“Why Don’t We Learn Like this in School?” One Participatory Action Research Collective’s Framework for Developing Policy Thinking


  • Mayida Zaal Montclair State University
  • Jennifer Ayala Saint Peter's University


participatory action research, policy thinking, youth research, engaged pedagogy


This article explores the ways in which schools and communities can create conditions whereby youth can develop and strengthen policy thinking as they pursue advocacy, action, and participatory policy making. Based on a participatory action research (PAR) project created to address the implications of New Jersey’s high school graduation requirements, this framework engages young people in critical policy analysis. Utilizing PAR as a critical pedagogy, we consider the curricula and structures that could nurture policy thinking, as we involve young people in deep critique, analysis, and knowledge production towards community concerns. We describe four dimensions of policy thinking and propose a PAR-based policy thinking framework.

Author Biographies

Mayida Zaal, Montclair State University

Mayida Zaal, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Secondary and Special Education at Montclair State University. Her scholarship focuses on understanding the experiences of marginalized youth in national and international contexts. She works collaboratively with educators to develop and study participatory action research as pedagogy.

Jennifer Ayala, Saint Peter's University

Jennifer Ayala, PhD is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her scholarship focuses on education justice issues using PAR with youth and educators, and is influenced by borderlands theory/mestiza consciousness.