Abstract: Community Violence, Student Fear, and Low Academic Achievement: Black Males in the Critical Transition to High School (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

13248 Community Violence, Student Fear, and Low Academic Achievement: Black Males in the Critical Transition to High School

Friday, January 15, 2010: 8:30 AM
Seacliff D (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Desmond U. Patton, MSW , University of Chicago, PhD Student, Chicago, IL
Michael Woolley, DCSW, PhD , University of Chicago, Assistant Professor, Chicago, IL
Background & Purpose: Black males ages 15-24 are more likely to hear about, witness, or be the victim of community violence. Community violence exposure among inner-city Black males is associated with negative developmental outcomes. For example, exposure to violence is linked to increased risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD, aggressive behavior, drug use, low self-esteem and poor academic performance. Research has focused on psychosocial problems as the cause of low academic achievement. However, it is unclear whether psychosocial problems are the only intervening factors contributing to low academic achievement when community violence is present.

Methods: Phenomenological Variant Ecological Systems Theory (PVEST) is used as a springboard for: 1) emphasizing individual environment; 2) explaining how development occurs; 3) understanding of how individuals process consequences; and 4) elucidating coping mechanisms. PVEST allows us to trace individual experiences within several ecological contexts while illuminating the ways in which these contexts overlap and influence student academic and social behavior.The sample included 612 Black male ninth graders, who are in the critical transition to high school, using data collected with the School Success Profile, an ecologically oriented school practice assessment instrument that measures the risk and protective factors in the lives of middle and high school students. Using structural equation modeling, student school outcomes were examined in the context of student experiences with community violence and feeling unsafe traveling to or from school. Supportive adults in the lives of students were included to examine the hypothesized buffering effects of the impact of community violence on feeling unsafe and school outcomes.

Results: The hypothesized model fit well with the data (CFI =.943, IFI=.944. RMSEA=032, 90% c.i.=.028 to .036). The findings indicate direct effects of community violence on students not feeling safe traveling to and from school. Community violence had a mediated influence on behavior at school, satisfaction with school, and time spent on homework mediated through the influence on feeling unsafe on the way to and from school and students' self-esteem. Student self-esteem had direct effects on school behaviors and satisfaction with school while time spent on homework was indirectly associated with a student's grades through time spent on homework. Finally, community violence was associated with less support from adults, which was associated with lower student self-esteem.

Conclusions & Implications: These findings suggest that positive self-esteem and supportive adult relationships mediate exposure to community violence for Black male 9th graders. When students have positive self-esteem and supportive adult relationships, they are more likely to spend time on their homework, which affects their behavior, grades, and attitudes and beliefs about school. This research points to the need for interventions and prevention programs with supportive adults across microsystems while increased self-esteem needs are central for these programs. Further research is needed to understand the relationship between exposure community violence, school outcomes and self-esteem.