Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: On the Development of Culturally Competent Education Policies: Understanding Latina/o Student Wellbeing in the U.S. Educational System

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Mayra L. Sanchez Gonzalez, Dagoberto Heredia and Linda Castillo, Texas A&M University
Barriers to education attainment keep the Latina/o community from moving forward economically, socially, and professionally. Given the increased numbers of Latina/o adolescents in U.S. schools, there is a need to develop studies that examine the multidimensionality of a Latina/o student’s academic experience. According to Frydenberg, Care, Freeman, and Chan (2009) a student’s academic success may be a function of interpersonal factors such as teacher-student relationships (Simões & Alarcão, 2013), peer support (Berndt & Keefe, 1995), family support (Rumberger, 1995) and the student’s subjective wellbeing. Wellbeing is defined as a positive emotional state resulting from a balance between one’s context, personal needs, and expectations (Engels, Aelterman, Van Petegem, Schepends & Deconinick, 2004) and has been shown to be influenced by interpersonal factors. For example, lonely adolescents or those who report more social dissatisfaction (Asher, Hymel, & Renshaw, 1984) are more likely to experience emotional consequences that may threaten their sense of wellbeing (Asher & Paquette, 2003). These variables remain understudied in relation to adolescent Latina/os within the U.S. educational system. As such the present study aims to examine: (1) how loneliness contributes to the variation in Latina/o adolescent wellbeing; (2) whether teacher/student relationships, peer support, and/or family support buffer the link between loneliness and wellbeing; and (3) offer suggestions on how Education policy may influence school interventions that seek to increase Latina/o wellbeing and academic attainment.

Data used for this study were collected as part of an evaluation of the Texas Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP) project. A racially diverse group of 1059 students from four middle schools in Central Texas participated in the study. Given the specific aims of this study, the data analytic sample was limited to Latino boys (n = 84) and girls (n = 103). Ages ranged from 12 to 14 years (M = 12.67; SD = .533). Participants were from low-income families, as defined by their eligibility for free or reduced-fee meals under the National School Lunch Program (USDA, 2008).

Controlling for age, gender, acculturation and enculturation, the results of a hierarchical regression analysis indicate that 27.1% of the variance in wellbeing was accounted for by all the predictive variables [F (11, 191) = 6.445, p < .0001]. Loneliness accounted for 8.4% of the variance when acculturation and demographic variables were controlled [ΔR2 = .084; ΔF(1, 197) = 20.28, p < .0001]. Support variables (teacher/student relationships, peer support, and family support) significantly contributed to variation in Latina/o adolescent wellbeing and accounted for 7.6% of the variance [ΔR2 = .076; ΔF(3, 194) = 6.59, p < .0001]. Loneliness was the strongest predictor of wellbeing in Latina/o adolescent students with lower loneliness scores related to higher wellbeing (β = -.247, p < .001).

Implications for Education policy makers are discussed and pertain to developing  policies that seek to reduce the existing educational attainment gap for Latina/o adolescents in the U.S.