence of the phenomenon include a sense of safety, structure as security, connection and community, affirmation, hope and a reason to continue, and distraction and escape. School building blocks of resilience were identified including safety as the foundation of all other building blocks, structure, connection, engagement, and hope. Because resilient adults are a novel source of data, an adult resilience scale developed that can be used for future research.