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Friend and Teacher Support: Facilitators of Motivation and Identity Development of High-Achieving African American Adolescents

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Improving the educational experience of African American youth continues to be a major issue within American society. The cycle of academic failure faced by this particular ethnic group seems to be the main focus for many researchers (Herbert, 2002). Although this discourse is important, few scholars have explored the academic experience of successful African American students. We need to push for the exploration of factors that positively affect African American students’ motivation and identity development (Dixson, et al., 2017). This includes focusing on the importance of psychosocial factors as well as studying high-achieving students. Such practices are essential for capturing key influences that may be applicable to improving the motivation and in turn the academic performance of other African American students.
In general, students’ sense of personal identity and values can play an important role in regulating their academic accomplishments at school. For example, researchers report that perceiving oneself as a “good student” and valuing learning relates positively to students’ motivation at school (Graham & Taylor, 2007; Wigfield & Eccles, 2002). In addition, adolescents who experience positive support from their teachers and friends tend to be more motivated to succeed (Wentzel et al., 2017). For African American adolescents, the development of an ethnic identity is considered to be a major developmental process especially during adolescence (Phinney, 2006) which is shaped by positive social relationships that they experience.
The aim of the study was to examine the ways in which key social relationships of high-achieving African American adolescents relate to their ethnic identity and motivation to achieve. The research question driving this study is as follows: How do perceptions of social support from friends and teachers relate to high-achieving African American adolescents’ ethnic identity and achievement values? By taking this approach, we will add to the literature on factors that may relate to academic success of African American students.
The current sample consisted of 236, 10 to 12th grade students (56.4% female; 36% in Free/Reduced Lunch program) recruited from three diverse public and 2 private high schools within the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. Students self-reported on ethnic identity (exploration and commitment components) (Phinney & Ong, 2007), achievement values (importance and usefulness of school) (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Fuligni, et al., 2005), academic and emotional support from friends and teachers (Johnson et al., 1985), and instrumental support from friends and teachers (Malecki & Demaray, 2003); we also controlled for gender, grade, and parents’ education level.
Results from multiple regression analyses show friends support positively predicted the exploration component of African American adolescents’ ethnic identity (R2 = .12, F = 3.236, p<. 01) while teacher support significantly predicted both components of achievement values (importance and usefulness of school) (R2 = .17, F = 4.988, p<. 001 and R2 = .18 , F = 4.523, p< .001 respectively). These findings help to shed light on ways to assist African American adolescents in maintaining school success through positive social relationships and molding positive ethnic identities.

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