The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

The Long Term Impact of Social Support On School Engagement: A Comparison of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban Adolescents

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 3:30 PM
Marina 3 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Caitlin Elsaesser, MS, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Alida Bouris, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Ryan Heath, AM, Doctoral student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Latino adolescents are the largest and fastest growing youth population in the U.S., and a growing body of research suggests that these adolescents are at academic riskPromoting school engagement among Latino youth is a promising point of intervention: school engagement is not only linked to academic performance but has been found to be amenable to change. Social support has emerged as an important correlate of school engagement but has been understudied among diverse groups of Latino youth. Although student engagement is conceptualized as a multi-dimensional construct consisting of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral domains (Fredericks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004), most research has considered only one or two dimensions. Additionally, most studies analyzing the relationship between social support and school engagement have been conducted with White youth and have relied on cross-sectional data. This study aims to fill these gaps by examining the longitudinal impact of teacher, parent, and peer support on school engagement among Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban adolescents.  

Methods: This study used data from in-home interviews conducted at Waves I and II of the National Longitudinal Study of Add Health, a nationally representative survey of 7th through 12thgrade youth. Our sample included 474 Cubans, 1,727 Mexicans, and 546 Puerto Ricans. Cognitive, emotional and behavioral school engagement and social support measures were obtained from adolescent reports. Multivariate OLS regression was used to examine the association between teacher, peer and parent support at Wave I on school engagement one year later, controlling for gender, age, socioeconomic status, and school engagement at Wave I. We explored Latino subgroup differences in the study’s core variables and considered the generalizability of results across Latino subgroups in each final model.

Results: As predicted, teacher, peer and parent support at Wave I were positively associated with emotional school engagement at Wave II, controlling for the effect of Wave I engagement. However, not all indices of social support were associated with cognitive and behavioral engagement. Only teacher support at Wave I was significantly associated with cognitive engagement at Wave II, and only teacher and family support were significantly associated with behavioral engagement one year later. Cognitive engagement was significantly higher for Cuban youth relative to Mexican and Puerto Rican youth. 

Conclusions and Implications: This study highlights the importance of social support for school engagement among Latino adolescents. Findings provide evidence for conceptualizing school engagement as a multi-dimensional construct consisting of cognitive, emotional and behavioral domains and indicate that the association between social support and school engagement varies by type of engagement. These findings underscore the need to consider differences among Latino subgroups and have important implications for social work practitioners and researchers seeking to identify supports that will improve school engagement among Cuban, Mexican and Puerto Rican youth.