Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

A Strengths-Based Approach to Promoting Prosocial Behavior among African American and Latino Students

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

A Strengths-Based Approach to Promoting Prosocial Behavior among African American and Latino Students

Article excerpt

This article presents an overview of a strengths-based school discipline initiative that was developed in response to the high suspension and expulsion rates of African American and Latino male students at a racially diverse, urban high school in California. A school task force made up of adult and youth stakeholders devised a series of interventions that included student-led efforts to improve discipline policies and procedures. The initiative builds on the Strengths-Based School Counseling framework explicated by Galassi and Akos (2007), which stimulates and promotes personal accountability, leadership, resiliency, self-management, and social competence in students as opposed to merely reducing student deficits.


A large corpus of scholarship concerning African American and Latino students relies heavily on deficit paradigms that emphasize concerns about familial stressors, disengagement from school, academic underachievement, and inappropriate behavior (Hipolito-Delgado & Lee, 2007; Smith, 2006; Tucker, 1999; Villalba, 2007). Although these issues represent veritable realities for a host of African American and Latino students, a scant amount of scholarship emphasizes these students' resiliency or strengths, despite recommendations within the professional literature to build on the strengths students possess (Galassi & Akos, 2007).

Numerous studies have revealed the disproportionate rates of discipline referral, suspension, and expulsion experienced by African American students in particular (Mendez & Knoff, 2003; Mendez, Knoff, & Ferron, 2002; Morris & Goldring, 1999; Schiraldi & Ziedenberg, 2001). According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2003), African American students are more than 2 times as likely to be suspended from school as Caucasian students. Skiba, Michael, Nardo, and Peterson (2002) examined the referral rates of middle school students during a one-year period and concluded that compared to their Caucasian peers, African American students received a disproportionately high number of suspensions and expulsions from school for subjectively defined acts of defiance that were often difficult to substantiate. In marked contrast, Caucasian students were more likely to receive referrals for more clearly defined disciplinary infractions that were easier to quantify such as truancy, smoking, and vandalism.

Research documenting the discipline rates of Latino students tends to be more equivocal. Whereas some data indicate that the suspension and expulsion rates of Latino students appear consistent with their representation in the population, other data demonstrate that Latino students have disproportionately high discipline rates (Bay Area School Reform Collaborative, 2001; Schiraldi & Ziedenberg, 2001). For instance, according to the NCES (2002), Latinos make up 16% of students in the United States but 20% of all suspensions. When researchers disaggregated data by state, a more glaring set of discrepancies surfaced. To illustrate, in a large Florida school district, Latino females comprised 9% of the student population yet 35% of suspensions for inappropriate behavior. In Texas, Reyes (2006) found that Latino students were two times more likely to receive long-term suspensions during the 2003-2004 school year. Ironically, her findings indicated that only 5% of all school suspensions occurred for mandatory school infractions such as committing felonies, possessing drugs, lewd behavior, or retaliation against a school employee. That 95% of out-of-school suspensions resulted from persistent misbehavior led Reyes to conclude that school removal procedures are left largely to the discretion of administrators.

Punitive disciplinary practices have created consternation for many educators, especially since suspension and expulsion do not improve student conduct, achievement, or relationships with teachers (Gregory & Weinstein, in press; Reyes, 2006; Skiba & Knesting, 2001). …

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