Date of Award

June 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Professional Studies


Teaching and Leadership


Joseph B. SHEDD


academic success, African American, Latino/a, low-income students, resilence, school success

Subject Categories



This research study examines the perspectives of African American and Latino/a students from low-income families who are especially successful in an urban, public school to elicit and gain insights into factors that mediate their academic success, conditions and contexts that nurture these factors, and the process through which these factors mediate their academic success. Utilizing a qualitative, phenomenological theoretical framework (Van Manen, 1990), this study bridges critical gaps in the empirical research literature on the academic success of such students by centering and validating the marginalized, yet authentic, voices, perspectives, and lived experiences of the adolescents (Gayles, 2005; Howard, Dryden & Johnson, 1999). It examines extant research literature on resilience, racial/cultural identity and racial socialization to inform the questions put to subjects in the present study.

Data for the study were collected through qualitative, semi-structured, open-ended, one-to-one interviews of ten students, in grades 11-12, in an urban, public high school. The students are from African-American and Latino/a, low-income families and have a minimum average school grade of B or 3.0. Data analysis was guided by qualitative coding cycles (Saldana, 2013).

This study finds five emerging themes or factors with eight sub-themes that the adolescents believed mediated their academic success. The five factors which are found to be external influences emanating from the adolescents’ ecological contexts (family, school, community, and social media), are: high expectations, caring and supportive relationships, participation in positions of responsibility, positive racial socialization, and positive belief systems. The eight sub-themes or sub-factors reflect the adolescents’ responses to the external factors: value for education, focus on future goals/clear sense of purpose, self-push, internal locus of control,

desire to make family or caregivers proud, sense of belonging, clear sense of good versus bad

choices and their implications, and positive racial identity.

This study also finds several implications that are critical to the academic success of these

students: the power of preponderance of the emerging factors, the power of socialization of the

factors into the students from their external, ecological contexts, the power of caring and

supportive relationships (all the factors were socialized into the students within such

relationships), and the criticality and interactivity of the adolescents’ agency in responding

positively and actively to the external factors or influences. Most critical to this study’s findings

is the suggestion that all the emerging factors can be cultivated in these adolescents through

strategic interventions that can be sustained by a strong partnership between schools, families,

and communities that comprise the key ecological contexts of minority children and adolescents

from low-income families, attending urban public schools.


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