The relationship of participation in school, community, and church activities to the academic achievement (i.e., end-of-year school grades) of African American youth in rural low-income communities was examined. Participants included 280 students (177 girls and 103 boys) in the 7th and 8th grades of two public middle schools. Participation in school, community, and church activities was measured by participants' involvement in extracurricular activities in these contexts. Results indicated that after accounting for school activities and other control variables, church activities were related to academic achievement. Findings suggested that it is important to consider participation in the activities of contexts outside of school that may support the achievement of African American youth in the rural Deep South.
According to the self-system processes view, when an individual's interactions with a particular setting meets his or her basic needs (i.e., need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness) the individual will participate in the activities of that context (Connell, 1990; Connell & Wellborn, 1991). In turn, sustained and increased participation in the activities of that setting leads to the attainment of available outcomes and increased adjustment. Students participate in school in several respects. More passive forms of participation that are the minimum necessary for learning include, for example, attendance and completing assignments (Finn, 1989). As students age they become more active and independent. As a result, involvement in school activities (e.g., sports, band, math club) becomes an increasingly important form of school participation across late childhood and adolescence (Finn, 1989). Likewise, participation in similar activities in the community (e.g., sports) or at church (e.g., youth group) can be considered more active forms of participation in those contexts as well. The current study examines school, community, and church activities as these are more age-appropriate, voluntary, and active forms of participation that may supplement traditional classroom learning for rural adolescents.
Research has begun to accrue that demonstrates a positive relationship between participation in school, community, and church activities and student achievement (e.g., Gutman & McLoyd, 2000; Mahoney, Larson, Eccles, & Lord, 2005; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2002; Regnerus & Elder, 2003). Benefits from such activities have been purported to increase achievement through numerous mechanisms. For example, these include enhancing other forms of participation (e.g., attendance), interpersonal competence, educational and occupational aspirations, and academic efficacy and motivation via the provision of various factors (e.g., safety, structure, supportive relationships, sense of belonging, positive social norms, skill building) (Mahoney et al., 2005; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2002). However, studies have rarely examined youth's participation in multiple contexts or activities (Bartko & Eccles, 2003; Feldman & Matjasko, 2005; Fredricks & Eccles, 2006; McNeal, 1998; Posner & Vandell, 1994; Roche, Ensminger, Chilcoat, & Storr, 2003). That is, research typically investigates a single activity or participation in one setting which is most often school. Yet, youth participate in multiple activities across several contexts.
In addition, little research on students' activities has involved rural youth, especially rural youth experiencing high levels of poverty. Several findings indicate that the poverty encountered by rural African American youth substantially increases their chances for educational problems including low achievement (Farmer, Irvin, Thompson, Hutchins, & Leung, 2006; Johnson & Strange, 2007; Khattri, Riley, & Kane, 1997). For example, African American youth attending schools identified as Rural Low Income by the Rural Education Achievement Program are four times less likely to meet Adequate Yearly Progress than most other rural youth (Farmer, Leung, et al. …