Eric Layland

Eric LaylandEric Layland, a graduate student in Human Development and Family Studies and Recreation, Park & Tourism Management is mentored by Drs. Linda Caldwell and Nilam Ram. He works with his mentors on HealthWise South Africa, a leisure-focused, school-based prevention program targeting substance use and HIV/AIDS transmission. Because the school dropout rate is so high, HealthWise expanded to incorporate school dropouts. Eric received a grant from the Africana Research Center at Penn State to collect data among high school dropouts in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town, South Africa.

Eric worked with local youth who dropped out of school to co-construct their stories using collective-identity focus groups and narrative identity interviews. He collaborated with local field workers in four townships, predominantly comprised of either black or coloured (mixed race) residents. In total, 97 individuals participated in focus groups and 19 in individual interviews. The mean age was 21.3 years old and the most common time to drop out of school was grade 10.

Participants described bullying, financial need, drugs, gang violence, unplanned pregnancy, and lack of familial support as major reasons for leaving school. Once outside the school environment, participants transitioned from a life of structure to a context characterized almost entirely by unstructured free time. Despite stories of burden and suffering, participants maintained a sense of resilience and hope, with most believing their story would end with happiness and achievement of their dreams.

Ultimately this research will be combined with a larger data set of quantitative data measuring substance use, sexual risk, mental health, and a battery of other individual and environmental traits to develop a prevention program aimed at reducing risk and improving the quality of life for dropouts in the Cape Town area. Support from the University of the Western Cape and local city government are helping to facilitate this research and future collaboration on program design.