School Connections: U.S. Mexican Youth, Peers, and School Achievement
reviewed by Estela Ballon - 2005
Title: School Connections: U.S. Mexican Youth, Peers, and School Achievement
Author(s): Margaret A. Gibson, Patricia Gándara and Jill Peterson Koyama (Editors)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807744379, Pages: 210, Year: 2004
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In School Connections: U.S. Mexican Youth, Peers, and School Achievement, editors Margaret A. Gibson, Patricia Gándara and Jill Peterson Koyama present a diverse array of chapters that examine peer relations among Mexican-origin youth. This is an important book because the role of peers in the academic success or failure of Mexican-origin youth is an important, yet oftentimes, underestimated area of education research. On the surface, an examination of peer relations may seem to be as simple as the saying, Dime con quíen andas y te diré quíen eres or (loosely translated) Tell me who your friends are and Ill tell you who you are. However, what Gibson, Gándara, and Koyama bring together in the 9 chapters of this book are in depth analyses of the relationship between various types, shapes, and textures of peer relations and a multitude of school conditions. The editors state that the central interest in this volume is the role of peer affiliations and relationships in shaping school performance patterns and the ways in which particular policies, programs and practices within school settings serve to structure these affiliations and interactions (p. 7). The multidisciplinary and varied methodological approaches used in the chapters provide a well-rounded and comprehensive analysis of these issues.
The book begins with an introductory chapter written by the editors, The Role of Peers in the Schooling of U.S. Mexican Youth, that lays out three central themes in the volume: peer social capital, not learning, and belonging and not belonging. Each of the themes provides a different focal point from which to examine the influence of peer relations on academic engagement and achievement.
Ricardo D. Stanton-Salazars Social Capital Among Working-Class Minority Students (Chapter 2), begins the discussion on peer social capital by broadening traditional formulations of social capital theory beyond a framework that has traditionally emphasized the transfer of middle class resources and support from middle class youth to their working-class peers. The author argues that the peer networks of working-class youth can serve as sources of authentic social capital for other working-class youth to facilitate academic goals and that we should better understand the school conditions under which this can take place.
Following Stanton-Salazars premise, several of the chapters focus on how various types of peer affiliations and relationships can influence school performance in a positive way and how schools can structure and support these peer relationships. In Chapter 7, Belonging and School Participation: Lessons From a Migrant Student Club by Margaret A. Gibson, Livier F. Bejínez, Nicole Hidalgo, and Cony Rolón, the authors examine peer social capital in the context of a proacademic student club for Mexican-origin students that exists within a racially and socioeconomically divided high school campus. Despite the larger school context, students in the Migrant Student Association are able to mutually support each other using proacademic norms and identities, that facilitate academic performance (p. 131), among other resources. The authors adeptly focus on the students sense of belonging in the club which is critical for their participation in the club as well as in wider school activities and provides the base from which academic engagement and performance can emerge. Likewise, Jason Duque Raleys, Like Family You Know: School and the Achievement of Peer Relations (Chapter 8), examines the school conditions and materials which allow for supportive proacademic peer to peer relations school-wide. A small campus, dedicated and caring teachers who work beyond a traditional teachers role and schedule, unrestricted access to campus facilities and a school community that works quickly to resolve conflicts, all contribute to the establishment of the like family relations which allows peers to support one another and to flourish academically. Finally, in Chapter 6, The Influence of Intergroup Relations on School Engagement: Two Cases, Heather Lewis-Charp, Hang Cao Yu, and Diane Friedlaender again highlight the importance of schools in structuring peer relations and the impact these relations can have on academic performance. The authors profile two students who entered high school on similar academic footing but experience differing school climates which, consequently, influence their academic engagement and performance. The authors used the case of Mariella to show how school settings which include supports such as peer counseling, conflict mediation programs, freshman transition programs, and parent outreach programs can foster intergroup relations and, consequently, students ability to border cross sociocultural, structural, and socioeconomic boundaries in schools.
An examination of peer relations which does not consider how they might hinder academic performance would be incomplete. Therefore, the book editors assure that all aspects of peer networks and affiliations are explored by including chapters that address this issue. In Chapter 4, Acting Out and Being a Schoolboy: Performance in an ELD Classroom, Clayton A. Hurd explores the conditions and practices in an English Language Development classroom that inhibit academic engagement and performance. Hurd examines how peersanctioned norms of expectations and behaviors undermine academic performance. Male students in particular are vulnerable to academic disengagement by using certain forms of behaviors such as constantly disrupting class (acting out) and using teasing to stigmatize behaviors that may indicate school engagement by other males (i.e., carrying school books). In addition, to Hurds chapter, James Diego Vigil (Chapter 5) also examines Mexican-origin male peer relations that can impede academic performance. Vigils Gangs and Group Membership: Implications for Schooling, investigates the ways in which peer-influenced street behaviors and attitudes guide learning and school performance (p. 88). More specifically, Vigil explores how these street behaviors and attitudes are not congruent with and inhibit academic engagement and performance because they stem from cultural groups whose structures, practices, and beliefs are self-reliant and self-sustaining. Vigil insightfully argues that students whose peer relations and affiliations are street-influenced are not rejecting middle class values that support academic success but are simply unfamiliar with those values.
Chapter 3, The Changing Shape of Aspirations: Peer Influence on Achievement Behavior by Patricia Gándara, Susan OHara, and Dianna Gutierrez, is unique among the chapters in that the authors examine the changing nature of academic aspirations. Their longitudinal study of English speaking Chicano-Latino students in two high schools is a significant contribution that illuminates the nuances and details of these changing academic aspirations and the influence of peer groups on them. Of particular interest is the finding that students propensity to risky behaviors is strongest in ninth grade but decreases over the following years of high school. They note important gender differences, however, given that risky behaviors are problematic for male students throughout the high school years. An equally important finding is that Latina students do not feel that they belong in their schools and that this feeling also lasts throughout high school. Both of these findings have strong implications for understanding the academic engagement and performance of Mexican-origin youth and for creating school contexts which address these issues.
School Connections is a testimony to the importance of relationships, support, and, ultimately, a sense of belonging that is crucial for students in schools and, yet, so lacking among Mexican-origin students. It is also a testimony to the integral role that schools can play in structuring and supporting proacademic peer relationships that promote academic engagement and success. In the final chapter, Gibson, Gándara, and Koyama bring together the lessons learned from the research in their volume to develop essential policies and practices that school administrators, staff, and teachers can use to structure intergroup relations to foster a sense of belonging, legitimacy, value, and support for Mexican-origin students and their parents.