Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) Capstone Projects

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



The Capstone Project is a Parent Presentation which is found online at: The paper is an addition to the capstone presentation, with more details in some areas but it does not include everything that is in the presentation.


Americans spend a great deal of time and money trying to help teens who are not top students become better performers--providing tutoring/test preparation (a $3.5 Billion industry that has doubled in the past five years), diagnosing learning disabilities, or simply seeking new ways to "motivate" better school performance. We have developed many labels to identify what is wrong with students who are not in the top of their classes--for example, learning disabilities, motivation issues, and processing problems--but we have not asked, "What's right with these kids?" That is the question I raised in this study.

The answer was surprising: many things are right with these students. What's wrong is the way we view and structure education. I found that the students' capabilities are remarkable and well-suited to thriving in adulthood, but are not capitalized upon in school. I also demonstrated that our approach to education as a society--from a systems view--is a cause of depression and anxiety in students of at all levels of performance.

I concluded that appreciating beauty in the gifts and strengths of adolescents who are not top students – the majority - will significantly increase student, parent, and teacher well-being. Moreover, we can enhance adolescent well-being (at all performance levels) by refuting three myths of education: Myth #1: Not being a "top student" means not: intelligent, hardworking, or gifted; Myth #2: Being a "top student" leads to a great life; Myth #3: Our approach to education is good for adolescents.

Through a combination of interviews and literature review, I identified strengths and gifts in secondary school students who were not in the top 20% of their classes, "The Bottom 80," and examined them in the context of education objectives and future prospects. Interviewees were a representative sample of eleven parents, three educators, and two experts. Information from additional experts was obtained as part of a wide-ranging literature review that included multiple intelligences, positive psychology, education practices, and leadership.

In addition, through Abduction, the form of reasoning that leads to new knowledge, this study demonstrated that as a society we reinforce an approach to education that causes depression and anxiety and that by changing this approach--with proven practices--we can increase well-being in adolescents, parents, and educators.


Strengths, education, adolescents, depression, anxiety, leadership, gifted, gifts, giftedness, teachers, schools, learning disabilities, ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, asperger's



Date Posted: 22 February 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.