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The influence of Africentric values and neighborhood satisfaction on the academic self-efficacy of African American elementary school children.

This exploratory study examined the relationships between Africentric values, racial/ethnic identity, neighborhood satisfaction, and academic self-efficacy beliefs among 88 African American elementary school children. Results indicated that Africentric values and neighborhood satisfaction were both predictive of academic self-efficacy beliefs. Racial/ethnic identity did not significantly predict the outcome variable.

Este estudio exploratorio examino las relaciones entre valores Afrocentricos, identidad racial/etnica, satisfaccion en el vecindario y convicciones sobre la autoeficacia academica entre 88 ninos Afroamericanos en la escuela elemental. Los resultados indicaron que tanto los valores Afrocentricos como la satisfaccion en el vecindario podian predecir las convicciones sobre autoeficacia academica. La identidad racial/etnica no predijo significativamente la variable del resultado.

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Much of the literature on the academic performance of African American youth continues to focus on the achievement gap between African American students and those from other racial groups, such as European and Asian Americans. A limitation of this research is that it has been driven from a deficits-oriented perspective (Spencer, 2005) and has been overly focused on negative factors such as poor achievement motivation, school disengagement, and school dropout (Spencer, Noll, Stoltzfus, & Harpalani, 2001). One of the primary consequences of this unbalanced focus on the academic struggles of some African American youth is the reinforcement of societal prejudices and stereotypes. It distorts the reality that many African American students do excel despite the vast array of risks, obstacles, and social pressures that exist in the United States for many of these youth (Franklin, 2004; Nicolas et al., 2008).

Although it is important to document vulnerabilities and risks, it is essential to also identify strengths, protective factors, and sources of competence to achieve a more realistic assessment of the schooling experiences of African American youth. Such research is critical for identifying the factors that lead to academic success so that they can then be adopted into early intervention programs aimed at promoting achievement. The present study attempts to contribute to this body of literature by examining the potential influence of racial/ethnic, cultural, and community perceptions on the academic self-efficacy beliefs of urban, African American elementary school students.

academic self-efficacy

The concept of self-efficacy refers to an individual's beliefs about his or her ability to generate and maintain the effort needed to achieve a goal (Bandura, 1991). Although there has been an abundance of research demonstrating the importance of self-efficacy beliefs related to learning and achievement for adolescents and adults, fewer studies have investigated academic self-efficacy among elementary-age children. However, even during the very early elementary school years, children seem to have distinct and coherent beliefs about what they are good at within different achievement domains (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000).

Liew, McTigue, Barrois, and Hughes (2008) conducted a longitudinal study with 733 first through third graders and found that positive academic self-efficacy beliefs were significantly correlated with higher literacy and math scores. Also, among a racially diverse urban sample of 371 fifth- and sixth-grade students, Baker and Wigfield (1999) found that students who indicated greater reading self-efficacy also reported higher reading activity. Finally, as part of a 10-year longitudinal study with 615 second through sixth graders focused on the changes in ability beliefs throughout the elementary and secondary school years, Wigfield and Eccles (2000) found that children's beliefs about their competency in math were significantly predictive of their grades.

racial/ethnic identity

Whereas the majority of research on racial and ethnic identity has been conducted on adolescents and adults, there is an emerging body of literature associating racial/ethnic identity with a range of positive psychosocial outcomes among elementary-age African American children (C. Smith, Levine, Smith, Dumas, & Prinz, 2009; E. Smith, Atkins, & Connell, 2003; Thomas, Townsend, & Belgrave, 2003). This is consistent with assertions that by the age of 4 or 5, children in the United States have internalized the belief that race is a fixed human characteristic and that membership in a particular racial group predicts some qualities of its members (Hirschfeld, 1996, 2001). Researchers have asserted that some identification with one's cultural values, beliefs, and practices may help to center and focus youth, functioning as a protective factor that serves to motivate efforts toward achievement (E. Smith et al., 2003; Umana-Taylor, Diversi, & Fine, 2002).

In one of the few longitudinal studies of its kind, C. Smith et al. (2009) examined early developmental correlates of identity development with a group of 678 African American children from first to third grade. Stronger racial/ethnic identity was significantly associated with higher reading and listening comprehension scores. In a study of 98 African American fourth-grade students, E. Smith et al. (2003) found racial pride to be predictive of higher achievement as measured by grades and standardized test scores, whereas perceived racial barriers were found to be associated with lower levels of achievement. There is clearly a need for further research examining the potential link between racial/ethnic identity and academic self-efficacy among urban, African American elementary school students.

africentric worldview

There is a growing body of research that has examined the psychological and behavioral benefits for African American children identifying with more specific factors related to traditional African culture (Belgrave, Townsend, Cherry, & Cunningham, 1997; E. Smith et al., 2003; Thomas et al., 2003). This set of values has been identified as an Africentric worldview (i.e., Myers, 1993) and encompasses the beliefs, ideas, and principles associated with traditional African culture. Because of the various sociohistorical factors that have affected the African diaspora in the United States (i.e., White supremacy, cultural colonization), there is wide variance in the level of adherence to these traditional values across African American communities. Nevertheless, a number of scholars have asserted that an Africentric worldview is core to the identity of contemporary African Americans (i.e., Constantine, Alleyne, Wallace, & Franklin-Jackson, 2006; Thomas et al., 2003) and that the internalization of these values is an important predictor of psychosocial adjustment (Chambers et al., 1998; Kambon, 1996). The seven core principles (Nguzo Saba) of an Africentric worldview are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith (Karenga, 1965).

Much of the research on Africentric values has focused on adolescents and adults. However, there is some evidence to suggest that it may be useful to investigate the positive effects of Africentric values among elementary-age children. For instance, among a group of 189 fourth- and fifth-grade African American students residing in underresourced neighborhoods, Belgrave et al. (1997) found that Africentric values were significant predictors of drug attitudes, perceptions of drug harmfulness, and drug use. Also, Jagers, Sydnor, Mouttapa, and Flay (2007) demonstrated the benefits of a communal orientation for a group of 644 low-income African American fifth-grade students. The researchers (Jagers et al., 2007) found that the more participants valued their family, neighborhood, African American culture and history, and cooperating with others, the less likely they were to engage in violent behaviors (for boys, but not for girls). To date, I am unaware of any empirical studies examining the potential influence of Africentric values on the academic self-efficacy beliefs of third-grade African American children who reside in underresourced communities.

neighborhood satisfaction

There is a growing body of literature documenting how different neighborhood characteristics lead to disparate academic achievement outcomes among youth over and above the influence of child and family factors (Plunkett, Abarca-Mortensen, & Behnke, 2007; Schwartz & Gorman, 2003). According to phenomenological-ecological theory (Spencer, Cole, DuPree, Glymph, & Pierre, 1993), distal factors such as the cultural and neighborhood milieu; parenting, peer, and teacher expectations; and individual characteristics affect feelings associated with school self-efficacy. Despite the growth in this literature, there has been a lack of examination of neighborhood influences on academic achievement among younger children.

The lack of focus on elementary-age children is somewhat surprising considering that the early years of formal schooling are considered essential to future academic performance. A few investigators have examined neighborhood effects on academic achievement in elementary school students including Emory, Caughy, Harris, and Franzini (2008), who found that collective efficacy, collective socialization of children, and high expectations for academic achievement were significantly correlated with better performance on standardized tests among a sample of 1,830 third-grade students across 24 schools located in low-income neighborhoods. Plybon, Edwards, Butler, Belgrave, and Allison (2003) found that positive neighborhood perceptions were associated with increased feelings of school efficacy and higher grades among a sample of 84 urban, female, African American sixth-grade students.

The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the relationships between Africentric values, racial/ethnic identity, neighborhood satisfaction, and academic self-efficacy beliefs among 88 African American elementary school children. It was hypothesized that participants who reported stronger endorsement of Africentric values, greater racial/ethnic identity achievement, and higher neighborhood satisfaction would report more positive academic self-efficacy beliefs.

method

PARTICIPANTS

The participants were 88 African American third-grade students (53 girls [60.2%] and 35 boys [39.8%]) who were enrolled in a magnet elementary school located in an underresourced neighborhood (the median household yearly income is $10,000) in the northeast region of the United States. Magnet schools are public schools with specialized curricula and draw students from outside the typical boundaries established by state authorities. The mean age of the participants was 8.24 years (SD = 0.69), and participants ranged in age from 7 to 10 years. A large proportion (88%) of the student body is eligible for the free or reduced-priced lunch program, indicating considerable poverty within the study sample.

PROCEDURE

Participants were recruited for the study as part of a larger community--university partnership intended to revitalize an underresourced area of a midsize northeastern city. The children were asked to participate in an anonymous study examining their attitudes and perceptions about their cultural values, school, and neighborhood. The teachers of the students reviewed all the scales used in the study to assess for issues such as readability and age appropriateness of the items. Trained research assistants distributed the surveys and read each question aloud to groups of six students. Appropriate informed consent procedures were followed in collecting data.

MEASURES

Demographic questionnaire. Participants were asked to indicate basic demographic information such as age, race, gender, and household makeup.

Academic self-efficacy. Academic self-efficacy was assessed using a revised version of the five-item Academic Efficacy scale included in the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Scales (Midgley et al., 2000). The Academic Efficacy scale measures students' perceptions of their confidence to do their class work. Midgley et al. (2000) reported a Cronbach's alpha of .78, which was also the internal consistency reliability observed in the current study. Sample items are "I'm sure I can learn everything in class" and "Even if the work in class is hard, I can learn it."

Child racial/ethnic identity. Although a body of research exists for the assessment of racial identity among older African American youth, there are a limited number of measures for younger children (Thomas et al., 2003; Townsend & Belgrave, 2000). For this reason and to be mindful of the potential strain on children while filling out a long questionnaire packet, I constructed a short eight-item measure for the current study. Items were drawn from previous studies examining racial/ethnic attitudes among elementary-age African American students (E. Smith et al., 2003; Thomas et al., 2003) and were intended to assess the children's positive and negative attitudes toward being African American. Sample items are "Black folks should be proud of their color" and "I like being my color." The internal consistency reliability for the measure was estimated to be .68.

Africentric values. The Children's Africentric Values Scale is a nine-item (Belgrave et al., 1997) measure designed to assess cultural values among African American children. Each item is responded to on a 3-point Likert-type scale (1 = agree, 2 = not sure, and 3 = disagree), with negative items reverse scored. The original scale included 15 items with three distinct factors: (a) collective work and responsibility, (b) cooperative economics, and (c) self-determination. Further factor analyses revealed the more parsimonious nine-item measure. Reliability coefficients reported in previous studies have ranged from .60 to .76 (Belgrave et al., 1997; Thomas et al., 2003). The Cronbach's alpha for this sample was estimated to be .78. Sample items are "African Americans should work together to make their communities great" and "African Americans should be able to make decisions for their own people."

Neighborhood satisfaction. Neighborhood satisfaction was assessed using the eight-item Living Environment subscale of the Multidimensional Students' Life Satisfaction Scale for Children (Huebner, 1994; Huebner, Suldo, Smith, & McKnight, 2004). The subscale assesses participants' general satisfaction with their neighborhood surroundings. Huebner (1994) reported an internal consistency reliability estimate of .82. The Cronbach's alpha for the current sample was estimated to be .74. Sample items are "I like my neighbors" and "I like where I live."

results

Descriptive statistics for all study variables are presented in Table 1. The research question was addressed using a stepwise regression analysis, which is presented in Table 2. Stepwise regression was used because of the small sample size and exploratory nature of the study. Academic self-efficacy was the outcome variable, and Africentric values, racial/ethnic identity, and neighborhood satisfaction were examined as the predictor variables. For this regression analysis, an a priori power analysis indicated that the sample size of this study (i.e., N = 88) was sufficient to detect a small to moderate effect size (.02 to .15) with an alpha level of .05 and power of .80. Racial/ethnic identity was eliminated from the model because it did not account for a significant amount of the variance found in the academic self-efficacy scores (B = .19, p > .05). The variable Africentric values was included in the regression model as a significant predictor of academic self-efficacy ([R.sup.2] = .26), F(3, 84) = 9.76, p < .01. The final regression model also included neighborhood satisfaction ([R.sup.2] = .33), F(4, 83) = 10.08, p < .01. In total, these two variables accounted for 33% of the variance in explaining academic self-efficacy beliefs.

discussion

The findings from this study are consistent with the small, but growing, body of research that has documented the psychological and behavioral benefits of African American elementary-age children identifying with an Africentric worldview (Belgrave et al., 1997; Thomas et al., 2003). Children who reported a stronger awareness of and connection to their families, community, and culture also indicated more confidence in their abilities to succeed and overcome academic challenges. This finding is consistent with the assertion advanced by a number of researchers and scholars that the internalization of Africentric beliefs is a significant predictor of many positive psychosocial outcomes among some African American youth and adults. Adopting an Africentric worldview may be particularly important for African American children who reside in low-income neighborhoods because they are bombarded by numerous negative stereotypes that have the potential for damaging their self-image and well-being.

African American children who have internalized an Africentric worldview may be more confident in their academic abilities because they are more aware of larger communal responsibilities and resources. Integral components of an Africentric worldview include "a deep sense of kinship and identification with the greater collective (rather than an individualistic orientation), extended family structures as a social support network, and a philosophy of unity" (Thomas et al., 2003, p. 219). It is quite likely that children who have been taught these traditional values have also developed an understanding of the importance of education within African American communities. Unfortunately, much of the scholarship focused on the academic achievement of African American youth has failed to accurately situate these issues from a sociohistorical context (Nicolas et al., 2008; Spencer, 2005). Studying the schooling experiences of African American youth requires an understanding of how education has been and continues to be prioritized among many African American communities.

The observed relationship between Africentric values and academic self-efficacy is also consistent with the notion that African American children who adhere to traditional cultural values are somewhat protected from the negative messages they receive on a daily basis. Considering the various types of negative racial messages assaulting African American youth in school settings, it is not surprising that some students develop negative attitudes toward academics. Participants in this study who strongly endorsed Africentric values also reported greater confidence in their academic abilities and in their capacity to persist in the face of challenges. One explanation for this finding is that these children were better equipped to resist the array of negative external messages that urban African American youth frequently contend with. School-based counseling programs focused on improving the academic and socioemotional well-being of African American children may be more effective with the infusion of traditional African cultural values and beliefs.

Another important finding from the current study was that participants who indicated feeling safe and connected in their neighborhoods also reported greater confidence in their academic abilities. Few studies have examined the relationships between elementary-age children's perceptions of their neighborhoods with academic outcome variables. Although there are limitations to using individuals' perceptions of neighborhoods in quantitative research, there are also a number of compelling reasons for analyzing data that reflect the actual lived experiences of children within their communities (i.e., cultural resources, extended family support; Burton, Price-Spratlen, & Spencer, 1997). The relationship observed between neighborhood satisfaction and academic self-efficacy may be related to the importance of Africentric values reported among the participants in this study.

The findings provide support for expanding traditional early intervention programs aimed at improving the academic achievement of urban African American youth to contexts outside the school environment. Integrating strategies for increasing neighborhood resources and strengthening social networks may produce more significant and sustainable outcomes. This is consistent with the ongoing calls for counselors and psychologists to intervene at larger systemic levels by participating in public policy advocacy and community organizing as important strategies for improving the well-being of clients (Constantine, Hage, Kindaichi, & Bryant, 2007; Vera & Shin, 2006).

Contrary to expectations, racial/ethnic identity did not significantly predict academic self-efficacy beliefs. This is somewhat surprising considering the existence of previous studies that have reported a significant link between racial/ethnic identity and various psychosocial outcomes among preadolescent populations (C. Smith et al., 2009; E. Smith et al., 2003; Thomas et al., 2003). However, only one previous study examined the potential relationship between racial/ethnic identity and academic self-efficacy beliefs (E. Smith, Walker, Fields, Brookins, & Seay, 1999), and there were a number of demographic differences between the sample used in that study compared with the participants in the current investigation (i.e., racial diversity, age, socioeconomic status). Additionally, the racial/ethnic identity instrument created for the current investigation needs further refinement through validation studies. The lack of significant findings may have been partially due to the relatively low reliability of the racial/ethnic identity measure ([alpha] = .68) as well as its high correlation with the Africentric values variable (r = .26, p < .05).

Several limitations of the study should be considered. First, the sample size was relatively small and did not allow for more complex statistical analyses of the variables. Also, the correlational nature of the research design emphasizes the need to consider the bidirectionality of the variables in the study. Future longitudinal studies will provide a better understanding of how factors such as Africentric values may directly affect children's beliefs in their academic abilities. There is also a clear need for qualitative research, which may provide a more lucid understanding of how these factors intertwine within the lives of African American children on a daily basis. The fact that the participants were in a magnet school represents another potential limitation. Some characteristics of the school (e.g., higher proportion of students living outside the immediate neighborhood) are likely not the same as traditional ones found in underresourced communities, which may limit the generalizability of the findings.

The current study highlights the strengths and documents the agency of African American children. There is a growing call from scholars to provide a more balanced perspective of African American youth residing in underresourced communities. Much of the previous scholarship has focused on supposed individual deficits or has given the impression that all urban African American youth must overcome desperate environmental circumstances. It is critical for the fields of counseling and psychology to prevent the reinscription of societal stereotypes by producing research that attempts to capture the complexity and highlight the strengths of African American children, families, and communities. Despite the limitations discussed, it is hoped that the current study advances the literature concerning the positive effects of African American children's feelings of connection toward their cultural heritage and neighborhoods on their academic self-efficacy beliefs. Furthermore, the findings from the study provide additional evidence for the importance of school- and community-based early intervention programs that honor and enhance the strengths that already exist within many African American communities.

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Richard Q. Shin, Counseling and Human Services, Syracuse University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Richard Q. Shin, Counseling and Human Services, Syracuse University, 260 Huntington Hall, Syracuse, NY 13244 (e-mail: rqshin@syr.edu).
TABLE 1
Means, Standard Deviations, Ranges, Reliability Coefficients, and
Intercorrelations for All Study Variables

Variable                          1         2          3         4

1. Racial/ethnic identity        --
2. Africentric values            .26 *      --
3. Neighborhood satisfaction     .31 *     .37 **      --
4. Academic self-efficacy        .24 *     .49 **     .45 **    --

M                              17.08     21.48      18.93      12.72
SD                              3.78      4.20       3.50       2.66
Range                           9-24     11-27       8-24       6-15
                                 .68       .78        .74        .78

Note. N = 88.

* p < .05, two-tailed. ** p < .01, two-tailed.

TABLE 2
Summary of Stepwise Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting
Academic Self-Efficacy

Variable                       B     SE B   [beta]   [R.sup.2]     p

Significant predictor                                .33         .005
  variables
  Africentric values          0.21   0.61   .33                  .002
  Neighborhood satisfaction   0.22   0.08   .29                  .005

Note. N = 88.

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Publication:Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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