The Effect of Participation in the Neighborhood Academic Program on the Autophotographic Self-Concepts of Inner-City Adolescents

Article excerpt

The current research investigates the effect of participation in the Neighborhood Academic Initiative Scholars Program (NAI) on the students' sense of self as viewed through autophotography. The NAI is designed to prepare inner-city middle school students, composed mainly of African-Americans and Hispanics, for entry into a four year university. Students who participated in the scholars' program were significantly more likely to view themselves as engaging in scholarly/responsible behaviors. Non-program participants viewed themselves as being involved in more playful activities, such as listening to music, dancing, and playing video games.

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A central concern of psychological research has been exacting a better understanding of adolescent self-concepts (Oyserman & Markus, 1990). Despite its centrality, "thousands of psychological studies of the self have left its secrets still intact" (McGuire, 1984, p. 73). These secrets remain hidden because traditional methodological approaches alone have not always allowed participants themselves to articulate their self-concepts. Researchers have tended to conceptualize and operationalize the salient dimensions of the self for their participants (Juhasz & Munshi, 1990; Ziller, 1990; Ziller & Rorer, 1985). The major obstacle confronting self research has been the almost exclusive reliance on "paper and pencil" measures (McGuire, 1984), a problem particularly acute for minorities who face culturally biased instruments (Spencer & Markstrom-Adams, 1990). Ideally, participants should be five to conjure up and communicate their own notions of themselves with minimal intrusion from researchers.

Juhasz and Munshi (1990) summarize the pressing need for new techniques for the study of the self: "Theory suggests that any attempt to obtain valid measures of children's self-esteem should actively involve the actual participants not only in the self-measurement but also in the content selection and test methodology" (p. 691). In sum, measures and instruments that facilitate participants' abilities to communicate their self concepts should enrich our understanding of adolescents and help us design curricula and build communication environments that foster and sustain academic achievement.

The current study attempts to move toward a better understanding of the self-concepts of at-risk adolescents from the inner-city, a place inundated with crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, low academic achievement, and ah overall sense of hopelessness and despair (Flemming, 1995). A relatively novel instrument for measuring self-concepts is complemented by a traditional measure of self-esteem. Following this protocol, this study gives participants a greater degree of autonomy in describing themselves. The overarching goal of this study is to investigate the differential effect participation in the Neighborhood Academic Initiative Program has on adolescents self--concepts as viewed through the autophotographic lens.

The Self

The search for the self traces its roots to symbolic interactionists (Cooley, 1902; Mead, 1934) who argue that communication plays a pivotal role in the emergence of the self: For symbolic interactionists, societal emergence is predicated on language: "In our statement of the development of intelligent we have already suggested that the language process is essential for the development of the self" (Mead, 1934, p. 135). Language enables us to develop and communicate and individualized self to others, and it allows us to initiate the process of interaction and understanding: "Interpersonal understanding begins with the process by the other to clarify and communicate the meaning of the self" (Ziller & Rorer, 1985, p. 629). At the core of symbolic interaction "the individual possesses a self only in relation to the selves of the other members of his social group" (Mead, 1934, p. 164) and "the mind arises through communication by a conversation of gestures in a social process" (p. …