Academic journal article Education

"Beating the Odds": How Bi-Lingual Hispanic Youth Work through Adversity to Become High Achieving Students

Academic journal article Education

"Beating the Odds": How Bi-Lingual Hispanic Youth Work through Adversity to Become High Achieving Students

Article excerpt

The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine characteristics of academically successful Hispanic students. Despite repeated failures and early academic difficulties, some Hispanic students continue to fight through their adversity. Some children have a positive attitude toward school although there are monumental barriers for these at-risk children. This study takes an "asset oriented" rather than a "deficit assessment" approach. The purpose was to explore and examine personal character traits of high achieving Hispanic students. It also investigated external factors, such as support systems, as well as intrinsic motivators.

The participants were selected by matching certain criteria. Each of the chosen participants was academically below grade level at some point in his/her educational career. However, at the time the study was conducted, the participants were academically at or above grade level expectations.

Information was gathered through interviews, classroom observations, and various documents. The interviews were semi-structured in nature and developed as the study evolved. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed for the most accurate information. After all data were collected, they were coded and sorted for common themes.


The term at-risk is used by educators to identify students who by virtue of their background and/or environment are at higher risk of educational failure than students not in that situation. Research regarding at-risk students largely cites minority status as an identifying factor for at-risk status. Undoubtedly, it is no longer a surprise that Hispanic students have higher high school drop out rates and lower high school completion rates than non-Hispanic students.

Why is it that some Hispanic students are staying in school? Not only are some students staying in school, but some are actually achieving, academically, near the top of their class. Is it socio-economic status, is it parent involvement, is it the personality traits of the student or is it a combination of these that helps these at-risk students to succeed?

One such theory for high achieving Hispanic students is that of resiliency. Resiliency theory identifies protective factors and support systems present in the families, schools, and communities of successful youth that may be missing in the lives of troubled youth (Chavkin, 2000). Although some of these factors may be present in all high achieving students, the presence of protective factors during childhood seem of great importance. These resilient children possessed temperamental characteristics that elicited positive responses from individuals around them. Thus, they came to see the world as a positive place in spite of the difficult issues with which they had to deal.

Werner (1984) cites several personal attributes of children who succeed despite the odds stacked against them. These characteristics include an active approach toward solving life's problems, a tendency to perceive experiences constructively, an ability to gain positive attention from others, and optimism or faith in the future.


America's educational system is constantly adjusting to accommodate a wide variety of ethnicities. Minority enrollment in the United States rose from 24% in 1976 to 34% in 1996. Hispanic students increased from 6.4% in 1976 to 12% in 1996 (Garcia, 2001). Ethnic and racial background students continue to be placed "at-risk" in today's educational institutions. Many young Hispanics do not participate in school-readiness programs and are usually not read to at home, causing them to be at a disadvantage in elementary schools (Bowman, 2000). According to Robert Johnston (2000), only 16 percent of Hispanic eighth graders were able to pass a 1998 reading test administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Furthermore, statistics show approximately 50% of Hispanic students leave school prior to graduation (Garcia, 2001). …

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