Neighborhood, Parenting, and Adolescent Factors and Academic Achievement in Latino Adolescents from Immigrant Families

Article excerpt


Self-report questionnaire, school records, and census block group data for 502 Latino adolescents in immigrant families were examined using multilevel modeling to test how structural neighborhood adversity, in addition to perceived neighborhood, parental, and adolescent factors, explained grade point average (GPA). The results showed perceived neighborhood risk, mothers' education aspirations for youth, and gender were directly related to GPA. Academic motivation mediated the relationship between fathers' and mothers' monitoring and GPA. Implications for prevention, intervention, and policy are presented.

Key Words: academic achievement, educational aspirations, immigrant, Latino adolescents, neighborhood, parenting.

The fastest growing segment of the U.S. popula- tion under 18 is youth in immigrant families (Reardon-Anderson, Capps, & Fix, 2002). In 2003, 21.1% of U.S. high school students resided in immigrant families (i.e., one or more foreign- born parents; Hernandez, 2004; U.S. Census Bureau, 2005). Given that over half of the immi- grants are Latino (Malone, Baluja, Constanzo, & Davis, 2003), and academic achievement is impor- tant to adolescents' future contributions to society (Suárez-Orozco, 2001), family professionals are challenged to promote the educational develop- ment of Latino youth in immigrant families. Such efforts are limited by insufficient research on Latino adolescents in immigrant families, limited consideration of the ecological milieu for their educational development, a focus on problem behaviors (e.g., Martinez, 2006), and comparisons with other ethnic groups (e.g., Aldous, 2006). Guided by ecological perspectives, the present study used hierarchical linear modeling to examine the unique contribution of neighborhood, parenting, and adolescent factors to academic achievement for Latino adolescents in immigrant families.

Ecological Perspectives on Academic Achievement for Adolescents in Immigrant Families

Adolescents' educational development occurs within an ecological milieu composed of environmental (e.g., neighborhood) and proximal (e.g., relationships with parents or adolescent qualities) contexts (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Woolley & Grogan-Kaylor, 2006). Bronfenbrenner argued that individuals' interpretations may be more important than the actual contexts for guiding behavior because it is a "folly to try and understand a child's action solely from the objective qualities of an environment without learning what those qualities mean for the child in that setting" (pp. 24 - 25). Hence, adolescents' interpretations or perceptions of objective contexts are central to understanding aspects of adolescent academic achievement (Ogbu, 1981).

Although Latino immigrant families vary on the basis of countries of origin or reasons for immigration (e.g., quality of life, employment or educational opportunities, violence, war, or persecution), optimism for an improved quality of life and educational opportunities for children tend to be common priorities (Suárez-Orozco, Suárez-Orozco, & Todorova, 2008). Despite a desire for youth educational success, the heightened risk for residing in disadvantaged neighborhoods may undermine adolescents' academic achievement (Hernandez, 2004) as adolescent educational development emulates the neighborhood context (Pong & Hao, 2007).

Academic achievement is an important indicator of the future prospects in society for Latino youth in immigrant families (Suárez-Orozco, 2001). In the broader U.S. population, adolescents' academic achievement is positively related to future educational (Dornbusch, Ritter, & Steinberg, 1991) and occupational success and negatively related to substance abuse, delinquency, emotional problems, and behavioral problems (Annunziata, Hogue, Faw, & Liddle, 2006; Jansen & Bruinsma, 2005). Because Latino adolescents in immigrant families are at increased risk for lower grade point average (GPA; Pong & Hao, 2007), an important indicator of academic achievement, research is needed to examine how neighborhood, parental, and adolescent factors relate to GPA for Latino adolescents from immigrant families. …