Neighborhood support boosts middle school grades

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What happens at home isn’t the only factor that can influence academic performance in middle school for African-American young people—their neighborhood experiences also matter, according to new research.

The study suggests a complex relationship between neighborhood social dynamics and changes in grade point average during middle school. For instance, teens who live in the most “positive” neighborhoods had better grades than counterparts who lived in risky neighborhoods.

Since a decline in academic performance can have long-term consequences, it’s important to identify positive factors that would protect teens as early as grade school, says study coauthor Deborah Rivas-Drake, professor of psychology and education at the University of Michigan.

Rivas-Drake and colleagues examined the extent that exposure to certain neighborhoods supported or inhibited academic achievement among African-American teens in 7th and 8th grades. The sample included 723 African-American families who completed surveys. Nearly 60 percent of parents reported that they were married.

“School environments that share similar positive features as the youth’s surrounding neighborhoods may foster healthy development…”

Caregivers described their neighborhood based on safety, such as racial tensions, vandalism, and drug use; informal social control, which involves the perception that neighbors would intervene to stop bad situations; cohesion and trust, such as sharing similar views with others; and resource availability, including after-school programs.

Young people in the cohesive and supported environments had higher academic achievement than counterparts living in a mixed neighborhood of low safety but positive relationships, the study indicates.

Researchers also say that neighborhoods rich in resources and cohesion may transfer similar positive processes to the schools.

“School environments that share similar positive features as the youth’s surrounding neighborhoods may foster healthy development for African-American youth by increasing academic achievement and efficacy,” says lead author Dawn Witherspoon, associate professor of psychology at Penn State.

The study appears in the Journal of Black Psychology.

Additional coauthors are from the University of Michigan, Penn State, and California State University-Northridge.

Source: University of Michigan