Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Empowerment Groups for Academic Success: An Innovative Approach to Prevent High School Failure for At-Risk, Urban African

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Empowerment Groups for Academic Success: An Innovative Approach to Prevent High School Failure for At-Risk, Urban African

Article excerpt

Twenty-first-century urban schools face unique challenges in being culturally responsive and providing quality education to culturally diverse and low-income students. The academic achievement gap for low-income and ethnic youth poses the need for new and innovative interventions by educational institutions. School counselors are in a unique position in schools to assume leadership roles in reducing academic disparity. This article discusses the experience of urban youth identified as being at risk as well as some of the realities facing African American students in inner-city public education, and it describes the need for school counselors to emphasize a group counseling approach from a multicultural perspective. The article presents the Empowerment Groups for Academic Success approach that aims at preventing high school dropout and improving academic performance for youth identified as being at risk.

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Today's urban schools face significant challenges in being culturally responsive and providing quality education for culturally diverse urban youth (Bemak, Murphy, & Kaffenberger, 2004; Locke, 2003). The growing academic achievement gap with lower success rates for inner-city impoverished youth has been clearly documented and is associated with fewer educational opportunities, a poor quality of education (College Board, 1999a, 1999b; Education Trust, 1998; House & Martin, 1998), high dropout rates as a result of cultural misunderstandings, negative stereotyping (Jackson, 1999), and Sewer resources (Education Trust). Although youth problems stem from a wide range of both internal and external forces (Atkinson, Thompson, & Grant, 1993), oftentimes students having problems in school are preoccupied with concerns outside the school setting. This is evident when youth are faced with challenges from social problems, such as poverty, violence, and racism, and may result in disruptions in family and community life that can hinder the emotional, social, and academic growth and development of children and youth (Bauer, Sapp, & Johnson, 2000).

The aim of this article is to present an innovative group counseling approach called Empowerment Groups for Academic Success (EGAS), which was implemented in a Midwest inner-city high school that was experiencing high rates of expulsion and suspension, teenage pregnancies, absenteeism, poverty, and poor academic records. In an attempt to work with students who were identified by teachers, counselors, and administrators as being at the highest levels of risk for suspension, academic failure, and school dropout, we established an innovative group counseling intervention approach with the goal of resolving the difficult personal and interpersonal issues faced by these students. The group intervention would serve as a means of improving academic performance and attendance. It is important to note that this article is not an evaluation of the approach, but rather a description of a potentially effective intervention strategy to work with a very difficult population, an approach that may be replicated by other school counselors.

The group was composed of seven African American girls in 10th grade, all of whom were identified as being at the highest level of risk. The first author, as a principal investigator of one of the six national Transforming School Counseling Initiative DeWitt Wallace--Reader's Digest grants awarded through the Education Trust, developed the EGAS approach and worked closely with a school counselor to implement the group intervention in an urban school identified as having students at the highest level of risk for academic failure.

Before we present the EGAS approach, it is important to briefly present information that will assist the reader in understanding the difference between the EGAS approach and more traditional interventions and the relevance of EGAS in addressing the unique challenges of urban youth. …

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