Adolescent Development and School Achievement in Urban Communities: Resilience in the Neighborhood
reviewed by Dorothy Hines Datiri - October 18, 2013
Title: Adolescent Development and School Achievement in Urban Communities: Resilience in the Neighborhood
Author(s): Gary Creasey & Patricia A. Jarvis
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415894166, Pages: 280, Year: 2012
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Adolescents residing in underserved urban communities often encounter multiple neighborhood and school based challenges that impede their academic achievement. There is a plethora of research literature that examines the educational marginalization of urban youth as depicted by increasing dropout rates, decrepit schools, and high rates of suspensions and expulsions. Still, many urban students that navigate these environments on a daily basis are able to develop coping mechanisms and social networks that foster their resiliency in school and in their community. These youth are able to redefine their circumstances to include hope and fruitful development in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Adolescent Development and School Achievement in Urban Communities: Resilience in the Neighborhood is an illustration of how deliberate collaboration among schools, families, and neighborhoods can cultivate positive supportive systems for urban adolescents while allowing them to develop a critical consciousness and become instruments for change in their community. Gary Creasey and Patricia Jarvis examine pragmatic strategies that various neighborhood organizations have implemented to create optimism within the corridors of underachievement and academic isolation. The framework for the book is the environmental context, and how interpersonal relationships and partnerships can strengthen ties among schools, students, and their communities.
Creasey and Jarvis describe factors that encourage resiliency in underserviced urban neighborhoods and schools by examining various topic areas, including cognitive development, health outcomes, neighborhood context, popular culture, mentoring, and adolescent identity development. Underserviced neighborhoods are where populations live in communities that have difficult access to good health care, jobs, and schools whereas underserviced schools [are] likely to contain large percentages of students on reduced or free lunches and significantly below grade level (p. 3). Attendance at an underserviced school and living in an underserviced neighborhood can make youth more at-risk and their education less of a priority. To address these issues, Creasey and Jarvis present research literature on urban districts and youth that have faced academic, emotional, and psychological challenges but have mediated negative outcomes into positive change. The introductory chapter outlines what it means to live in an urban community, and the neighborhood mechanisms that thwart or encourage adolescent development. The social class of the neighborhood not only influences how students are able to be resilient, but intersects with concerns about safety, neighborhood disorder, poverty, and the type of peer groups that youth have access to on a daily basis. The book is divided into four parts, and brings scholars from a variety of disciplines from educational psychology, health and nutrition, to practitioners in the field to examine adolescent development and school achievement in these environments.
Part 1 is an examination of the adolescent as an individual and uses several theoretical frameworks for understanding social and academic development. Cultural interactions among youth, their school, and community influence how they perceive education. Educational scholars have used Phenomenological Variant of Ecological Systems Theory (PVEST) to analyze how African American youth develop identity in the space of inequity and racism. This framework is used to understand how one values the self, and is a reflection of how they interpret high-risk contexts and other conditions within their community. Knowledge of ones cultural practices that emerge within the community may counter the normalized middle-class white cultural standards that urban youth operate within at school. By acknowledging the different cultural values and beliefs that urban students bring with them from their neighborhood, educators are able to see the at-risk characteristics of their communities and the assets that are within them. Other factors within the neighborhood that the book considers include the quality of housing and the issues of homelessness that many urban youth face. Students residing in low-income communities face a unique set of challenges and opportunities with infrastructure and efforts toward New Urbanism. Additionally, the book considers how community social capital influences bonding social capital and its association with math and reading. The interrelated factors that shape a neighborhood play a role in determining whether urban youth are able to be resilient despite the odds. Urban youth often have chronic stress exposure that is detrimental to how they perform academically in school. How urban adolescents are able to cope with chronic stress influences their net vulnerability or how they are able to deal with new stressors when they appear.
Part II analyzes how urban adolescents encounter changes in physical health, decision-making, and social transitions. Although urban communities have different resources than suburban areas, underserviced urban districts often lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables as well as grocery stores that offer healthy food options. The authors contend that urban youth have few opportunities when compared to more affluent neighborhoods for physical exercise due to crime, and therefore have higher rates of obesity. Several partnerships, including the California Endowments Healthy Eating Active Communities, encourage adolescents to develop healthy eating habits. In addition, physical activity is related to cognitive development and decision-making. How urban youth see themselves within various contexts of the neighborhood and school impact their reasoning and ideals for the future. All of these factors shape how youth transition from childhood to adolescence. How youth are able to demonstrate independence within their family context, peer group, and school informs how they will perform academically. How they are able to navigate multiple contexts while maintaining autonomy is an additional consideration of this book.
Part III looks at the contextual aspects of the family unit, media use, civic engagement, and religion. While there are various stressors within the family environment, adolescents are also making sense of peer cliques, developing relationships with teachers, and engaging with media and social networking that was not available in prior years. These factors shape the civic involvement of urban youth. Coupled with volunteerism, religion plays a role in how urban youth perceive achievement. This book suggests that religion has served as a support system for students of color in their daily experiences. It also provides a method for coping with certain situations when living in an underserviced community. Lastly, Part IV examines more closely how urban youth develop autonomy at home and in school, sexual health, identity and resilience, and parents and peers in transitioning to adulthood. Personal, ethnic, and cultural identity influences how urban youth see themselves academically in out-of-school environments and with their peers as they transition to adulthood. This book presents several compelling arguments about how urban adolescents experience school, and how their resiliency is shaped by their neighborhood and family contexts.