Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

Next Step Up: A Mentoring and Tutoring Intervention to Break the Cycle of Disadvantage

Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

Next Step Up: A Mentoring and Tutoring Intervention to Break the Cycle of Disadvantage

Article excerpt

Introduction

The relationship between the neighborhood environment and a variety of outcomes, such as youth development, began to be studied in the mid 1980's (1). Characteristics of the environment that impact youth development include the quality of education, socioeconomic status, social cohesion and exposure to influential role models. Tuskegee, Alabama is a rural predominantly African American town, which sits as the county seat for Macon County. In Tuskegee, there is one high school, which serves students from Tuskegee and surrounding cities within the county. We noticed that many students at the high school were performing poorly. We also noticed that there was no formal avenue for Tuskegee University students, who desired to engage with the community to do so. From this observation Next Step Up was formed. Next Step Up is a mentoring and tutoring program that aims to address a combination of environmental and social factors and ultimately improve the educational aspirations of Tuskegee's youth. This program sought to address 1) the poor academic performance of high school students who appeared to desire to be successful but lacked guidance; 2) the disconnect between students from Tuskegee University and citizens of Tuskegee; and 3) the need for Tuskegee University students to have an avenue to engage with the community.

Environmental influences

The quality of the environment can shape a variety of outcomes such as health, education, intensity of violence, and employment opportunities (2-5). In socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, the environment can often have a negative influence on youth development (1).William Julius Wilson's book "The truly disadvantaged" (2), which detailed the effects of concentrated poverty on African Americans, was very influential in describing the structural disadvantage in low-income communities (2). He examined the relationship between race, education and employment and argued that the disadvantage that African Americans face was created from structural changes in the economic opportunities available. This book stimulated research across academic disciplines. More recent studies show that neighborhood socioeconomic status plays an important role in youth outcomes. The ?Moving to Opportunity? study, which studied about 4,600 families in five cities around the United States, randomly assigned vouchers to move out of public housing to either a low-poverty neighborhood or to a neighborhood of their choice. A control group remained in the public housing. After five years, youth who moved to low-poverty neighborhoods had higher educational achievement and improved mental and physical health compared to the group that remained in public housing, supporting the hypothesis that neighborhood socioeconomic status plays a role in youth educational outcomes (6).

To explain how neighborhood socioeconomic advantage is associated with youth outcomes, Leventhal and Dupere focused on the mechanisms underlying associations between neighborhood socioeconomic advantage and children's achievement (7). The study sought to examine the role that the quality of the home, childcare and learning environments played in the association between neighborhood advantage and child achievement. They found that advantaged neighborhoods provide an enriched experience for children, increasing children's achievement, compared to children from less advantaged communities, which would not have access to enriched experiences, thereby decreasing their chances of success. Furthermore, exposure to affluent neighbors was found to be important in influencing youth outcomes in high poverty neighborhoods. Overall, the association between neighborhood advantage and child achievement varies with the extent of neighborhood advantage. This means that the level of neighborhood advantage, such as the number of affluent neighbors, is important in influencing child achievement. Studies such as these have concluded that the socioeconomic composition of the neighborhoods influence youth outcomes and contribute significantly to the youth's educational attainment. …

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