Developing Resilience in Urban YouthResilience Guide: A Collection of Resources on Resilience in Children and Families
by Linda F. Winfield


This paper discusses the characteristics of resilient children and how to build protective processes within and around children so that they overcome risk at critical decision-making moments in their lives. The paper outlines a research-based definition of resilience, four major protective mechanisms that foster resilience, and examples of strategies that help to build those protective processes for students. Three critical transition periods for students are explored, followed by recommendations for programs and policies during each transition period. The paper then summarizes these recommendations.

Characteristics of Resilient Children

Garmezy (1983) and others have identified individual characteristics of resilient students in high poverty areas who succeeded despite their disadvantaged circumstances. These characteristics include a wide array of social skills, positive peer interactions, a high degree of social responsiveness and sensitivity, intelligence (measured by IQ), empathy, a sense of humor, and critical problem-solving skills. Additional characteristics of resilient children identified by Garmezy (1983) include the following:

  • Positive peer and adult interactions
  • Low degrees of defensiveness and aggressiveness and high degrees of cooperation, participation, and emotional stability (teachers' ratings)
  • A positive sense of self
  • A sense of personal power rather than powerlessness
  • An internal locus of control (a belief that they are capable of exercising a degree of control over their environment)

Resilient children also tend to have parents who are concerned with their children's education, who participate in that education, who direct their children's everyday tasks, and who are aware of their children's interests and goals. Another important characteristic of resilient children is having at least one significant adult in their lives. An intact family was not an identifiable, consistent correlate (Clark, 1983; Fine & Schwebel, 1991).

However, a more meaningful conception views resilience not as a fixed attribute, but as vulnerabilities or protective mechanisms that modify the individual's response to risk situations and operate at turning points during his or her life (Rutter, 1987; Garmezy, 1991). Rutter illustrates this point clearly:

Protection does not reside in the psychological chemistry of the moment but in the ways in which people deal with life changes and in what they do about their stressful or disadvantageous circumstances. Particular attention needs to be paid to the mechanisms operating at key turning points in people's lives when a risk trajectory may be redirected onto a more adaptive path. (Rutter, 1987, p. 329)

By labeling children "resilient" or "nonresilient," it is easy to overlook the significance of this concept. What makes a child "resilient" is the relative strength of individual characteristics and external protective processes (supports provided by school staff, communities, and families) compared to the influence of risks and vulnerabilities in the external environment. A student may be resilient at certain critical moments and not at others, due to the circumstances surrounding an event or moment. Because resilience is being defined here as a dynamic rather than a static concept, educators, families, and community members must build young people's potential to be resilient and strengthen protective processes in the face of external risk factors such as gang warfare; low teacher expectations; physical, verbal, or sexual abuse; alcohol or other drug abuse; pregnancy; and so forth.

What Do We Mean by Resilience?

How do we define this term to make it meaningful and useful to educators and policymakers? Some of the terms often considered to be synonymous with resilience are positive coping, persistence, adaptation, and long-term success despite adverse circumstances. Is resilience something we do or something we foster? If you view resilience as something we do, then many of the strategies adopted will be short-term and misdirected toward changing the child. This approach is similar to what some teachers attempt to do in order to build students' self-esteem. Typically, commercial packages are purchased and teachers teach a lesson on self-esteem. This strategy is ineffective because self-esteem and self-efficacy are learned through positive social interaction and successful accomplishment of tasks, rather than through decontextualized units in a workbook.

Resilience should be viewed as something we foster throughout students' development by strengthening protective processes for students at critical moments in their lives. When you view resilience as a developmental process that can be fostered, then strategies for change can be directed toward practices, policies, and attitudes among professional educators. It is important to realize, however, that even when you change practices, policies, and attitudes within schools and communities, your work is not done. You will not automatically end up with a school full of resilient children. Within every young person is a delicate balance during those critical life events between the protective processes and risk factors that originate both internally and externally. Protective processes have to be reinforced constantly so that the potential for young people to be resilient when faced with risk factors and vulnerabilities remains intact.

The three characteristics of the process of fostering resilience are as follows:

  1. The process is long-term and developmental.
  2. The process views children with strengths rather than with deficits/risks.
  3. The process nurtures protective processes so that children can succeed, by changing systems, structures, and beliefs within schools and communities.

Beginning a Long-Term and Developmental Process

The difficulty in doing research on resilience is that the development of resilience occurs over a long period and depends on the presence of positive interventions by a significant individual, school, or organization at critical life points in order to counteract risks and vulnerabilities. Indications of resilience require more than short-term achievement gains on standardized tests, although these gains, too, are important. Fostering resilience is not a quick fix scheme or a panacea. An analogy that I like to use derives from research on gifted and talented individuals. People who go on to be world class athletes, Nobel Prize winners, or world famous musicians or artists had, at particular periods, the appropriate combination of support and encouragement, along with opportunities to study with "expert mentors" over a number of years in order for their talent to be developed. Yet, typically the only people within education who use the language of potential and the development of talent are those involved in gifted education. Unfortunately, these programs often are reserved for a small number of students, very few of whom are from racial/ethnic minority groups.

Viewing Children with Strengths Rather Than with Deficits/Risks

In the inner city, the task of developing talent is even more difficult—not only because of the risks, conditions, and vulnerabilities, but also because of the prevailing attitudes and beliefs of adults. We need to change our approach from one that emphasizes risks, deficits, and psychopathology to one that capitalizes on protection, strengths, and assets. We have become experts at predicting who will fail and what kinds of programs will compensate for the deficits. But to design effective interventions, we must understand how some students persist and succeed in school and in later life despite the overwhelming odds against them.

In what ways do students learn to cope? To answer this question, I conducted observations in a particular urban school for several months. After school one day, a first grade special education student was missing when his mother arrived to pick him up. The teacher and principal called school security and the police, searched the building, and questioned other children in the class, but they could not locate the boy anywhere. The next day, I asked the principal what had finally happened. It turned out that the student's mother had arrived late to pick him up, and he knew that he had an appointment at a clinic downtown. The school routinely provided bus and transportation tokens for large numbers of students. So this student caught the mass transit system to get to the bus stop, then took the bus downtown and walked the remaining three or four blocks to make sure he was on time for his clinic appointment. The point is that this student, a first grader classified as "special ed," was able to negotiate a complicated transportation system. When his mother had not picked him up on time, this first grader had inferred that she was not coming, devised a plan, used memory, and executed his plan to keep his appointment. Think of all of the higher-order cognitive skills that were required for him to accomplish this task!

Nurturing Protective Processes for Children

Nurturing protective processes to help children succeed requires us to change beliefs, systems, and structures within schools and communities. The shift in thinking about resilience requires a change in beliefs, structures, and policies. Our expectations for young people are only part of the required change. If I asked teachers about IQ or student intelligence, a majority would say that it is fixed and immutable—that they cannot do much to change it. They believe that intelligence is largely genetic and that it is different across racial/ethnic groups. Most teachers might also admit that environment plays a part; however, because of the poor homes in which many students live, teachers feel that these students are unable to perform academically.

When these belief systems are ingrained in teachers' minds, it is very difficult to talk about changing expectations, planning for long-term success, or developing resilience in inner-city and disadvantaged children. These ingrained belief systems need to change. Unfortunately, individuals' perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes are not easily changed. But these belief systems can be changed by implementing sustained professional development, adopting school policies, and developing school cultures that promote learning and achievement for both students and teachers.

School administrators and teachers have the ability to change the structures, language, and policies that affect individual belief systems. These components must be consistent with protective processes and fostering resilience. Tracking practices, readiness testing, Chapter 1 programs, special education, and ability grouping may serve the needs of some students, but they are generally inconsistent with the notions of protective mechanisms and fostering resilience. We must seriously rethink what we do with and to students in urban schools.

Winfield and Manning (1992) indicated that school organization and teacher practices can become more responsive to students' needs if educators reexamine processes and outcomes that affect students and alter school structures. By changing school structures, a positive school climate can be fostered and teachers and principals can focus more specifically on protective processes that foster resilience. Factors such as school goals, expectations, discipline, and reward systems within a school can either advance or hinder student success in schools. Empirical evidence obtained over the last decade suggests that it is effective to change the school's organizational culture to improve outcomes (Purkey & Smith, 1983; Corcoran, 1985). Changing school climate will depend on various structures peculiar to a school and must be developed at the building level. Schools differ considerably in their particular constituency, students, and the support needs of staff in constructing new experiences for students.

The most persuasive research suggests that school culture strongly affects student academic performance (Brookover et al., 1978). Schools that effectively accommodate student diversity possess similar characteristics that encourage a professional and productive work environment and improved student engagement (Moll, 1992; Reyes & LaLiberty, 1992; Tharp, 1989). As dynamic social systems, school cultures vary in response to the composition of the staff and student body and to the environment in which the school exists, leaving each school with a unique climate (Brookover et al., 1978; Purkey & Smith, 1983). Change is brought about when the focus is on systemic, organizational change that involves staff participation in all phases of school planning. That process begins by challenging biases and belief systems that impede student success. The purpose of the change is to examine and strengthen protective processes and supports for students and teachers.

What Do We Know about Resilience?

Two years ago, I set out to discover what we know from empirical studies of resilience among African-American youth. No longitudinal databases followed African-Americans for 20 years or more. Studies from the University of California at Berkeley that followed Caucasian males for 25 to 30 years found that choices made in adolescence influenced the major social roles later in life. There was stability of role performance and attainment. In a special issue of Education and Urban Society (Winfield, 1991), studies reported findings based on cross-sectional populations (i.e., each study focused on different age groups rather than one cohort over a long period) in attempts to piece together what is known about this long-term process. In developing a framework on resilience, major areas for potential intervention were identified. These areas included policy, the school, the classroom, and the community. These areas can be crossed with the four major protective processes identified by Rutter (1987) to form a matrix. This matrix can be used as a tool in looking at practices and programs in each of these areas (policy, school, classroom, and community) that support one or more of the four protective processes. Rutter's four major protective processes that foster resilience are:

  1. Reducing negative outcomes by altering the risk or child's exposure to the risk
  2. Reducing negative chain reaction following risk exposure
  3. Establishing and maintaining self-esteem and self-efficacy
  4. Opening up opportunities

Four Protective Processes That Foster Resilience

The following section presents examples of programs, policies, and practices that address each of the four protective processes. However, Rutter's four major protective processes are not mutually exclusive and in fact may operate in conjunction with one another. Programs, practices, and policies developed may address one or more of the protective processes.

1. Reducing Negative Outcomes by Altering the Risk or Child's Exposure to the Risk

A dramatic example of altering the risk or child's exposure to the risk is a type of specialized private program in which the child is entirely removed from his or her environment and sent away to a school. This scenario suggests an extreme approach to reducing the exposure to risk, but it remains one alternative. However, for many inner-city children affected by alcohol and drug use or violence among parents or family members, leaving the environment is not an option. These children experience inconsistent parenting, abuse, and neglect in a variety of ways. Additional resources can be used to provide a mentor to support individual children in understanding that they are not to blame for abuse/neglect. Often, urban children come to school with their basic needs unmet, and risk factors can be reduced when programs such as free and reduced-price lunch, breakfast programs, and school-based health clinics are implemented and essential clothing is provided. Classroom strategies can be developed to emphasize positive peer interactions, and links can be made with community/church agencies that provide families with social services and support.

Many students from drug-exposed homes come to schools with hostility and anger, contributing to classroom behavioral problems. Often, looks or comments ignite physical altercations between students, causing disruption in classrooms. In one urban site, one teacher allowed the students 15 minutes every morning to cry and scream and get everything out "from the night before" before settling down to schoolwork. For many of these students, violence and abuse were everyday occurrences. In another school, the teachers and principal formed a discipline team (comprising other teachers, the principal, and a school counselor), which came into classrooms on call when an entire classroom became extremely disruptive. This team used assertive discipline techniques and modeling to help calm students and refocus them on tasks. These examples indicate that in the classroom and school solutions designed to reduce the child's exposure to risk have been implemented. Merely working with young people on an individual basis is not entirely successful, because the most effective interventions typically occur with families (Silbert & Berry, 1993). When teachers and principals attempt to do something about risk factors within their sphere of control, it has an effect, however large or small, in altering the child's exposure to the risk.

2. Reducing a Negative Chain Reaction Following Risk Exposure

What typically follows gang involvement, dropping out of school, or teen pregnancy is a downward spiral from which the child rarely recovers. Without intervention, a student cannot go on to recover from such a negative event. Some of the recovery programs for dropouts in which students are given part-time jobs and are allowed to come to school at different hours than traditional schools have been found to be effective. Flexibility, additional counseling support, smaller classes, and experiential learning provide opportunities for success and are designed to prevent the negative chain reaction that occurs, often resulting from a lack of education.

When a student is faced with obtaining a job, he or she finds that possessing skills is what matters in labor markets, independent of educational attainment and credentials (Berlin & Sum, 1988). Increased literacy skills and credentials for urban youth are critical in order to achieve success in the labor market—that is, occupational status and increased earnings (Greenfield, 1980; Berlin & Sum, 1988). Those students who fail to attend high school or do not receive the skills join the ranks of the unemployed.

Similarly, Scott-Jones (1991) found that altering the negative chain following pregnancy depended heavily on adolescent mothers' receiving additional training and education. Rutter (1987) suggests additional strategies for reducing the negative chain reaction for adolescent mothers. These strategies include the provision of quality prenatal care and programs designed to encourage adolescent parents to continue schooling to reduce the likelihood of welfare dependency. Such programs might include on-site or community-referred day care, mother-infant programs, parenting classes, and ongoing health care services (school-based clinics) for mother and child.

At early ages, severe disruptive behavior, chronic absenteeism, or lack of academic progress often signals risk exposure. In one urban school, a Pupil Support Team was formed to evaluate the needs of individual children and to recommend support and assistance for academic and social problems and unusual home circumstances (Winfield, Hawkins, & Stringfield, 1992). This team comprised a counselor, teachers, principal, school-community coordinator, school psychologist, and so forth. The purpose was not to refer students to special education but to explore options, resources, and strategies that could be used to support students in distress. Typically, a teacher would request a meeting about an individual student who was having a problem. The solutions included having a teacher act as a mentor for the student, spending extra time working with the student before or after school or at lunch time, obtaining a decent pair of shoes for a child who failed to attend school because of the holes in his shoes, or perhaps arranging for an eye exam. Other solutions included obtaining resources from the church/community for counseling, food, shelter, or referrals for social work or mental health. This latter option was rarely used, because many of these impoverished communities had no mental health or social welfare clinics, and parents and students were required to travel distances outside of the community for services.

3. Establishing and Maintaining Self-Esteem and Self-Efficacy

Self-esteem and self-efficacy are developmental processes that are learned primarily in two ways: in positive interactions with peers or adults and in successful accomplishment of a task, whether it is academic, musical, artistic, or athletic. Self-esteem is not something that is learned in a decontextualized manner. It is not learned by completing a series of lessons in commercially available programs. Similarly, self-efficacy develops when students learn that they have some control over certain things in their environment and that they are not helpless. In one urban school, I spent every afternoon observing a reading group conducted by the reading teacher, Mrs. S. Every lunch time, every afternoon, and every day after school, the same little girl, Adrienne, would come into Mrs. S's room. I later learned that at times Adrienne left her classroom to come to the room. Mrs. S gave her small tasks to perform such as putting labels on books, stacking books, and delivering books to other classrooms. She also encouraged Adrienne to read book titles and sound out unfamiliar words and gave Adrienne many other positive encouragements to boost her reading skills. When I asked Mrs. S about the young girl, she indicated that Adrienne had been in a pull-out reading program in third and fourth grade with her, but that the program did not serve fifth graders. Adrienne would want to stay behind after reading group, until Mrs. S would have to force her to go back to class. Mrs. S later found out from the school counselor that Adrienne lived in a home in which physical and sexual abuse took place. According to Mrs. S, "Adrienne really enjoys helping me out, and when it is not interfering with her classroom time, I usually allow her to do that. Sometimes I have to chase her home after school." Although we do not know the effect of these activities on this student, Adrienne clearly was obtaining self-efficacy and self-esteem by accomplishing small tasks and interacting positively with an adult. Such accomplished tasks, part-time jobs, involvement with youth-serving agencies, and church and community experiences provide valuable positive lessons in self-efficacy for many inner-city students.

4. Opening Up Opportunities

When specific programs offer opportunities for students to acquire skills and invest in prosocial activities, they foster persistence. Murray Nettles (1991) found that students who participated in activities sponsored by community-based programs displayed the following characteristics: more certainty of graduating from high school, increased sense of personal control, heightened academic self-concept, and increased efforts to achieve future goals. Berry and Asamen (1989) provide a comprehensive view of African-American students' academic achievement from the prenatal stage to college years and the uniqueness of the psychosocial, educational, and cultural experiences in which they have developed. Social policies, such as desegregation and funding of Head Start, also have affected urban youngsters' opportunities and access in schools and classrooms (Swanson & Spencer, 1991).

Work on school desegregation and cross-racial friendships provides evidence of the long-term positive effects on achievement and occupational status of African-Americans when they are provided with opportunities for cross-racial friendships in integrated settings (Braddock, Royster, Winfield, & Hawkins, 1991). Evidence also suggests that cross-racial friendships among students in integrated settings build students' self-esteem and self-efficacy, particularly for students of color (Clark, 1991). Programs designed to maximize opportunities for disadvantaged students within schools include effective programs for students at risk (Slavin, Karweit, & Madden, 1989), successful organizational change and implementation in Chapter 1 urban schools (Winfield, Hawkins, & Stringfield, 1992), and other research-based interventions (e.g., Henry Levin's Accelerated Schools and Robert Slavin's "Success for All"). Similarly, the Comer process model, which focuses specifically on mental health, child development, and school governance, is consistent with notions of fostering resilience among urban students. If students experience some degree of academic success early in their careers, they are more likely to continue in school.

The special issue of Education and Urban Society on resilience (Winfield, 1991) contains a series of articles addressing major issues and findings at four critical transition points in a young person's schooling career: (1) home to early elementary and elementary school, (2) elementary school to middle school, (3) middle school to high school, and (4) high school to college. The next section of this monograph highlights findings from these studies of critical transition points.

Transition: Home to Early Elementary and Elementary School

Social Competence

In early childhood (preschool/kindergarten), children come to school with certain dispositions, temperaments, and behavioral characteristics that are labeled as entry characteristics. Children's entry characteristics will act as vulnerabilities or risk factors. Taylor (1991) points out that entry characteristics may be either risk factors or protective mechanisms, depending on the reaction that those characteristics produce in the environment. Some children enter kindergarten/first grade with characteristics that prepare them to meet the demands of school, and others bring behavioral characteristics that are at odds with classroom norms. Therefore, classroom teaching styles can and should be made more compatible with children's entry-level skills.

For all children, regardless of racial/ethnic group, the ability to negotiate successfully the transition from preschool/kindergarten to school depends on mastering some critical social behaviors that are school-related. Teachers expect "appropriate" classroom and task behaviors. Social competence in disadvantaged students is a protective factor that enhances their self-esteem and sense of efficacy (Taylor, 1991). It also opens up opportunities that, in turn, strengthen children's commitment to school and motivation for further learning. Young children who are verbally and socially adept often initiate and maintain positive interpersonal relationships with adults and peers.

Bowman (1994) points out that by the time children are five years old, the vast majority of them have learned the social norms, rules, and values of their community. They have mastered their home language, established appropriate social relationships with their families and neighbors, learned a variety of different category and symbol systems, and can organize and regulate their own behavior in situations familiar to them. However, a child's competence in his or her home environment may not allow him or her to adapt easily to the school setting or to succeed at academic tasks valued by teachers. Researchers Kagan (1991) and Meisels et al. (1992) have clarified the distinction between developmental failure and social mismatch. Children's skills and knowledge may be different from those expected by school, but these children are not developmentally delayed, low-ability, and so forth. By equating a child's developmental competence with a particular form of behavior, educators misread the meaning of the child's behavior and are led toward practices that compromise the child's potential for learning. School policies and classroom instruction must build on and use the knowledge, experiences, mastered skills, and language that children bring to school and connect children's prior cultural and community knowledge to learning the values, skills, language, and knowledge in the school.

According to Taylor (1991), the traits of successful first graders are the ability to postpone gratification, to be socially responsive, to maintain control over emotions, and to be in a positive frame of mind. Given the severe conditions in many urban communities, many poor African-American, Latino, or other minority youngsters do not enter school having mastered these characteristics. Whether the entry characteristics are risks or protective functions depends on the teachers' reactions to these children in that particular environment. If the child's behavior conforms with the teacher's expectations and norms, and if the teacher's response is favorable, then this combination will act as a protective mechanism for the child. If the child's behavior clashes with the teacher's expectations and norms and triggers a negative response from the teacher, then that child will face increased risk.

Resilience in coping with the transition at this early age is likely to be associated with having a good match between the child's entry characteristics and the teacher's expectations for classroom behavior (Taylor, 1991). Race influences this match in two ways. First, teachers' implicit beliefs about individual differences and the relative intelligence of racial/ethnic groups influence what they observe and expect from racial/ethnic minority group students. Second, many African-American children display certain behavioral and language patterns that differ from those of Caucasian children and from teachers' normative expectations (Taylor, 1991). Some African-American children have been found to have higher rates of motor activity, to show more expressive social and interpersonal styles, and to use nonstandard dialect.

The particular combination of students' cultural behaviors; teachers' biases, perspectives, and assumptions; and school-level policies often can create more risk than protection for children in early childhood and early elementary years. Particular factors also may be combined to produce protective processes. At the individual level, a child's entry characteristics can be perceived as a protective factor or a risk factor. At the classroom level, for example, teachers' normative expectations of students can be perceived as a protective factor or a risk factor. At the school level, policies such as screening programs designed to detect developmental delay or readiness serve as protective factors or risk factors. These school policies more often function as a risk factor rather than a protective mechanism because of the likelihood of student misclassification. The use of screening instruments often involves a considerable amount of inaccuracy, due to the variation in cognitive skills and abilities in the early stages of a child's development. Thus, a particular child may be misclassified prior to entering kindergarten and mislabeled throughout elementary school. Labeling children as "needing remediation" may occur when a child does not have the appropriate entry characteristics and thus receives negative reactions from teachers. Unknowingly, schools are increasing the risks rather than the protective factors.

From past research, we know that protective mechanisms include the effects of quality preschool experience (Taylor, 1991). This intervention is effective not only to improve students' entry characteristics, but also to increase parents' involvement and participation and to strengthen students' positive relations with peers. Students learn prosocial behaviors such as cooperation and sharing, on-task behavior, and other school-related norms.

In research on cultural mismatch between teachers and students with Hawaiian children, Tharp (1989) emphasized two areas for making classrooms culturally responsive. First, language development should be emphasized through student-teacher conversation rather than drill and practice instruction. Second, instruction should be contextualized and designed to use and reinforce children's prior knowledge and everyday experiences.

Help-Seeking Behavior

Another protective process that has been found to foster resilience at early ages among African-American youth is help-seeking behavior (Nelson-LeGall & Jones, 1991). Many practitioners view help-seeking behavior as an indication of dependence on the external environment to solve problems. However, Nelson-LeGall and Jones (1991) identify help seeking as a problem-solving strategy that grows out of the cultural experience of African-American youngsters. This strategy allows children and learners to cope with academic difficulties by keeping them active in learning tasks. Classrooms in our society typically emphasize individuality, self-sufficiency, and autonomy, and these traits are used as signs of well-being, maturity, and competence (Nelson-LeGall & Jones, 1991). In reality, as Nelson-LeGall and Jones indicate, children need both autonomy and social support when they are developing.

Cooperative teaching methods and instructional styles that encourage students to learn in teams or pairs support help-seeking behavior in the classroom. For example, a fourth grade teacher in Longmont, Colorado, who teaches both English- and Spanish-proficient students has set up peer review teams in her classroom to support students in writing their own books. Students sign up to be peer reviewers according to areas of expertise: ideas, spelling, punctuation, illustration, and so on. Teacher and students alike have independent time to write or reflect and have time for peer and teacher review. Signs on the students' and teacher's desk indicate whether it is independent time or peer/teacher review time. This teacher has structured opportunities for help seeking and social support that directly feed back into individual performance and independent learning (Reyes & LaLiberty, 1992).

Help seeking, as defined by Nelson-LeGall and Jones, is viewed as an adaptive function that allows students to seek help when they need it within a classroom setting, rather than as an indicator of dependence, immaturity, passivity, or even incompetence. Moreover, help seeking is a sign of motivation in that the child is actively seeking human resources to increase his or her chances of success. As a protective process, it works remarkably well because help-seeking behavior makes students more adept at getting the teacher's attention. Help seeking is the student's way of not only seeking help, but also establishing interpersonal contact with another adult.

Most teachers feel that seeking help is only important or appropriate after the child has tried independently and diligently and perhaps has failed. Help seeking is typically not valued within the classroom, and when it is not valued, it may serve as a risk rather than a protective mechanism. African-American child-rearing patterns tend to encourage help seeking and this kind of active coping style. Nelson-LeGall and Jones (1991) found that children initiate solutions to problems and demonstrate competence in handling difficult learning situations by using this help-seeking style. This research found that participation in a kinship network (not just extended family members but also friends and neighbors in a network that is multi-generational) encourages this kind of help-seeking pattern. Children are socialized toward interpersonal relationships and are socialized to respond to the authority of dominant family members. The emphasis within this kinship and this community is on giving and receiving support. Children are encouraged to seek help in their move toward independence.

Nelson-LeGall and Jones (1991) indicate that teachers who do not value help-seeking behavior until the second grade may not have as much of a detrimental effect, because during these early years children are being socialized to be autonomous. After the early grades, however, the dynamics change. At the third and fourth grade levels, teacher/student relations become less personalized, the standards for classroom performance are redefined, and more emphasis is placed on individual achievement and competition. Studies of teachers' effects on the achievement of African-American students have indicated that continuing academic excellence is associated with personal contact with a nurturing, supportive, child-oriented teacher. Especially at the second grade level and above, instructional formats should be adapted to promote help-seeking activities within classrooms. This change would have to be accompanied by changes in professional development, and teacher attitudes/beliefs would likewise have to be altered.

Transition: Middle School to High School

School Norms and Peers

School characteristics and the values and attitudes they reinforce influence the social interactions among students, teachers, and other staff members, which in turn influence students' academic achievement (Clark, 1991). Studies by Brookover et al. in the early 1970s and more recent studies examining school culture (Winfield & Manning, 1992) document the effects of school characteristics and culture on academic achievement. A study of high-achieving African-American eighth graders on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) found that these students had higher student commitment and more academic behaviors than their lower-achieving counterparts in similar schools (Lee, Winfield, & Wilson, 1991). These students tended to report reading more pages in school and for homework. They had a better sense of task accomplishment. The students used their time more positively.

The schools were located in urban areas, and their student-faculty ratios were similar. The schools did not differ in resources, but schools that the high-achieving African-Americans attended were more likely to offer an enriched curriculum that included art, music, and extracurricular activities. There were fewer discipline problems in schools with the high-achieving African-American students. In brief, we suspect that the school culture was dramatically different from that of the schools attended by the lower-achieving students. School culture is particularly important as a protective mechanism for African-American students in middle schools, since peer group influence begins and potentially operates as a risk condition. For females, the peer group pressure operates to influence sexual behavior. Scott-Jones (1991) has found in a survey that those students who tend to have children before completing high school received information from peers and had not received sexual education. For males, the peer group pressure often provides anti-intellectual pressures aimed at not being successful in schoolwork (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986). Steinberg, Dornbusch, and Brown (1992) note that even if parents are supportive of academic achievement, African-American youngsters face enormous difficulty finding supportive peers.

Clark (1991) found that academically resilient adolescents developed strong support networks that provided assistance for success in and out of school by developing friendships and getting support from school personnel and family. Thus, what schools do to counteract the negative peer culture among African-Americans and to foster more positive attitudes in spite of the subcultural influences is extremely important. Developing friendships, particularly in racially mixed schools, is complex (Clark, 1991). But it is necessary to resolve the negative perception that academic success is associated with "acting white," which is documented by Fordham and Ogbu (1986). Interracial friendships are more prevalent when social class and achievements are equal and when there are "mutual benefits to be gained by both groups" such as "getting good grades" and "winning sports." Although adolescents prefer to be with peers of the same racial/ethnic groups, teachers and principals can provide specific tasks in and out of classrooms that require skills and diversity of both racial/ethnic groups.

In most integrated and desegregated schools, where African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American students are in the minority, these minority students tend not to be involved in the ongoing school culture. In these situations, minority students often are bused in and out and become outsiders to extracurricular activities. In one desegregated high school, the senior class advisor proposed an idea for a major production—a play that would include students from all ethnic groups. It was particularly difficult to get African-American students to participate, but the musical "Fame" was selected because of the interracial casts needed for music, dancing, and singing. Committees were formed to recruit and encourage the school's best dancers, many of whom were on the football team. The art and woodshop majors were recruited to design sets, and music majors were recruited for the band. It was a production in which every student in the school could get involved. This production was a one-time event that lasted a large part of the school year. Ongoing programs that promote interracial/cultural friendships also strengthen prosocial school involvement, reduce alienation on the part of minority students, and reduce negative peer pressure. Friendships cannot be forced across racial/ethnic lines, but school activities can promote cross-racial friendships and provide support for academic success and social bonding among African-American youth who may not receive this support from peers.

Middle School Athletics

Another protective mechanism, particularly for males, is athletic involvement at the middle school level. African-American males who are academically oriented suffer less negative pressure from peer groups if they are athletically inclined. These youngsters have incorporated values of both worlds. Athletic involvement is a potential protective source to many youngsters who devote considerable time and energy to it. Athletic participation also fosters a sense of belonging and ownership toward the school and community and builds students' pride in their school. At the middle school level, athletics may facilitate academic resilience and attachment for African-American males in several ways (Braddock et al., 1991). First, participation is typically contingent on students' meeting minimal requirements. Second, the behaviors learned in athletics can be generalized to the classroom—practice, conditioning, self-discipline, adherence to rules for fair competition, a willingness to work, ability to persist even when you lose, and an ability to analyze why you lost and compensate for it are many of the critical skills and strategies for students to learn if they are to be successful.

Braddock et al. (1991) found that sports participation was positively related to eighth graders' aspirations to enroll in academic programs and complete high school and fostered positive peer relations among schoolmates. These eighth graders were less likely to be involved in school-related misconduct problems. They looked forward to attending class and teachers judged them as giving full effort in class.

Braddock et al. (1991) suggest several successful strategies for middle schools to use in order to foster resilience in middle school adolescents:

  • Creating environments that support and respond to cultural diversity
  • Strengthening in-school support systems for African-American students using mentor programs with positive role models
  • Building small group learning teams to promote interracial friendships
  • Developing extracurricular activities that promote prosocial attachment—e.g., athletic teams
  • Increasing parent and community participation, involvement, and training

Transition: High School to College

The transition from high school to college is critical because during this period adolescents' future occupations and status are affected by the decisions that they make and how they spend their time. Many young people have not had adequate preparation, have not been exposed to precollegiate requirements, and do not know what options are available to them. In families of middle and upper socioeconomic status where parents have attended or graduated from college, information and parental behaviors support the transition to college or other postsecondary options. In many high-risk, urban environments, students rely on the schools as a source of information concerning careers or postsecondary options. In a sample of African-American males, Wilson-Sadberry, Winfield, and Royster (1991) found that males who made the transition from high school to college and continued in postsecondary education differed from their counterparts who failed to make this transition. This study looks at the supportive role of peers, counselors, family, and school staff and isolates two primary obstacles to attending college from high school—fatherhood and unemployment. It found that those who continued were more likely to report that their mother had an extremely large influence, teachers had a strong influence, and their best friends had strong academic profiles. These students were more likely to have been in the academic curriculum rather than the vocational or general track, and they had higher aspirations for going on to college. On the other hand, those who dropped out or did not continue expressed a strong absence of influence on postsecondary plans from parents, teachers, or counselors. They were likely to be in the vocational or general curriculum, had no education plans, and were over age. Most of these students had been retained, and one-third of them had fathered children.

Having a plan to continue one's education was three times as important as the family's socioeconomic status in predicting whether a student would continue in postsecondary training. Planning must occur during adolescence, and this finding suggests an important notion that Clausen (1991) refers to as "planful competence" in adolescence. This notion holds that students must make decisions about what is going to affect them later in their lives when they are in this particular adolescent stage.

In order to make these decisions at this stage, students need to know something about their abilities and interests and be able to reflect on this information. They also need to know something about available options and think about how to maximize those options. Individuals have to be particularly self-confident at this particular age to consider and pursue goals. Those African-American students who continued their postsecondary education developed this constellation of skills, which allowed them to persist. However, a large number of students—those who do not go to college—do not receive adequate counseling from either the home or school, do not have "purposeful" role models, and have not had opportunities to explore various interests and develop social skills. Moreover, the "drug culture," high unemployment, and negative media portrayal of African-American males serve as risk factors that affect their decisions about career options available and continuing education. Unfortunately, in many of our inner-city schools, budget cuts are causing us to cut back on the so-called "frills," which include music, art, and guidance counseling. In reality, at all age levels, these areas provide opportunities for students to explore interests, develop self-esteem, plan, and set goals.

A longitudinal study of 82 valedictorians and salutatorians who graduated in 1981 from public and private high schools in Illinois provides additional insights into the factors that increase the success of students of color in the transition from high school to college (Arnold, 1993). Even though this study follows the academic and career paths of a predominantly Caucasian group that includes 46 women and 35 men, it also takes an in-depth look at the lives and experiences of high-achieving students of color. Included in the study are five African-Americans, three Hispanic students, and one Chinese-American student. The stories of the study's AHANA students show that these students have surmounted external obstacles to attain high standards of achievement through strong personal qualities of persistence, determination, and hard work. They rely on peers, indirect role models, and the rewards of interpersonal engagements and community service to nourish their already strong motivation.

However, African-American and Hispanic study participants as a group have not attained the same educational and professional levels as the Caucasian study members, and even the consistently high-achieving members of the AHANA student group have struggled to overcome significant obstacles related to economics, racism, and lack of support in their educational and professional environments.

If these obstacles exist for the highest-achieving students, much needs to be done to address and meet the needs of the majority of students who do not fall in the highest-achieving strata in preparing for college and careers. While this study focuses its recommendations on those considered the most academically talented, these recommendations should be applied to all students and particularly to the majority of students, who are not valedictorians and salutatorians. Recommendations, as adapted for all students, are as follows:

  • High school and college administrators, faculty, and counselors should establish formal and informal mechanisms to help students choose colleges, majors, and careers.
  • High school educators should assist AHANA and first-generation college students and families in seeking scholarships and other financial aid resources and in conducting sophisticated college searches.
  • Students should be encouraged to explore a wide variety of college majors and career options, including contact with practicing professionals in possible areas of concentration.
  • Colleges and universities should actively communicate practical knowledge about careers. In order to ensure the transition from academic to career achievement for students, higher education institutions should develop structures and programs that expose students to undergraduate research, provide professional work experience, and establish faculty and student networks in academic disciplines.
  • Higher education should explicitly address the process of planning for multiple roles, specifically as it affects the academic majors and career choices of women.

Typically, guidance counseling is reserved for students considered academically talented, and most of those students already have access to resources outside of the school. The students who need counseling services the most are those students who do not have the resources outside of the school or many options for pursuing information. Guidance counseling programs that foster resilience among African-American youth (1) minimize the role of the therapist, (2) reduce the emphasis on tracking, (3) increase training in precollege guidance that focuses on student potential, (4) address issues of equity and access, and (5) improve use of data on student achievement to determine where improvements are needed (Hart & Jacobi, 1992).


School programs that foster resilience among African-American youth do so by a critical re-examination of school culture, policy, and structures in order to provide "protective processes" within the school/community environment. Some of the promising strategies are listed below:

Preschool to First Grade

  • Adapt social and instructional arrangements in classrooms and schools to accommodate learner entry characteristics and promote help-seeking activities.
  • Incorporate teams of teachers who work with preschool/first grade students over a two- to three-year period to incorporate stronger relationships and follow growth and progress over this developmental period.

All Grades

  • Develop school programs and policies as vehicles to promote positive peer interaction between and among students, parents, and community members.
  • Provide a variety of extracurricular programs that allow youngsters to pursue interests and that promote self-efficacy.
  • Provide professional development and support teams for teachers and students that provide solutions and options to students who are in crisis or who are "falling through the cracks."
  • Develop strong linkages with churches/community counseling centers and health agencies that are genuinely interested in serving neighborhood clients.
  • Encourage student development of long-term goals and plans through rewards and incentives within the school and community.
  • Provide mentors for students who are facing high-risk situations to reduce risk exposure.
  • Use multi-age groups and tutoring to foster a sense of competence and efficacy.
  • Collaborate with community- and youth-serving agencies that allow students to invest in academic pursuits outside of school.
  • Engage students in career explorations and postsecondary options beginning at the middle school level.
  • Provide opportunities for athletic intramural and intermural activities at the middle and secondary school levels.
  • Structure opportunities for the development of interracial friendships with schoolwide programs in integrated settings.
  • Question, reflect, reexamine, and revise what you do to develop the full potential of urban youth.

To transform schools and communities into environments that foster resilience is no easy task. Strengthening the protective processes in schools and communities requires fundamental change in the beliefs, visions, rituals, and behaviors of educators and community members. For example, Tharp and Gallimore (1988) in their research on the KEEP project found that the scripts, discourse, and methods within schools and classrooms have remained largely unchanged for the last century, despite changes in society. They focus primarily on teaching literacy, and they find that the scripts of teaching and the organizational structures of schooling are similar for majority-culture children and minority children. They state, "Wherever they are, schools are not designed to teach, and they tend to operate, largely without awareness . . . . Teachers generally act as if students are supposed to learn on their own." Tharp and Gallimore note that all participants in the educational enterprise have shared an inadequate vision of schooling. Their discussion is relevant to the issue of resilience, because it places the issue of fostering resilience within a larger context of changes in classrooms, communities, and schooling.

Fostering protective processes in schools and communities requires a major shift in belief systems among adults in the education community. In the new vision of schooling, it is important to view students' experience, prior cultural knowledge, and language as strengths—not deficits. Believing and expecting that each student has knowledge and experience to contribute to the teaching and learning process is not enough, however. Students also must have opportunities to demonstrate their strengths and knowledge and to see in their evaluations that these strengths and knowledge are valued. Opportunities must be created for young people to show, tell, and demonstrate what they know and can do in schools and communities.

Finally, descriptions of resilient learners or lists of strategies to guide practices and programs are not sufficient to transform schools and communities into protective learning environments. Instead, educators must examine more broadly how schools and classrooms, in concert with other educational and social service agencies, can better operate as protective factors in the lives of students living in high-risk, urban conditions. As such, the notion of resilience becomes a metaphor for creating a new vision of schooling, one in which policies, school structures, programs, and practices are designed to protect, nourish, and support student development rather than categorize, inhibit, and punish students who do not fit the mold.


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Annotated Bibliography


Anthony, E. J., & Cohler, B. J. (Eds.). (1987). The invulnerable child. New York: Guildford Press.

This book is organized into four parts, each contributing to the central issue of resilience and competence. An overview of risk, vulnerability, and resilience constitutes Part I, while four chapters focusing on determinants or predictors of competence and resilience are included in Part II. Seven chapters in Part III focus on resilience, competence, vulnerability, and invulnerability in children at risk. Part IV concludes the book with a discussion of adversity, resilience, and life changes. Related references are included at the end of each chapter. Contributing authors are developmentalists, child clinicians, infant psychologists, risk researchers, psychophysiologists, and psychoanalysts. The editors suggest that the book may be of interest to clinicians, researchers, and theoreticians.

Berry, G. L., & Asamen, J. K. (Eds.). (1989). Black students: Psychosocial issues and academic achievement. Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press.

This edited volume, which focuses exclusively on African-Americans, includes chapters on (1) social and psychological factors, (2) family and community factors, (3) personal adjustment and programmatic factors in higher education, and (4) psychological interventions and educational leadership. The authors note that traditional social science and educational approaches to studying the academic achievement of African-American students have been narrow in their approach and have focused on a deficit model. The contributors to this volume in the fields of social science, mental health, and education employ a framework of the strengths of African-American learners and the unique social and cultural experiences in which they have developed.

Clark, R. M. (1983). Family life and school achievement: Why poor black children succeed or fail. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

This qualitative study describes those aspects of African-American family life that have an impact on children's school success. The author notes that even within poor urban families differences occur in the quality of family life that families are able to provide. The book describes specific aspects of family organization, interaction, and cohesiveness that contribute to high attainment. In detailed case studies, the author specifies the attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors that students must develop if they are to succeed in school. Additionally, the author describes in detail the types of activities, interactional styles, and support systems that are found in the homes of successful students.

Dryfoos, J. G. (1994). Full-service schools: A revolution in health and social services for children, youth, and families. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

This book addresses the need for schools to employ the resources of families, communities, and social service agencies in meeting the academic, social, emotional, and physical needs of students. Chapter 1 presents the challenges and rationale for creating full-service schools. Chapter 2 discusses the historical antecedents to today's full-service schools. Chapters 3-5 highlight existing school-based service programs. Chapter 6 focuses on the evaluation of school-based service programs. Chapter 7 discusses organizational and service delivery issues. Chapter 8 explores funding issues. Chapter 9 is a call to action for educators and community members. The book closes with three appendices: Appendix A provides information about 12 states that are supporting school-based services; Appendix B provides readers with a list of federal sources for funding school-based services; and Appendix C is a glossary of acronyms.

McLaughlin, M. W., Irby, M. A., & Langman, J. (1994). Urban sanctuaries: Neighborhood organizations in the lives and futures of inner-city youth. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

This book examines neighborhood organizations as sources of hope and support in the lives of inner-city youth. The authors explore successful neighborhood organizations and the ways in which they are created and maintained. Chapter 1 contrasts the grim outlook of troubled inner-city youth with those youth who have a sense of hope for the future due to their involvement in neighborhood organizations. In Chapter 2, six youth describe how neighborhood organizations have positively affected their lives. Chapters 3-5 focus on the leaders of neighborhood organizations—what drives them and why they are successful. Chapters 6 and 7 concentrate on the staff members of these local organizations. Chapter 8 discusses the management of volunteer resources. Chapters 9 and 10 explore the ways in which leaders negotiate the external environments of three cities with differing economic, social, and political realities. Chapter 11 concludes the book, again emphasizing the need to foster hope for inner-city youth and to create organizations that support them.

Wang, M. C., & Gordon, E. W. (Eds.). (1994). Educational resilience in inner-city America: Challenges and prospects. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

This book explores the concept of resiliency and the capacity of educational and social organizations to foster resiliency in students. It is organized in three sections. The first section, "Understanding Resilience," explores the concept of resilience as it relates to developmental psychology and inner-city environments. The section concludes with a critical analysis of some prevailing assumptions associated with resilience. The second section, "Research on Resilience: Conceptual and Methodological Considerations," focuses on such concepts as external validity measures of resilience at the individual, family, and city level; risks and resilience in the development of African-American adolescents; and the implications of resiliency research for special education. The concluding section, "Fostering Educational Resilience," joins research and practice to provide suggestions for creating educational environments that foster resiliency.

Chapter in Book

Nettles, S. M., & Pleck, J. H. (1993). Risk, resilience, and development: The multiple ecologies of black adolescents in the United States. In R. J. Haggerty, N. Garmezy, M. Rutter, & L. R. Sherrods (Eds.), Stress, coping and development: Risk and resilience in children. Boston: Cambridge University Press.

This chapter examines protective factors and the process of resilience as it applies to black adolescents. The view is that these factors suggest possibilities for designing interventions that have cost-effective and lasting effects. The chapter begins with an overview of the incidence of health and life compromising outcomes among black youths and the characteristics and mechanisms that serve as risk factors at the individual and community levels. It continues with a discussion of resilience and protection against risk and a review of the research on their relevance to black adolescent populations. The chapter also offers three suggestions for preventing or delaying high-risk behavior and sustaining favorable outcomes of effective intervention. Program designs can incorporate needs assessments that not only evaluate risk, but also identify existing sources or protection (such as relationships with a caring adult or participation in enriching activities) in the adolescent's life. Interventions need to be designed with knowledge of African-American culture, and program designs must incorporate developmental processes. An extensive reference list is included.

Rutter, M. (1977). Protective factors in children's responses to stress and disadvantage. In M. W. Kent & J. E. Rolf (Eds.), Primary prevention of psychopathology. Vol. III: Social competence in children. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

In this chapter, based on findings from a series of epidemiological studies of ten-year-olds in London, England, Rutter discusses why and how some children appear invulnerable to stress and adversity. The article focuses on factors or circumstances that provide support and protection for individuals who overcome adversity, survive stress, and rise above disadvantaged situations. It concludes that the evidence is scarce, but when all findings are in the explanation will probably include the patterning of stresses, individual differences caused by both constitutional and experiential factors, compensating experiences outside of the home, the development of self-esteem, the scope and range of available opportunities, an appropriate degree of environmental structure and control, the availability of personal bonds and intimate relationships, and the acquisition of coping skills.

Winfield, L. F., Hawkins, R., & Stringfield, S. (1992). A description of Chapter 1: Schoolwide projects and effects on student achievement in six case study schools (Report No. 32). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Center for Research on Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students.

This technical report describes the implementation of schoolwide project sites following the Hawkins-Stafford amendments (1988), which allowed schools to restructure programs more flexibly to meet student needs. The descriptions of changes made at the school level are consistent with the notion of fostering resilience. Specific activities, e.g., pupil support committees, collaborative teaching, and linkages with community, were established as part of the schoolwide project plan.

Winfield, L. F., & Manning, J. (1992). Changing school culture to accommodate student diversity. In M. E. Dilworth (Ed.), Diversity in teacher education: New expectations. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

This chapter discusses elements needed to change school culture to accommodate diverse student populations. It presents a definition of diversity within the urban context and a review of past attempts to accommodate diversity through federal aid to schools and districts. The resulting impact on school culture is considered in relation to students' access to knowledge and their opportunities to learn. Programs that focus on specific aspects of school culture designed to accommodate diversity also are discussed.

Journal Articles

Beardslee, W. R., & Podorefsky, D. (1988). Resilient adolescents whose parents have serious affective and other psychiatric disorders: Importance of self-understanding and relationships. American Journal of Psychiatry, 145(1), 63-69.

This study focuses on self-understanding as an essential component of resilient individuals who deal successfully with stress. Eighteen Caucasian 16- to 19-year-olds whose parents had major affective disorder often in combination with other serious psychiatric disorders were selected from a larger sample on the basis of their good behavioral functioning as adolescents at initial assessment. The youth were reassessed after one year and again after two years, and 15 of the 18 were still functioning well. The youth exhibited self-understanding, a deep commitment to relationships, and the ability to think and act separately from their parents. A discussion of preventive and clinical intervention is provided.

Braddock, J. H., Royster, D. A., Winfield, L. F., & Hawkins, R. (1991). Bouncing back: Sports and academic resilience among African-American males. Education and Urban Society, 24(1), 113-131.

The authors suggest that academic resilience is closely related to the persistence that is generated through students' athletic investments. This parallel with athletic persistence is seen in the day-to-day activities of coming to practice, stretching and conditioning the body, competing, and starting the process all over again, despite occasional losses. In the same manner that academic resignation occurs in the process of interaction between teachers and students, resilience mechanisms must be employed by both students and their instructors. It is the authors' view that neither academic resilience nor academic resignation emerges at a specific point in time, but emerges over time as opportunities for capturing students' interest and nurturing persistence are cultivated or lost. Using NEL:88 data, the authors sought to determine whether African-American males' participation in athletics was related to their academic resilience as reflected in their attachment to proacademic goals and behaviors. Results indicated that sports participation was positively associated with African-American eighth grade males' aspirations to enroll in academic or college-preparatory programs in high school, to have definite plans to complete high school (interscholastic sports only), and to attend college. The study also revealed that interscholastic and intramural sports participants derive social status, popularity, and a sense of importance among their schoolmates, are less likely to be involved in school-related social misconduct problems, are more likely to look forward to core curriculum classes, and are less likely to be judged by teachers as not giving full effort. The authors suggest that the use of sport as an educational tool to enhance academic resilience and attachment should be expanded and diversified to allow both athletes and nonathletes more opportunities to experience academic benefits associated with sport involvement.

Clark, M. L. (1991). Social identity, peer relations, and academic competence of African American adolescents. Education and Urban Society, 24(1), 41-52.

This article focuses on types of resilient behaviors that lead to school competence in African-American adolescents. Theory and research on social identity, friendship patterns, and other school support systems are presented, with a discussion of the interactive effect of these factors as either protective mechanisms or sources of vulnerability for academic achievement in African-American students. The author suggests that the academic achievement of African-American students depends not only on individual attributes, such as intellectual abilities, aspirations, personal and social identity, and achievement motivation, but also on the social environment of the school and available support networks. African-American students may develop a raceless, bicultural, or diffused identity that may serve as a protective mechanism or a source of vulnerability for academic achievement. African-American students who are resilient have friends and social support networks that serve as protective mechanisms by enhancing self-esteem and buffering stress. The quality of school life—e.g., school organization and school personnel practices—also is discussed. When schools fail to provide adequate support for African-American adolescents, family and peer networks are more heavily used. The article concludes by suggesting ways in which schools can enhance the social identity and social networks of African-American adolescents.

Comer, J. P. (1984). Home-school relationships as they affect the academic success of children. Education and Urban Society, 16(3), 322-337.

The author discusses a prevention and school development model designed by the Yale Child Study Center to address and reduce the negative impact of change, social stratification, conflict, and distrust between home and school. Initiated as a school improvement plan in collaboration with the New Haven School System, the model was established first in two elementary schools with the intention of extending it to all elementary schools, then middle and high schools, within five years. The model had four critical elements, including a representative governance and management body made up of principal, parents, teachers, aides, and support staff; a parent program; a support staff or mental health team program; and a staff and curriculum development program. The program systematically restored the kind of climate that existed between home and school in the pre-World War II period. The presence of parents was most beneficial in improving the climate of the school, reducing behavior problems, and supporting academic achievement motivation. Positive emotional attachment and identification with the school staff took place. The psychological and social gap between home, school, and the larger society was effectively eliminated without doing harm to the attitudes, values, and ways of the social networks of the children. The program allowed children to develop another set of skills if those in the school were different from those in the home and social network. Reduced conflict and increased hope and confidence permitted staff and curriculum development and improved teaching and learning. The article offers policy recommendations for schools of education, politicians and governing bodies, school district practitioners, evaluators, and the general public.

Felner, R. D., Aber, M. S., Primavera, L., & Cauce, A. M. (1985). Adaptation and vulnerability in high-risk adolescents: An examination of environmental mediators. American Journal of Community Psychology, 13(4), 365-379.

This article reports the findings of a study that examined the degree to which adolescents' perceptions of various dimensions of their family and school environment as well as their sources of social support relate to differential levels of personal well-being and academic adjustment. The subjects in the study were 250 students who had completed at least ninth grade from three inner-city public schools in a northeastern city. Two aspects of an adolescent's environment, one in the home and one in the school, were associated consistently with more favorable adaptive outcomes: the level of teacher support that adolescents perceived as present in the school setting and the level of cohesion that they perceived to be present in their family system. Higher levels of affiliation with peers were related to more positive self-concepts, and higher levels of peer support also were related to poorer academic performance. The author suggests that this finding raises caution in considering interventions to reduce the vulnerability of high-risk individuals, in that raising adaptive efforts in one area might adversely affect another.

Garmezy, N. (1991). Resiliency and vulnerability to adverse developmental outcomes associated with poverty. American Behavioral Scientist, 34(4), 416-430.

This conceptual article begins with a broad discussion of youth in poverty and the inconsistency of American ideals of freedom, equity, and democracy. It discusses risk factors associated with disadvantaged children, including low birth rate and low socioeconomic status. Garmezy cites research that suggests that certain characteristics operate as protective factors in stressful life situations. These variables include the modification of stressors brought about by temperament, such as activity level, reflectiveness in meeting new situations, cognitive skills, and positive responsiveness to others. Another core of variables found in families in poverty include warmth, cohesion, and the presence of some caring adult (such as a grandparent) in the absence of responsive parents or in the presence of marked marital discord. A third variable is the presence of a source of external support, as exemplified by a strong maternal substitute or a concerned teacher, or the presence of an institutional structure, such as a caring agency or a church, that fosters ties to a larger community.

Lee, V. E., Winfield, L. F., & Wilson, T. C. (1991). Academic behaviors among high-achieving African-American students. Education and Urban Society, 24(1), 65-86.

This article presents findings from a study of the individual, family, and school factors that influence achievement of high- and low-achieving African-American students. Using the sample of eighth graders from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the study also sought to identify factors specifically related to the schools that high-achieving African-American students are likely to attend and to identify academically related behaviors that these students are likely to exhibit. Results indicate that the characteristics of the schools that students attend as well as the individual actions of students in those schools that relate to their academic performance make substantive contributions in explaining achievement differences between high- and low-achieving African-American eighth grade students. The authors conclude that process variables connected with schooling facilitate resilience among students by increasing self-efficacy as well as opening up opportunities for future success in school.

Nelson-LeGall, S., & Jones, E. (1991). Classroom help-seeking behaviors of African-American children. Education and Urban Society, 24(1), 27-40.

This article examines the potential for help seeking to be used as an adaptive learning skill in classroom environments. Help seeking is defined as a general problem-solving strategy that allows learners to cope with academic difficulties by keeping themselves actively involved in learning tasks. The authors suggest that effective help-seeking behaviors can serve the dual developmental needs for autonomy and social support in learning and problem-solving situations. Help-seeking behaviors in relation to patterns of African-American child rearing are discussed. Learning occurs in a social context inside and outside of the classroom in everyday experiences of the child and is closely tied to meaningful cultural practices. As such, making use of the social environment is an integral part of the learning process. Educational processes viewed within the African-American child's cultural socialization experiences suggest that mastery-oriented help seeking should be promoted as a learning skill because it allows students to participate more effectively in socially mediated learning experiences that foster achievement. Implications for education are provided.

Parker, G. R., Cowen, E. L., Work, W. C., & Wyman, P. A. (1990). Test correlates of stress resilience among urban school children. Journal of Primary Prevention, 11(1), 19-35.

This article reports findings of a study that is a part of the Rochester Child Resilience Project (RCRP), designed to identify correlates and antecedents of resilient outcomes and then to apply such information in developing and conducting a preventive intervention for young, highly stressed, urban children. Sub-samples of 37 highly stressed children with stress-affected (SA) outcomes and 40 demographically similar children with stress-resilient (SR) outcomes were selected from within a larger sample of fourth to sixth grade urban youngsters. Eleven child personal variables expected to differentiate stress-resilient and stress-affected outcomes were identified. Stress-resilient children judged themselves to be significantly better adjusted and more competent than stress-affected children. They had higher self-esteem, more empathy, and both a more internal and more realistic sense of control. They reported more effective problem-solving skills and more positive coping strategies.

Scott-Jones, D. (1991). Adolescent childbearing: Risk and resilience. Education and Urban Society, 24(1), 53-64.

The developmental process and outcomes of adolescent sexual activity, pregnancy, and childbearing are discussed in this article. The author discusses the role of education in promoting resilience and the relationships among these factors in adolescent childbearing. Findings from a research program on education and schooling and adolescent sexual activity and pregnancy are presented. Education is viewed as an antecedent to sexual activity, as a consequence of adolescent pregnancy, as a mediator of the impact of adolescent pregnancy on adult outcomes, and as a mechanism for the delivery of prevention and intervention programs. The article concludes with suggestions for reducing risks and promoting resilience.

Steinberg, L., Dornbusch, S. M., & Brown, B. B. (1992). Ethnic differences in adolescent achievement: An ecological perspective. American Psychologist, 47(6), 723-729.

This article investigates ethnic differences in school achievement, focusing on the various environmental accounts of these differences. Findings from the first wave of data collected as part of a program of research on a large, multi-ethnic sample of high school students are presented. The research is aimed at understanding how different contexts in youngsters' lives affect their behavior, schooling, and development. The study examines group differences in (1) parenting practices, (2) familial values about education, and (3) youngsters' beliefs about the occupational reward of academic success among Asian-American, Hispanic-American, African-American, and European-American adolescents. The sample was approximately one-third non-European-American, with nearly equal proportions of African-American, Hispanic-American, and Asian-American youngsters from two inner-city schools in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and San Jose, California; a small, rural Wisconsin school; a semirural California school; and several suburban schools. Findings indicated that European-American youngsters benefit from the combination of authoritative parenting and peer support for achievement, whereas Hispanic youngsters suffer from a combination of parental authoritarianism and low peer support. Among Asian-American students, peer support for academic excellence offsets the negative consequences of authoritarian parenting. Among African-American youngsters, the absence of peer support for achievement undermines the positive influence of authoritative parenting. Students' beliefs about the relationship between education and life success influence their performance and engagement in school. However, it may be students' beliefs about the negative consequences of doing poorly in school, rather than their beliefs about the positive consequences of doing well, that matter. Although African-American and Hispanic-American youth earn lower grades in school than their Asian-American and European-American counterparts, they are just as likely as their peers to believe that doing well in school will benefit them occupationally.

Swanson, D., & Spencer, M. B. (1991). Youth policy, poverty and African Americans: Implications for resilience. Education and Urban Society, 24(1), 148-161.

This article reviews past and existing federal social policies targeted toward change in the poverty status and development of African-American youth. A historical viewpoint is presented from the War on Poverty to present-day issues. Recommendations are made within the four protective processes identified by Rutter for effectively helping adolescents develop into responsible citizens.

Taylor, A. R. (1991). Social competence and the early school transition: Risk and protective factors for African-American children. Education and Urban Society, 24(1), 15-26.

The article begins with a discussion of student entry characteristics associated with risk and resilience. The author suggests that certain student entry characteristics constitute the starting point for the school socialization process. The article discusses the risk or protective factors of the child's entry characteristics and teacher expectations for classroom behavior. Early childhood experiences, parental involvement in early schooling, early peer relationships, and culturally compatible classroom programs are four protective factors considered to promote resilience in African-American youth. These factors serve as facilitators in the child's development of school-relevant social competence necessary for the transition into schooling.

Wilson-Sadberry, K. R., Winfield, L. F., & Royster, D. A. (1991). Resilience and persistence of African-American males in post-secondary enrollment. Education and Urban Society, 24(1), 87-102.

This article discusses the inadequacies in the current paradigm for addressing issues of resilience, persistence, and attainment among African-American youth. The article begins with a discussion of results from an exploratory study that examines the roles of family, schools, peers, and individual student behaviors in postsecondary attainment. The study focuses on African-American males who completed high school and received postsecondary training compared to their counterparts who either did not complete high school or completed high school but received no further education. A model is proposed to examine the contributions of unemployment and fatherhood as mediating factors in postsecondary attainment among African-American males. Family socioeconomic status, father's influence, peers, grades, and postsecondary education plans had positive effects on attainment. Fatherhood and enlistment in the armed services were negative predictors. County unemployment rate was a negative predictor, but was not statistically significant. Young men who had high goals for themselves were much more likely to achieve them. The authors suggest that along with other direct programmatic interventions, the nurturing of belief in self among African-American men is critical to their persistence and resilience.

Winfield, L. F. (1991). Resilience, schooling, and development in African-American youth: A conceptual framework. Education and Urban Society, 24(1), 5-14.

This article introduces a special issue of Education and Urban Society devoted to resilience among African-American youth. The author suggests the need to move beyond simply identifying and categorizing youth as at-risk to the notion of resiliency in youth. This focus directs policy and instruction issues to the identification of protective processes and mechanisms that reduce risk and foster resilience, which may be crossed with critical intervention points appropriate to the development of resilience among African-American youth. Four protective processes, identified by Rutter, are presented as a framework to categorize the knowledge base on schools and communities and the development of resilience. These processes include (1) reduction of exposure to risk, (2) reduction of negative chain reactions that follow exposure to risk, (3) fostering self-esteem and self-efficacy, and (4) opening up opportunities. A brief summary of the articles in the volume is presented.


Benard, B. (1991). Fostering resiliency in kids: Protective factors in the family, school, and community. Portland, OR: Western Regional Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities.

This paper presents an overview of the protective factors that research has identified as contributing to the development of resiliency in youth and their implications for building effective prevention programs. Determining the personal and environmental sources of social competence and wellness can enhance efforts to plan prevention interventions focused on creating and enhancing the personal and environmental attributes that serve as the keys to healthy development. Personality and individual outcomes are the result of transactions with the environment. To ensure that all children have the opportunities to build resiliency—to develop social competencies (like caring and responsiveness), problem-solving skills, autonomy, and a sense of purpose and future—links between families and schools and between schools and communities must be made.

Gordon, K. (1992, August 26). Enhancing the resilience of "at-risk" youth: Information for the keepers of inmates to think about. Paper presented at the American Correctional Association's 122nd Annual Conference of Corrections, San Antonio, TX.

This paper presents statistics from a report of the Children's Defense Fund indicating the number of at-risk children in America who are abused or neglected; are wounded or die from guns; are arrested for drug abuse, drinking, or drunken driving; or go to sleep in an adult jail each day. It discusses personal, family, school, and community factors associated with resiliency in youth. Research and theory supporting the important interactions affecting these personal and environmental characteristics on keeping a person resilient also are presented. The author uses literature on resiliency to offer solutions and strategies for preventing adolescent incarceration as food for thought to keepers of inmates struggling for explanations and answers. References are included.

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