Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Indicators of Resiliency among Urban Elementary School Students At-Risk

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Indicators of Resiliency among Urban Elementary School Students At-Risk

Article excerpt

This study was designed to investigate the phenomenon of resiliency among urban elementary school students in an at-risk environment. In contrast with previous studies narrowly focused upon the identification of risk factors, this study utilized a phenomenological qualitative approach to investigate indicators of resiliency from both individual and contextual perspectives. The narrative descriptions of 25 elementary school students in an at-risk environment were analyzed. The results indicated that the participants had strong individual and contextual resiliency indicators through the fifth grade despite being educated in a school district with almost a 60% drop-out rate before high school graduation. Key words: Resiliency, Phenomenology, Ecological Systems, and At-Risk Environment

Introduction

Resiliency is more commonly recognized by what it is not, rather than what it is. The United States is all too familiar with the manifestations of a lack of resiliency evidenced in the large number of children at-risk for academic difficulties, maltreatment, family instability, delinquency, exposure to drug and alcohol abuse, and low socioeconomic status (Johnson, 1994). Children at educational risk have been defined as those with normal intelligence whose academic background or prior performance may cause them to be perceived as candidates for future academic failure or early withdrawal (Dryfoos, 1990). Children are particularly prone to develop at-risk characteristics in the United States since it has some of the highest rates of divorce (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1996), teenage pregnancy (National Center for Health Statistics, 2001), infants and preschool children living below the poverty line (National Center for Children and Poverty, 2001), and drug and alcohol abuse among adolescents (Harrier, Lambert, & Ramos, 2001). Low-income, urban, African American youth are disproportionately represented in many statistical indicators of poor school adjustment such as urban poverty, street crime, school drop-out rate, poor mental health outcomes, and long-term unemployment (Baker, 1998).

"Resilience is concerned with individual variations in response to risk. Some people succumb to stress and adversity whereas others overcome life hazards" (Rutter, 1987, p. 317). Psychological resilience may be comprised of internal states of well-being or adapting well to the environment, or both (Masten, Best, & Garmezy, 1990). Children may be more likely to be resilient when "(a) they receive good and stable care from someone; (b) they are good learners and problem-solvers; (c) they are engaging to other people; and (d) they have an area of competence and perceived efficacy" (Masten et al., 1990, p.438).

The awareness of the pathological is reflected in much of the past research on risk and resiliency that focused on populations exhibiting a lack of resilience. The sources and methods used for obtaining this data typically have employed teacher or parent responses to surveys, inventories, or stress checklists developed from adult instruments (Werner & Smith, 1992). Such secondary sources and retrospective approaches have been useful for identifying risk factors. However, the complexity of resiliency demands a more holistic approach, one that includes both the contextual and individual perspectives of children themselves.

Gaining this individual perspective is the purpose of this study. By focusing on the narrative perceptions and interpretations of children in an at-risk environment, the relative individual and contextual indicators of resiliency might be identified. These first-hand perspectives are crucial to understanding this phenomenon, as the existence of resiliency must be verified through the individual's interpretations of his or her experiences. Phenomenology focuses on the investigation of human experience which is "necessary content for understanding human psychology" (Colaizzi, 1978, p. …

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