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The transition from school to the workplace has been identified as challenging for at-risk youth who have already disengaged from learning and feel disenfranchised in the context of school. Work-based education (WBE), including co-operative education, has been recognized in recent years as an effective strategy for enabling at-risk youth to re-engage with learning and to make more successful transitions to the workplace and to further education. Not all at-risk youth thrive in WBE, even in programs that are judged to be effective for most. What remains unclear is what changes for those previously disengaged youth, as a product of participation in WBE, that enables them to shift their perspective and re-engage with learning. The purpose of this paper is to describe the experiences and changes in perspectives, in their own words, of seven previously disengaged youth while they were participating in WBE. Their teachers recommended these youth because they had made a “turnaround” since beginning WBE. The experiences and changed perspectives reported by these seven youth suggest that they found work hope through their success in WBE, and were beginning to set goals, view themselves as agents, and seek pathways to reach their goals. We discuss implications for increasing the effectiveness of WBE to re-engage even greater numbers of at-risk youth and to facilitate their transition to work by enhancing work hope.

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