by Linda F. Winfield
Reports of the disturbing condition of youth in urban America continue to capture the nation's attention. Although it is appropriate to recognize the desperate social and economic conditions that affect young people, it is also critical to study and understand how some youth succeed despite the overwhelming odds against them. Understanding the concept of resilience provides information that can help administrators, teachers, and policymakers design more effective school environments and intervention models.
The term "at risk" has been over-used in education, often being applied to urban youth as a descriptor even though the term actually applies to the conditions of their lives - specifically, "risk factors" such as poverty and economic status. In labeling youth "at risk," we often blame the students for their own educational failure. As noted by Berry (1989), "the old labels of the past that have inferred cognitive, motivational, self-esteem, and learning deficits of Black children, youth, and college-age young adults should be looked at with a jaundiced eye" (p. 288). Resilience, on the other hand, suggests the individual's response to risk factors. Some children are able to overcome adversity and succeed, while others are not. The concept of resilience has been used in other fields for a much longer period - e.g., health and psychiatric research, which generated considerable interest in understanding the characteristics that enable individuals to survive severely traumatic experiences. In my work, I deliberately focus attention on "correlates" or protective processes that foster resilience - although, in reality, resilience is an interaction between the characteristics of the individual and the environment. These correlates or protective processes are the factors over which adults working with children have considerable influence.
This paper discusses the characteristics of resilient children and how to build protective processes within and around children so that they overcome risk at critical decision-making moments in their lives. The paper outlines a research-based definition of resilience, four major protective mechanisms that foster resilience, and examples of strategies that help to build those protective processes for students. Three critical transition periods for students are explored, followed by recommendations for programs and policies during each transition period. The paper then summarizes these recommendations.
Garmezy (1983) and others have identified individual characteristics of resilient students in high poverty areas who succeeded despite their disadvantaged circumstances. These characteristics include a wide array of social skills, positive peer interactions, a high degree of social responsiveness and sensitivity, intelligence (measured by IQ), empathy, a sense of humor, and critical problem-solving skills. Additional characteristics of resilient children identified by Garmezy (1983) include the following:
Resilient children also tend to have parents who are concerned with their children's education, who participate in that education, who direct their children's everyday tasks, and who are aware of their children's interests and goals. Another important characteristic of resilient children is having at least one significant adult in their lives. An intact family was not an identifiable, consistent correlate (Clark, 1983; Fine & Schwebel, 1991).
However, a more meaningful conception views resilience not as a fixed attribute, but as vulnerabilities or protective mechanisms that modify the individual's response to risk situations and operate at turning points during his or her life (Rutter, 1987; Garmezy, 1991). Rutter illustrates this point clearly:
"Protection does not reside in the psychological chemistry of the moment but in the ways in which people deal with life changes and in what they do about their stressful or disadvantageous circumstances. Particular attention needs to be paid to the mechanisms operating at key turning points in people's lives when a risk trajectory may be redirected onto a more adaptive path." (Rutter, 1987, p. 329)
By labeling children "resilient" or "nonresilient," it is easy to overlook the significance of this concept. What makes a child "resilient" is the relative strength of individual characteristics and external protective processes (supports provided by school staff, communities, and families) compared to the influence of risks and vulnerabilities in the external environment. A student may be resilient at certain critical moments and not at others, due to the circumstances surrounding an event or moment. Because resilience is being defined here as a dynamic rather than a static concept, educators, families, and community members must build young people's potential to be resilient and strengthen protective processes in the face of external risk factors such as gang warfare; low teacher expectations; physical, verbal, or sexual abuse; alcohol or other drug abuse; pregnancy; and so forth.
How do we define this term to make it meaningful and useful to educators and policymakers? Some of the terms often considered to be synonymous with resilience are positive coping, persistence, adaptation, and long-term success despite adverse circumstances. Is resilience something we do or something we foster? If you view resilience as something we do, then many of the strategies adopted will be short-term and misdirected toward changing the child. This approach is similar to what some teachers attempt to do in order to build students' self-esteem. Typically, commercial packages are purchased and teachers teach a lesson on self-esteem. This strategy is ineffective because self-esteem and self-efficacy are learned through positive social interaction and successful accomplishment of tasks, rather than through decontextualized units in a workbook.
Resilience should be viewed as something we foster throughout students' development by strengthening protective processes for students at critical moments in their lives. When you view resilience as a developmental process that can be fostered, then strategies for change can be directed toward practices, policies, and attitudes among professional educators. It is important to realize, however, that even when you change practices, policies, and attitudes within schools and communities, your work is not done. You will not automatically end up with a school full of resilient children. Within every young person is a delicate balance during those critical life events between the protective processes and risk factors that originate both internally and externally. Protective processes have to be reinforced constantly so that the potential for young people to be resilient when faced with risk factors and vulnerabilities remains intact.
The three characteristics of the process of fostering resilience are as follows:
Beginning a Long-Term and Developmental Process
The difficulty in doing research on resilience is that the development of resilience occurs over a long period and depends on the presence of positive interventions by a significant individual, school, or organization at critical life points in order to counteract risks and vulnerabilities. Indications of resilience require more than short-term achievement gains on standardized tests, although these gains, too, are important. Fostering resilience is not a quick fix scheme or a panacea. An analogy that I like to use derives from research on gifted and talented individuals. People who go on to be world class athletes, Nobel Prize winners, or world famous musicians or artists had, at particular periods, the appropriate combination of support and encouragement, along with opportunities to study with "expert mentors" over a number of years in order for their talent to be developed. Yet, typically the only people within education who use the language of potential and the development of talent are those involved in gifted education. Unfortunately, these programs often are reserved for a small number of students, very few of whom are from racial/ethnic minority groups.
Viewing Children With Strengths Rather Than With Deficits/Risks
In the inner city, the task of developing talent is even more difficult - not only because of the risks, conditions, and vulnerabilities, but also because of the prevailing attitudes and beliefs of adults. We need to change our approach from one that emphasizes risks, deficits, and psychopathology to one that capitalizes on protection, strengths, and assets. We have become experts at predicting who will fail and what kinds of programs will compensate for the deficits. But to design effective interventions, we must understand how some students persist and succeed in school and in later life despite the overwhelming odds against them.
In what ways do students learn to cope? To answer this question, I conducted observations in a particular urban school for several months. After school one day, a first grade special education student was missing when his mother arrived to pick him up. The teacher and principal called school security and the police, searched the building, and questioned other children in the class, but they could not locate the boy anywhere. The next day, I asked the principal what had finally happened. It turned out that the student's mother had arrived late to pick him up, and he knew that he had an appointment at a clinic downtown. The school routinely provided bus and transportation tokens for large numbers of students. So this student caught the mass transit system to get to the bus stop, then took the bus downtown and walked the remaining three or four blocks to make sure he was on time for his clinic appointment. The point is that this student, a first grader classified as "special ed," was able to negotiate a complicated transportation system. When his mother had not picked him up on time, this first grader had inferred that she was not coming, devised a plan, used memory, and executed his plan to keep his appointment. Think of all of the higher-order cognitive skills that were required for him to accomplish this task!
Nurturing Protective Processes for Children
Nurturing protective processes to help children succeed requires us to change beliefs, systems, and structures within schools and communities. The shift in thinking about resilience requires a change in beliefs, structures, and policies. Our expectations for young people are only part of the required change. If I asked teachers about IQ or student intelligence, a majority would say that it is fixed and immutable - that they cannot do much to change it. They believe that intelligence is largely genetic and that it is different across racial/ethnic groups. Most teachers might also admit that environment plays a part; however, because of the poor homes in which many students live, teachers feel that these students are unable to perform academically.
When these belief systems are ingrained in teachers' minds, it is very difficult to talk about changing expectations, planning for long-term success, or developing resilience in inner-city and disadvantaged children. These ingrained belief systems need to change. Unfortunately, individuals' perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes are not easily changed. But these belief systems can be changed by implementing sustained professional development, adopting school policies, and developing school cultures that promote learning and achievement for both students and teachers.
School administrators and teachers have the ability to change the structures, language, and policies that affect individual belief systems. These components must be consistent with protective processes and fostering resilience. Tracking practices, readiness testing, Chapter 1 programs, special education, and ability grouping may serve the needs of some students, but they are generally inconsistent with the notions of protective mechanisms and fostering resilience. We must seriously rethink what we do with and to students in urban schools.
Winfield and Manning (1992) indicated that school organization and teacher practices can become more responsive to students' needs if educators reexamine processes and outcomes that affect students and alter school structures. By changing school structures, a positive school climate can be fostered and teachers and principals can focus more specifically on protective processes that foster resilience. Factors such as school goals, expectations, discipline, and reward systems within a school can either advance or hinder student success in schools. Empirical evidence obtained over the last decade suggests that it is effective to change the school's organizational culture to improve outcomes (Purkey & Smith, 1983; Corcoran, 1985). Changing school climate will depend on various structures peculiar to a school and must be developed at the building level. Schools differ considerably in their particular constituency, students, and the support needs of staff in constructing new experiences for students.
The most persuasive research suggests that school culture strongly affects student academic performance (Brookover et al., 1978). Schools that effectively accommodate student diversity possess similar characteristics that encourage a professional and productive work environment and improved student engagement (Moll, 1992; Reyes & LaLiberty, 1993; Tharp, 1989). As dynamic social systems, school cultures vary in response to the composition of the staff and student body and to the environment in which the school exists, leaving each school with a unique climate (Brookover et al., 1978; Purkey & Smith, 1983). Change is brought about when the focus is on systemic, organizational change that involves staff participation in all phases of school planning. That process begins by challenging biases and belief systems that impede student success. The purpose of the change is to examine and strengthen protective processes and supports for students and teachers.
Two years ago, I set out to discover what we know from empirical studies of resilience among African-American youth. No longitudinal databases followed African-Americans for 20 years or more. Studies from the University of California at Berkeley that followed Caucasian males for 25 to 30 years found that choices made in adolescence influenced the major social roles later in life. There was stability of role performance and attainment. In a special issue of Education and Urban Society (Winfield, 1991), studies reported findings based on cross-sectional populations (i.e., each study focused on different age groups rather than one cohort over a long period) in attempts to piece together what is known about this long-term process. In developing a framework on resilience, major areas for potential intervention were identified. These areas included policy, the school, the classroom, and the community. These areas can be crossed with the four major protective processes identified by Rutter (1987) to form a matrix. This matrix can be used as a tool in looking at practices and programs in each of these areas (policy, school, classroom, and community) that support one or more of the four protective processes. Rutter's four major protective processes that foster resilience are:
The following section presents examples of programs, policies, and practices that address each of the four protective processes. However, Rutter's four major protective processes are not mutually exclusive and in fact may operate in conjunction with one another. Programs, practices, and policies developed may address one or more of the protective processes.
1. Reducing Negative Outcomes by Altering the Risk or Child's Exposure to the Risk
A dramatic example of altering the risk or child's exposure to the risk is a type of specialized private program in which the child is entirely removed from his or her environment and sent away to a school. This scenario suggests an extreme approach to reducing the exposure to risk, but it remains one alternative. However, for many inner-city children affected by alcohol and drug use or violence among parents or family members, leaving the environment is not an option. These children experience inconsistent parenting, abuse, and neglect in a variety of ways. Additional resources can be used to provide a mentor to support individual children in understanding that they are not to blame for abuse/neglect. Often, urban children come to school with their basic needs unmet, and risk factors can be reduced when programs such as free and reduced-price lunch, breakfast programs, and school-based health clinics are implemented and essential clothing is provided. Classroom strategies can be developed to emphasize positive peer interactions, and links can be made with community/church agencies that provide families with social services and support.
Many students from drug-exposed homes come to schools with hostility and anger, contributing to classroom behavioral problems. Often, looks or comments ignite physical altercations between students, causing disruption in classrooms. In one urban site, one teacher allowed the students 15 minutes every morning to cry and scream and get everything out "from the night before" before settling down to schoolwork. For many of these students, violence and abuse were everyday occurrences. In another school, the teachers and principal formed a discipline team (comprising other teachers, the principal, and a school counselor), which came into classrooms on call when an entire classroom became extremely disruptive. This team used assertive discipline techniques and modeling to help calm students and refocus them on tasks. These examples indicate that in the classroom and school solutions designed to reduce the child's exposure to risk have been implemented. Merely working with young people on an individual basis is not entirely successful, because the most effective interventions typically occur with families (Silbert & Berry, 1993). When teachers and principals attempt to do something about risk factors within their sphere of control, it has an effect, however large or small, in altering the child's exposure to the risk.
2. Reducing a Negative Chain Reaction Following Risk Exposure
What typically follows gang involvement, dropping out of school, or teen pregnancy is a downward spiral from which the child rarely recovers. Without intervention, a student cannot go on to recover from such a negative event. Some of the recovery programs for dropouts in which students are given part-time jobs and are allowed to come to school at different hours than traditional schools have been found to be effective. Flexibility, additional counseling support, smaller classes, and experiential learning provide opportunities for success and are designed to prevent the negative chain reaction that occurs, often resulting from a lack of education.
When a student is faced with obtaining a job, he or she finds that possessing skills is what matters in labor markets, independent of educational attainment and credentials (Berlin & Sum, 1988). Increased literacy skills and credentials for urban youth are critical in order to achieve success in the labor market - that is, occupational status and increased earnings (Greenfield, 1980; Berlin & Sum, 1988). Those students who fail to attend high school or do not receive the skills join the ranks of the unemployed.
Similarly, Scott-Jones (1991) found that altering the negative chain following pregnancy depended heavily on adolescent mothers' receiving additional training and education. Rutter (1987) suggests additional strategies for reducing the negative chain reaction for adolescent mothers. These strategies include the provision of quality prenatal care and programs designed to encourage adolescent parents to continue schooling to reduce the likelihood of welfare dependency. Such programs might include on-site or community-referred day care, mother-infant programs, parenting classes, and ongoing health care services (school-based clinics) for mother and child.
At early ages, severe disruptive behavior, chronic absenteeism, or lack of academic progress often signals risk exposure. In one urban school, a Pupil Support Team was formed to evaluate the needs of individual children and to recommend support and assistance for academic and social problems and unusual home circumstances (Winfield, Hawkins, & Stringfield, 1992). This team comprised a counselor, teachers, principal, school-community coordinator, school psychologist, and so forth. The purpose was not to refer students to special education but to explore options, resources, and strategies that could be used to support students in distress. Typically, a teacher would request a meeting about an individual student who was having a problem. The solutions included having a teacher act as a mentor for the student, spending extra time working with the student before or after school or at lunch time, obtaining a decent pair of shoes for a child who failed to attend school because of the holes in his shoes, or perhaps arranging for an eye exam. Other solutions included obtaining resources from the church/community for counseling, food, shelter, or referrals for social work or mental health. This latter option was rarely used, because many of these impoverished communities had no mental health or social welfare clinics, and parents and students were required to travel distances outside of the community for services.
3. Establishing and Maintaining Self-Esteem and Self-Efficacy
Self-esteem and self-efficacy are developmental processes that are learned primarily in two ways: in positive interactions with peers or adults and in successful accomplishment of a task, whether it is academic, musical, artistic, or athletic. Self-esteem is not something that is learned in a decontextualized manner. It is not learned by completing a series of lessons in commercially available programs. Similarly, self-efficacy develops when students learn that they have some control over certain things in their environment and that they are not helpless. In one urban school, I spent every afternoon observing a reading group conducted by the reading teacher, Mrs. S. Every lunch time, every afternoon, and every day after school, the same little girl, Adrienne, would come into Mrs. S's room. I later learned that at times Adrienne left her classroom to come to the room. Mrs. S gave her small tasks to perform such as putting labels on books, stacking books, and delivering books to other classrooms. She also encouraged Adrienne to read book titles and sound out unfamiliar words and gave Adrienne many other positive encouragements to boost her reading skills. When I asked Mrs. S about the young girl, she indicated that Adrienne had been in a pull-out reading program in 3rd and 4th grade with her, but that the program did not serve fifth graders. Adrienne would want to stay behind after reading group, until Mrs. S would have to force her to go back to class. Mrs. S later found out from the school counselor that Adrienne lived in a home in which physical and sexual abuse took place. According to Mrs. S, "Adrienne really enjoys helping me out, and when it is not interfering with her classroom time, I usually allow her to do that. Sometimes I have to chase her home after school." Although we do not know the effect of these activities on this student, Adrienne clearly was obtaining self-efficacy and self- esteem by accomplishing small tasks and interacting positively with an adult. Such accomplished tasks, part-time jobs, involvement with youth serving agencies, and church and community experiences provide valuable positive lessons in self-efficacy for many inner-city students.
4. Opening Up Opportunities
When specific programs offer opportunities for students to acquire skills and invest in prosocial activities, they foster persistence. Murray Nettles (1991) found that students who participated in activities sponsored by community-based programs displayed the following characteristics: more certainty of graduating from high school, increased sense of personal control, heightened academic self-concept, and increased efforts to achieve future goals. Berry and Asamen (1989) provide a comprehensive view of African-American students' academic achievement from the prenatal stage to college years and the uniqueness of the psychosocial, educational, and cultural experiences in which they have developed. Social policies, such as desegregation and funding of Head Start, also have affected urban youngsters' opportunities and access in schools and classrooms (Swanson & Spencer, 1991).
Work on school desegregation and cross-racial friendships provides evidence of the long-term positive effects on achievement and occupational status of African-Americans when they are provided with opportunities for cross-racial friendships in integrated settings (Braddock, Royster, Winfield, & Hawkins, 1991). Evidence also suggests that cross-racial friendships among students in integrated settings build students' self-esteem and self-efficacy, particularly for students of color (Clark, 1991). Programs designed to maximize opportunities for disadvantaged students within schools include effective programs for students at risk (Slavin, Karweit, & Madden, 1989), successful organizational change and implementation in Chapter 1 urban schools (Winfield, Hawkins, & Stringfield, 1992), and other research-based interventions (e.g., Henry Levin's Accelerated Schools and Robert Slavin's "Success for All"). Similarly, the Comer process model, which focuses specifically on mental health, child development, and school governance, is consistent with notions of fostering resilience among urban students. If students experience some degree of academic success early in their careers, they are more likely to continue in school.
The special issue of Education and Urban Society on resilience (Winfield et al., 1991) contains a series of articles addressing major issues and findings at four critical transition points in a young person's schooling career: (1) home to early elementary and elementary school, (2) elementary school to middle school, (3) middle school to high school, and (4) high school to college. The next section of this monograph highlights findings from these studies of critical transition points.
In early childhood (preschool/kindergarten), children come to school with certain dispositions, temperaments, and behavioral characteristics that are labeled as entry characteristics. Children's entry characteristics will act as vulnerabilities or risk factors. Taylor (1991) points out that entry characteristics may be either risk factors or protective mechanisms, depending on the reaction that those characteristics produce in the environment. Some children enter kindergarten/first grade with characteristics that prepare them to meet the demands of school, and others bring behavioral characteristics that are at odds with classroom norms. Therefore, classroom teaching styles can and should be made more compatible with children's entry-level skills.
For all children, regardless of racial/ethnic group, the ability to negotiate successfully the transition from preschool/kindergarten to school depends on mastering some critical social behaviors that are school-related. Teachers expect "appropriate" classroom and task behaviors. Social competence in disadvantaged students is a protective factor that enhances their self-esteem and sense of efficacy (Taylor, 1991). It also opens up opportunities that, in turn, strengthen children's commitment to school and motivation for further learning. Young children who are verbally and socially adept often initiate and maintain positive interpersonal relationships with adults and peers.
Bowman (1994) points out that by the time children are five years old, the vast majority of them have learned the social norms, rules, and values of their community. They have mastered their home language, established appropriate social relationships with their families and neighbors, learned a variety of different category and symbol systems, and can organize and regulate their own behavior in situations familiar to them. However, a child's competence in his or her home environment may not allow him or her to adapt easily to the school setting or to succeed at academic tasks valued by teachers. Researchers Kagan (1990) and Meisels et al. (1992) have clarified the distinction between developmental failure and social mismatch. Children's skills and knowledge may be different from those expected by school, but these children are not developmentally delayed, low-ability, and so forth. By equating a child's developmental competence with a particular form of behavior, educators misread the meaning of the child's behavior and are led toward practices that compromise the child's potential for learning. School policies and classroom instruction must build on and use the knowledge, experiences, mastered skills, and language that children bring to school and connect children's prior cultural and community knowledge to learning the values, skills, language, and knowledge in the school.
According to Taylor (1991), the traits of successful first graders are the ability to postpone gratification, to be socially responsive, to maintain control over emotions, and to be in a positive frame of mind. Given the severe conditions in many urban communities, many poor African-American, Latino, or other minority youngsters do not enter school having mastered these characteristics. Whether the entry characteristics are risks or protective functions depends on the teachers' reactions to these children in that particular environment. If the child's behavior conforms with the teacher's expectations and norms, and if the teacher's response is favorable, then this combination will act as a protective mechanism for the child. If the child's behavior clashes with the teacher's expectations and norms and triggers a negative response from the teacher, then that child will face increased risk.
Resilience in coping with the transition at this early age is likely to be associated with having a good match between the child's entry characteristics and the teacher's expectations for classroom behavior (Taylor, 1991). Race influences this match in two ways. First, teachers' implicit beliefs about individual differences and the relative intelligence of racial/ethnic groups influence what they observe and expect from racial/ethnic minority group students. Second, many African-American children display certain behavioral and language patterns that differ from those of Caucasian children and from teachers' normative expectations (Taylor, 1991). Some African-American children have been found to have higher rates of motor activity, to show more expressive social and interpersonal styles, and to use nonstandard dialect.
The particular combination of students' cultural behaviors; teachers' biases, perspectives, and assumptions; and school-level policies often can create more risk than protection for children in early childhood and early elementary years. Particular factors also may be combined to produce protective processes. At the individual level, a child's entry characteristics can be perceived as a protective factor or a risk factor. At the classroom level, for example, teachers' normative expectations of students can be perceived as a protective factor or a risk factor. At the school level, policies such as screening programs designed to detect developmental delay or readiness serve as protective factors or risk factors. These school policies more often function as a risk factor rather than a protective mechanism because of the likelihood of student misclassification. The use of screening instruments often involves a considerable amount of inaccuracy, due to the variation in cognitive skills and abilities in the early stages of a child's development. Thus, a particular child may be misclassified prior to entering kindergarten and mislabeled throughout elementary school. Labeling children as "needing remediation" may occur when a child does not have the appropriate entry characteristics and thus receives negative reactions from teachers. Unknowingly, schools are increasing the risks rather than the protective factors.
From past research, we know that protective mechanisms include the effects of quality preschool experience (Taylor, 1991). This intervention is effective not only to improve students' entry characteristics, but also to increase parents' involvement and participation and to strengthen students' positive relations with peers. Students learn prosocial behaviors such as cooperation and sharing, on-task behavior, and other school-related norms.
In research on cultural mismatch between teachers and students with Hawaiian children, Tharp (1989) emphasized two areas for making classrooms culturally responsive. First, language development should be emphasized through student-teacher conversation rather than drill and practice instruction. Second, instruction should be contextualized and designed to use and reinforce children's prior knowledge and everyday experiences.
Another protective process that has been found to foster resilience at early ages among African-American youth is help-seeking behavior (Nelson-LeGall & Jones, 1991). Many practitioners view help-seeking behavior as an indication of dependence on the external environment to solve problems. However, Nelson-LeGall and Jones (1991) identify help seeking as a problem-solving strategy that grows out of the cultural experience of African-American youngsters. This strategy allows children and learners to cope with academic difficulties by keeping them active in learning tasks. Classrooms in our society typically emphasize individuality, self-sufficiency, and autonomy, and these traits are used as signs of well-being, maturity, and competence (Nelson-LeGall & Jones, 1991). In reality, as Nelson-LeGall and Jones indicate, children need both autonomy and social support when they are developing.
Cooperative teaching methods and instructional styles that encourage students to learn in teams or pairs support help-seeking behavior in the classroom. For example, a fourth-grade teacher in Longmont, Colorado, who teaches both English- and Spanish-proficient students has set up peer review teams in her classroom to support students in writing their own books. Students sign up to be peer reviewers according to areas of expertise: ideas, spelling, punctuation, illustration, and so on. Teacher and students alike have independent time to write or reflect and have time for peer and teacher review. Signs on the students' and teacher's desk indicate whether it is independent time or peer/teacher review time. This teacher has structured opportunities for help seeking and social support that directly feed back into individual performance and independent learning (de la Luz Reyes & Andrade LaLiberty, 1992).
Help seeking, as defined by Nelson-LeGall and Jones, is viewed as an adaptive function that allows students to seek help when they need it within a classroom setting, rather than as an indicator of dependence, immaturity, passivity, or even incompetence. Moreover, help seeking is a sign of motivation in that the child is actively seeking human resources to increase his or her chances of success. As a protective process, it works remarkably well because help-seeking behavior makes students more adept at getting the teacher's attention. Help seeking is the student's way of not only seeking help, but also establishing interpersonal contact with another adult.
Most teachers feel that seeking help is only important or appropriate after the child has tried independently and diligently and perhaps has failed. Help seeking is typically not valued within the classroom, and when it is not valued it may serve as a risk rather than a protective mechanism. African- American child-rearing patterns tend to encourage help seeking and this kind of active coping style. Nelson-LeGall and Jones (1991) found that children initiate solutions to problems and demonstrate competence in handling difficult learning situations by using this help-seeking style. This research found that participation in a kinship network (not just extended family members but also friends and neighbors in a network that is multi-generational) encourages this kind of help-seeking pattern. Children are socialized toward interpersonal relationships and are socialized to respond to the authority of dominant family members. The emphasis within this kinship and this community is on giving and receiving support. Children are encouraged to seek help in their move toward independence.
Nelson-LeGall and Jones (1991) indicate that teachers who do not value help-seeking behavior until the second grade may not have as much of a detrimental effect, because during these early years children are being socialized to be autonomous. After the early grades, however, the dynamics change. At the third and fourth grade levels, teacher/student relations become less personalized, the standards for classroom performance are redefined, and more emphasis is placed on individual achievement and competition. Studies of teachers' effects on the achievement of African- American students have indicated that continuing academic excellence is associated with personal contact with a nurturing, supportive, child-oriented teacher. Especially at the second grade level and above, instructional formats should be adapted to promote help-seeking activities within classrooms. This change would have to be accompanied by changes in professional development, and teacher attitudes/beliefs would likewise have to be altered.
School Norms and Peers
School characteristics and the values and attitudes they reinforce influence the social interactions among students, teachers, and other staff members, which in turn influence students' academic achievement (Clark, 1991). Studies by Brookover et al. in the early 1970s and more recent studies examining school culture (Winfield & Manning, 1992) document the effects of school characteristics and culture on academic achievement. A study of high-achieving African-American eighth graders on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) found that these students had higher student commitment and more academic behaviors than their lower-achieving counterparts in similar schools (Lee, Winfield, & Wilson, 1991). These students tended to report reading more pages in school and for homework. They had a better sense of task accomplishment. The students used their time more positively.
The schools were located in urban areas, and their student-faculty ratios were similar. The schools did not differ in resources, but schools that the high-achieving African- Americans attended were more likely to offer an enriched curriculum that included art, music, and extracurricular activities. There were fewer discipline problems in schools with the high-achieving African-American students. In brief, we suspect that the school culture was dramatically different from that of the schools attended by the lower-achieving students. School culture is particularly important as a protective mechanism for African-American students in middle schools, since peer group influence begins and potentially operates as a risk condition. For females, the peer group pressure operates to influence sexual behavior. Scott-Jones (1991) has found in a survey that those students who tend to have children before completing high school received information from peers and had not received sexual education. For males, the peer group pressure often provides anti-intellectual pressures aimed at not being successful in schoolwork (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986). Steinburg, Dornbush, and Brown (1992) note that even if parents are supportive of academic achievement, African-American youngsters face enormous difficulty finding supportive peers.
Clark (1991) found that academically resilient adolescents developed strong support networks that provided assistance for success in and out of school by developing friendships and getting support from school personnel and family. Thus, what schools do to counteract the negative peer culture among African-Americans and to foster more positive attitudes in spite of the subcultural influences is extremely important. Developing friendships, particularly in racially mixed schools, is complex (Clark, 1991). But it is necessary to resolve the negative perception that academic success is associated with "acting white," which is documented by Fordham and Ogbu (1986). Interracial friendships are more prevalent when social class and achievements are equal and when there are "mutual benefits to be gained by both groups" such as "getting good grades" and "winning sports." Although adolescents prefer to be with peers of the same racial/ethnic groups, teachers and principals can provide specific tasks in and out of classrooms that require skills and diversity of both racial/ethnic groups.
In most integrated and desegregated schools, where African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American students are in the minority, these minority students tend not to be involved in the ongoing school culture. In these situations, minority students often are bused in and out and become outsiders to extracurricular activities. In one desegregated high school, the senior class advisor proposed an idea for a major production - a play that would include students from all ethnic groups. It was particularly difficult to get African-American students to participate, but the musical "Fame" was selected because of the interracial casts needed for music, dancing, and singing. Committees were formed to recruit and encourage the school's best dancers, many of whom were on the football team. The art and woodshop majors were recruited to design sets, and music majors were recruited for the band. It was a production in which every student in the school could get involved. This production was a one-time event that lasted a large part of the school year. Ongoing programs that promote interracial/cultural friendships also strengthen prosocial school involvement, reduce alienation on the part of minority students, and reduce negative peer pressure. Friendships cannot be forced across racial/ethnic lines, but school activities can promote cross-racial friendships and provide support for academic success and social bonding among African-American youth who may not receive this support from peers.
Middle School Athletics
Another protective mechanism, particularly for males, is athletic involvement at the middle school level. African-American males who are academically oriented suffer less negative pressure from peer groups if they are athletically inclined. These youngsters have incorporated values of both worlds. Athletic involvement is a potential protective source to many youngsters who devote considerable time and energy to it. Athletic participation also fosters a sense of belonging and ownership toward the school and community and builds students' pride in their school. At the middle school level, athletics may facilitate academic resilience and attachment for African-American males in several ways (Braddock et al., 1991). First, participation is typically contingent on students' meeting minimal requirements. Second, the behaviors learned in athletics can be generalized to the classroom - practice, conditioning, self-discipline, adherence to rules for fair competition, a willingness to work, ability to persist even when you lose, and an ability to analyze why you lost and compensate for it are many of the critical skills and strategies for students to learn if they are to be successful.
Braddock et al. (1991) found that sports participation was positively related to eighth graders' aspirations to enroll in academic programs and complete high school and fostered positive peer relations among schoolmates. These eighth graders were less likely to be involved in school-related misconduct problems. They looked forward to attending class and teachers judged them as giving full effort in class.
Braddock et al. (1991) suggest several successful strategies for middle schools to use in order to foster resilience in middle school adolescents:
The transition from high school to college is critical because during this period adolescents' future occupations and status are affected by the decisions that they make and how they spend their time. Many young people have not had adequate preparation, have not been exposed to precollegiate requirements, and do not know what options are available to them. In families of middle and upper socioeconomic status where parents have attended or graduated from college, information and parental behaviors support the transition to college or other postsecondary options. In many high-risk, urban environments, students rely on the schools as a source of information concerning careers or postsecondary options. In a sample of African-American males, Wilson-Sadberry, Winfield, and Royster (1991) found that males who made the transition from high school to college and continued in postsecondary education differed from their counterparts who failed to make this transition. This study looks at the supportive role of peers, counselors, family, and school staff and isolates two primary obstacles to attending college from high school - fatherhood and unemployment. It found that those who continued were more likely to report that their mother had an extremely large influence, teachers had a strong influence, and their best friends had strong academic profiles. These students were more likely to have been in the academic curriculum rather than the vocational or general track, and they had higher aspirations for going on to college. On the other hand, those who dropped out or did not continue expressed a strong absence of influence on postsecondary plans from parents, teachers, or counselors. They were likely to be in the vocational or general curriculum, had no education plans, and were over age. Most of these students had been retained, and one-third of them had fathered children.
Having a plan to continue one's education was three times as important as the family's socioeconomic status in predicting whether a student would continue in postsecondary training. Planning must occur during adolescence, and this finding suggests an important notion that Clausen (1991) refers to as "planful competence" in adolescence. This notion holds that students must make decisions about what is going to affect them later in their lives when they are in this particular adolescent stage. In order to make these decisions at this stage, students need to know something about their abilities and interests and be able to reflect on this information. They also need to know something about available options and think about how to maximize those options. Individuals have to be particularly self-confident at this particular age to consider and pursue goals. Those African-American students who continued their postsecondary education developed this constellation of skills, which allowed them to persist. However, a large number of students - those who do not go to college - do not receive adequate counseling from either the home or school, do not have "purposeful" role models, and have not had opportunities to explore various interests and develop social skills. Moreover, the "drug culture," high unemployment, and negative media portrayal of African-American males serve as risk factors that affect their decisions about career options available and continuing education. Unfortunately, in many of our inner-city schools, budget cuts are causing us to cut back on the so-called "frills," which include music, art, and guidance counseling. In reality, at all age levels, these areas provide opportunities for students to explore interests, develop self-esteem, plan, and set goals.
A longitudinal study of 82 valedictorians and salutatorians who graduated in 1981 from public and private high schools in Illinois provides additional insights into the factors that increase the success of students of color in the transition from high school to college (Arnold, 1993). Even though this study follows the academic and career paths of a predominantly Caucasian group that includes 46 women and 35 men, it also takes an in-depth look at the lives and experiences of high-achieving students of color. Included in the study are five African-Americans, three Hispanic students, and one Chinese-American student. The stories of the study's AHANA students show that these students have surmounted external obstacles to attain high standards of achievement through strong personal qualities of persistence, determination, and hard work. They rely on peers, indirect role models, and the rewards of interpersonal engagements and community service to nourish their already strong motivation.
However, African-American and Hispanic study participants as a group have not attained the same educational and professional levels as the Caucasian study members, and even the consistently high-achieving members of the AHANA student group have struggled to overcome significant obstacles related to economics, racism, and lack of support in their educational and professional environments.
If these obstacles exist for the highest-achieving students, much needs to be done to address and meet the needs of the majority of students who do not fall in the highest-achieving strata in preparing for college and careers. While this study focuses its recommendations on those considered the most academically talented, these recommendations should be applied to all students and particularly to the majority of students, who are not valedictorians and salutatorians. Recommendations, as adapted for all students, are as follows:
Typically, guidance counseling is reserved for students considered academically talented, and most of those students already have access to resources outside of the school. The students who need counseling services the most are those students who do not have the resources outside of the school or many options for pursuing information. Guidance counseling programs that foster resilience among African-American youth (1) minimize the role of the therapist, (2) reduce the emphasis on tracking, (3) increase training in precollege guidance that focuses on student potential, (4) address issues of equity and access, and (5) improve use of data on student achievement to determine where improvements are needed (Hart & Jacobi, 1992).
School programs that foster resilience among African-American youth do so by a critical re-examination of school culture, policy, and structures in order to provide "protective processes" within the school/community environment. Some of the promising strategies are listed below:
Preschool to First Grade
To transform schools and communities into environments that foster resilience is no easy task. Strengthening the protective processes in schools and communities requires fundamental change in the beliefs, visions, rituals, and behaviors of educators and community members. For example, Tharp and Gallimore (1988) in their research on the KEEP project found that the scripts, discourse, and methods within schools and classrooms have remained largely unchanged for the last century, despite changes in society. They focus primarily on teaching literacy, and they find that the scripts of teaching and the organizational structures of schooling are similar for majority-culture children and minority children. They state, "Wherever they are, schools are not designed to teach, and they tend to operate, largely without awareness . . . . Teachers generally act as if students are supposed to learn on their own." Tharp and Gallimore note that all participants in the educational enterprise have shared an inadequate vision of schooling. Their discussion is relevant to the issue of resilience, because it places the issue of fostering resilience within a larger context of changes in classrooms, communities, and schooling.
Fostering protective processes in schools and communities requires a major shift in belief systems among adults in the education community. In the new vision of schooling, it is important to view students' experience, prior cultural knowledge, and language as strengths - not deficits. Believing and expecting that each student has knowledge and experience to contribute to the teaching and learning process is not enough, however. Students also must have opportunities to demonstrate their strengths and knowledge and to see in their evaluations that these strengths and knowledge are valued. Opportunities must be created for young people to show, tell, and demonstrate what they know and can do in schools and communities.
Finally, descriptions of resilient learners or lists of strategies to guide practices and programs are not sufficient to transform schools and communities into protective learning environments. Instead, educators must examine more broadly how schools and classrooms, in concert with other educational and social service agencies, can better operate as protective factors in the lives of students living in high-risk, urban conditions. As such, the notion of resilience becomes a metaphor for creating a new vision of schooling, one in which policies, school structures, programs, and practices are designed to protect, nourish, and support student development rather than categorize, inhibit, and punish students who do not fit the mold.