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School Failure

School Failure

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Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, Vol. 21, No.

1, February 2004 ( 2004)

Teacher Support and the School Engagement of Latino Middle and High School Students at Risk of School Failure

Ann B. Brewster, Ph.D. and Gary L. Bowen, Ph.D.
ABSTRACT: This investigation examined the effects of social support from teachers on the school engagement of middle and high school Latino students identified as being at risk of school failure. Regression analyses indicated that social support from teachers is an important factor in affective and behavioral aspects of school engagement. Specifically, teachers exerted an important effect on school engagement, beyond the effect of parental support. This paper discusses the implications of these findings for developing more effective dropout-prevention interventions for Latino students. KEY WORDS: Latino Students; Social Support; Teachers; Parents; School Engagement.

Individuals who leave high school without a credential increase their susceptibility to many detrimental life outcomes. Compared to high school graduates, dropouts are more likely to experience unemployment, to receive welfare, to have lower lifetime earning potential, to engage in delinquent or criminal behavior, and to suffer mental health problems (NCES, 1996; Rumberger, 1987). The life prospects for high school dropouts are indeed dismal in a twenty-first-century economy. Although the national high school dropout rate declined steadily over the past century (NCES, 1999), dropping out remains a problem,
Ann B. Brewster is a postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Sciences Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Gary L. Bowen, Ph.D. is Kenan Distinguished Professor, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Address correspondence to Ann B. Brewster/Gary L. Bowen, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 301 Pittsboro Street, CB# 3550, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3550; e-mail: abrewster@schsr.unc.edu/glbowen@email.unc.edu. 47  2004 Human Sciences Press, Inc.



particularly for Latino youth. The current dropout rate for Latinos in the United States (27.8%) is approximately four times higher than the rate for Whites (6.9%) and twice as high as the rate for African Americans (13.1%) (NCES, 2002). In addition, Latino students younger than tenth grade drop out at twice the rate of their White counterparts (NCES, 1994), and students who drop out before this age are less likely to return to education than those who drop out in later grades (NCES, 1996). Effective policies and programs to combat the Latino dropout rate depend on a better understanding of the factors and processes involved in dropping out. Such understanding is especially important in the context of the increasing number of Latino students enrolled in U.S. schools (NCES, 1998). Past dropout research identified important risk markers and processes (Rumberger, 1995; Rumberger & Thomas, 2000; Ryan & Adams, 1998); we understand less, however, about the assets associated with school success, especially in the case of Latino students (Hispanic Dropout Project, 1998). Recent research by Benson, Leffert, Scales, and Blyth (1998) shows the relationship between social assets and positive student outcomes. Other researchers, such as N. K. Bowen and G. L. Bowen (1998a), demonstrate the importance of both risk and protective factors in producing successful student outcomes. Nonparental adults constitute one potentially important asset, and supportive teachers with high expectations may play a critical role in the school success of Latino youth (Hispanic Dropout Project, 1998; Shouse, 1999). Scales and Gibbons (1996) discuss the importance of better understanding the role and effects of nonparental adults in the lives of adolescents, especially in the context of different ethnic groups. This study focuses on student-perceived teacher support and its impact on the school engagement of at-risk Latino middle and high school youth. Informed by ecological models of school success and by the burgeoning literature on the positive role of social capital, we examine this influence beyond parental support, and in the context of school level (middle or high), gender, family structure, and poverty.

Conceptual Model Figure 1 illustrates the conceptual model examined in the current investigation, wherein school engagement is the dependent variable. Within the context of an ecological model of educational persistence (Richman & Bowen, 1997; Tinto, 1994; Wehlage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko,



FIGURE 1. Conceptual model for study.
Note. Solid lines = paths tested in current model. Dotted line = assumed linkages.

& Fernandez, 1989), school engagement mediates between family assets, school assets, and school outcomes such as school dropout. Both parental and teacher support, which function as social capital assets for students, directly and positively influence school engagement. School Engagement School engagement includes a student’s affective, cognitive, and behavioral responses related to attachment, sense of belonging, or involvement in school (Wehlage et al., 1989). A high level of school engagement may be especially important for the academic achievement and educational attainment of Latino youth. For example, one study demonstrated that teacher ratings of school engagement, measured by levels of classroom participation and classroom affect, were significantly related to the higher grade achievements of Latino seventh- through tenth-graders (Herman & Tucker, 2000). Two important aspects of school engagement discussed in this study— problem behavior in school and affect about school—are particularly relevant for the academic achievement and educational attainment of minority youth. One study of African American students at risk of school failure found those who were engaged in their coursework, based on affective and behavioral measures, to be more academically successful than those students who were not so engaged (Connell, Spencer, & Aber, 1994). In another study, Latino students who reported they liked school were more likely to graduate (Reyes & Jason, 1993). We consider students physically disengaged from school when they exhibit behavioral and attendance problems, such as cutting classes and logging unexcused absences. Minority youth typically exhibit more



behavioral problems than White youth (Finn & Rock, 1997); they are also more likely than White youth to be absent from school (Bryk & Thum, 1989; Rumberger, 1995). Within racial and ethnic minority populations, Latino students typically miss more school than African American students (Finn & Rock, 1997). Since behavioral problems at school are associated with dropping out (Barrington & Hendricks, 1989), we consider school engagement, as it is manifested psychologically and physically, an important construct to examine in relation to the educational attainment of Latino youth. Social Capital Social capital includes the resources that reside in human relationships and that help promote positive outcomes for individuals (Coleman, 1988). Research indicates that social capital from adults such as parents and teachers is a critical factor in determining many kinds of successful youth outcomes, especially in the case of at-risk youth (G. L. Bowen & Chapman, 1996; Werner & Smith, 1992). Direct links have been found between parental and teacher support and educational outcomes (Richman, Rosenfeld, & Bowen, 1998; Rosenfeld, Richman, & Bowen, 2000; Wentzel, 1998). One study (Richman et al., 1998) found parental and teacher support more important than peer support in creating positive school outcomes among at-risk students. Parental Support. Defined as the degree to which parents are involved in and promote their children’s education, parental support has received a lot of attention in studies of school engagement and academic achievement (e.g., Adams, Ryan, Ketsetzis, & Keating, 2000; Bogenschneider, 1997; N. K. Bowen & Bowen, 1998b; Falbo, Lein, & Amador, 2001). Although parental involvement in children’s education decreases from elementary school to high school (Shumow & Miller, 2001), the family nonetheless constitutes a critical source of social capital for the educational endeavors of all youth. Consequently, we consider parental support to be an important control variable in understanding the effect of teacher support on Latino students’ school engagement. According to McNeal (1999), there are at least four types of parental social capital, including parent-child discussion related to education, parental involvement in the parent-teacher organization, parental monitoring of children’s behavior, and direct parental involvement in children’s educational practices. Of these four, McNeal found parent-



child discussion (the extent to which parents and children regularly discuss education issues) exercises the greatest impact on educational outcomes. Parental support helps to direct children towards positive behavior in school by reinforcing the notion of education as valuable and by monitoring children’s engagement in school (McNeal, 1999; Pong, 1997). Moreover, McNeal’s research suggests that the influence of parental discussion on academic achievement might vary, depending on a student’s racial or ethnic group identification. In McNeal’s study, such discussion was significantly related to the academic achievement of African American and White students, but not to that of Latino or Asian students. However, Ginorio and Huston (2001) report that Latino families do exercise a strong effect on students’ pursuit of educational goals, though a lack of English or other knowledge may hinder some parents’ ability to help their children with schoolwork, regardless of attitude or desire. Teacher Support. Defined as the degree to which teachers listen to, encourage, and respect students, teacher support relates to the academic achievement of Latinos (Ginorio & Huston, 2001). StantonSalazar (1997) asserted that support from teachers and other adults at school becomes more important for the academic success of racial and ethnic minority students, because such support is considered harder to obtain. This is possibly because of the greater number of White teachers and other adults than minority teachers or adults in the schools. Currently, only 4% of public school teachers are Latino (NCES, 1998), while approximately 15% of public school students are Latino (NCES, 2000). Teacher support may also be of greater importance to Latinos than to those from other racial or ethnic backgrounds, because White teachers may have less understanding of Latino culture (Ginorio & Huston, 2001). Teacher support also influences affective components of school engagement. In one study, Rosenfeld, Richman, and Bowen (2000) reported a relationship between teacher support and three measures of affect related to school, such as “I find school fun and exciting.” In addition, Valenzuela (1999) found that perceived social support from teachers was associated with positive affect toward school in a sample of Mexican youth. Unfortunately, compared to the research on parental support, relatively little research has examined the impact of student-perceived teacher support on school engagement, achievement, and attainment.



Teacher support may be more important for middle school students than for high school students, because high school students rely more heavily on peers as sources of support (Wentzel, 1998). Teacher support may also be different for boys and girls. For instance, according to Finn and Rock (1997), teachers’ interactions with boys typically include more disciplinary action, a fact that may lead boys to consider teachers less supportive. Finally, social status may play a role. Students from poor and single-parent families may perceive their teachers as less supportive than students from middle class families, because discrepancies between students’ and teachers’ experiences can make it harder to connect (Fine, 1986).

Method Source of Data The data in this investigation resulted from surveys with 699 Latino middle and high school students from the United States; school personnel or other community professionals previously identified these students as at risk of school failure. The Latino sample is a subset of a larger dataset comprising 5016 students from middle and high school, and from multiple races and ethnic backgrounds. All were considered at risk of school failure. Students in the sample attended 53 middle and high schools in 10 states: 38% from Florida; 17% from North Carolina; 17% from Pennsylvania; and 14% from Kansas. Data were collected between February 11, 1998, and October 31, 2000; these data were derived from the School Success Profile (SSP) survey (G. L. Bowen & Richman, 2001), a rigorously tested diagnostic tool that assesses students’ perspectives about themselves, their families, their schools, and their neighborhoods. Sample Profile The analysis was restricted to the 633 Latino respondents for whom we possessed complete data related to all variables in this analysis (91% of the initial Latino sample of 699). Approximately 30% of the students (189) attended middle school (grades 6 through 8); 70% of the students (444) were high school students (grades 9 through 12). Almost two-thirds of the sample (65%) received free or reduced-price lunch—a proxy measure of household poverty status (G. L. Bowen &



Chapman, 1996). Not quite half of the sample lived with two parents (43%); the remaining sample members (57%) lived with one parent, lived alone, or lived in another situation. Approximately half of the sample population was male (49%). Measures We selected four measures to investigate the relationship between teacher support and school engagement: problem behavior; perception of school meaningfulness; parental support; and teacher support. Descriptive statistics, including bivariate correlations for all of the measures in the analysis, appear in Table 1. Four additional demographic variables were included in the analysis as control variables. Dependent Variables. We measured school engagement using two variables: problem behavior in school and perceived school meaningfulness. Seven survey items assessed problem behavior at school, which we considered an index rather than a summary scale (DeVellis, 1991). The index consisted of attendance-related items such as “cut at least one class” and “showed up for school late unexcused,” as well as items related to negative behavior at school, such as “fought” or “have

TABLE 1 Descriptive Statistics for Analysis Measures (N = 633)

Bivariate Correlations Range Dependent variables 1. Problem behaviora 2. School meaningfulnessb Independent variables 3. Parental supportb 4. Teacher supportb
a b

Mean 1.41 6.50 3.29 5.51

SD 1.49 1.80 1.96 1.95





0 to 7 3 to 9 0 to 6 0 to 7

−.31 −.15 −.26 .26 .38


Coded from low to high. Coded from negative to positive.



been suspended.” Answers were dichotomous. This summary index ranged from 0 to 7; 0 indicated no behavior problems and 7 indicated the highest level of problem behavior during the past 30 days. The second measure of school engagement, school meaningfulness, was assessed using three items informed by the earlier work of G. L. Bowen, Richman, Brewster, and Bowen (1998): “I find school fun and exciting”; “I look forward to learning new things at school”; and “I look forward to going to school.” Each item was rated on a 3-point continuum, from 1 (“Not like me”) to 3 (“A lot like me).” The additive scale ranged from 3 to 9 and was coded low-to-high. Reliability analysis yielded a Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of .77. Independent Variables. Two independent variables measured student-perceived adult social support from parents and from teachers. Six survey items assessed the degree to which students perceived their parents’ communication with them about school as positive and supportive. Students were asked to state whether, within the last thirty days, they had discussed the following with any adults living in their homes: “Selecting courses or programs at school”; “School activities or events that interest you”; “Things you’ve studied in class”; “Attendance, homework, or problems with a teacher”; “Politics or current events”; and “Your plans for the future.” We rated parental support using a summary scale, with possible scores ranging from 0 to 6; higher scores represented greater perceived parental support. Reliability analysis yielded a Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of .76 for parental support. Seven survey items assessed teacher support, referring to the degree to which students perceive their teachers as caring, encouraging, respectful, and willing to work with them. Students were asked to circle whether the following statements were true or false: “My teachers really care about me”; “My teachers really listen to what I have to say”; “My teachers care whether or not I come to school”; “My teachers are willing to work with me after school”; “I receive a lot of encouragement from my teachers”; “I am respected and appreciated by my teachers”; and “My teachers understand racial and cultural differences.” Teacher support was a scale item, with possible scores ranging from 0 to 7. A score of 7 represented the highest level of teacher support. Reliability analysis yielded a Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of .81 for teacher support. Control Variables. We entered four additional variables into the analysis as controls, all coded as dummy variables: school level (1 =



high school), gender (1 = female), family structure (1 = other-than-twoparent household), and school lunch (1 = free or reduced-priced school lunch recipient). Data Analysis We investigated the relationship between adult support and school engagement using a series of stages of hierarchical linear regressions (Cohen & Cohen, 1983). According to Tabachnick and Fidell (2001), such regression is appropriate when theory guides the order of importance of the variables. In this investigation, it constituted the best approach to answering two specific questions: First, does teacher support significantly influence problem behavior in school and student perception of school meaningfulness, beyond the influence of demographic variables and parental support? Secondly, do there exist significant interaction effects of teacher support, school level, gender, family structure and school lunch, beyond demographic factors and parental and teacher support? We conducted separate analyses for each of two dependent variables. In the first step of each regression analysis, we entered the variables of grade, gender, family structure, and school lunch status. Second, we entered parental support data. The third step included teacher support data, while the fourth step examined whether the four interaction terms added significantly to the explained variance. We used SPSS 9.0 to conduct the analysis and evaluated the results using a .05 level of significance.

Results Hierarchical regression analyses of the specific effects of teacher support on Latino youth indicated that teacher support does significantly affect both problem behavior and perception of school meaningfulness. As the level of student perceptions of teacher support increased, mean levels of problem behavior decreased and mean levels of perceived school meaningfulness increased, both beyond the influence of demographic controls and parental support (Tables 2 and 3). No statistically significant interaction effects were identified in either model.


TABLE 2 Hierarchical Multiple Regression Predicting Problem Behavior for Latino Middle- and High-School Students (N = 633)

Step 1 B .093 −.573 .164 −.229 −.106 −.132* .027 −.183* .052 −.070 .031 −.537 .144 −.210 .009 −.171* .045 −.064 .067 −.467 .135 −.206 −.054 −.174 Beta B Beta B

Step 2

Step 3 Beta .019 −.149* .043 −.063 −.068 −.217* B

Step 4 Beta .150 −.508 .048 −.241 −.055 −.179 −.175 .079 .184 .058 .044 −.162* .015 −.074 −.069 −.223* −.053 .022 .046 .017



Demographics School levela Genderb Family structurec School lunchd Social Capital Parental support Teacher support Interactions TS × School level TS × Gender TS × Family structure TS × School lunch

Constant Multiple R R2 F df R2 change F df

1.756 .202 .041* 6.670 (4, 628)

2.125 .240 .058* 7.686 (5, 627) .017* 11.308 (1, 627)

2.853 .316 .100* 11.573 (6, 626) .042* 29.275 (1, 626)

2.892 .319 .102* 7.034 (10, 622) .002 .302 (4, 622)





1 = high school. 1 = female. 1 = other than two parent household. d 1 = received free or reduced-price lunch. *p < .05.



TABLE 3 Hierarchical Multiple Regression Predicting Meaningfulness for Latino Middleand High-School Students (N = 633)

Step 1 B −.413 .519 −.130 .376 .211 .230* −.105* .144* −.036 .100* −.291 .447 −.089 .340 −.074 .124* −.025 .090* −.352 .324 −.075 .332 .121 .305 Beta B Beta B

Step 2

Step 3 Beta −.089* .090* −.021 .088* .132* .331* B

Step 4 Beta −.204 .237 −.148 .210 .120 .289 −.308 .166 .132 .258 −.052 .066 −.041 .056* .130* .313* −.081 .041 .029 .066



Demographics School levela Genderb Family structurec School lunchd Social Capital Parental support Teacher support Interactions TS × School level TS × Gender TS × Family structure TS × School lunch

Constant Multiple R R2 F df R2 change F df

6.340 .212 .045* 7.386 (4, 628)

5.601 .310 .096* 13.362 (5, 627) .051* 35.636 (1, 627)

4.321 .441 .194* 25.172 (6, 626) .098* 76.212 (1, 626)

4.417 .446 .199* 15.411 (10, 622) .004 .814 (4, 622)





1 = high school. 1 = female. 1 = other than two parent household. d 1 = received free or reduced-price lunch. *p < .05.




Problem Behavior Table 2 presents regression analysis results related to the prediction of problem behavior at school. In the first step of analysis, gender was the only significant control variable. Together, demographic factors accounted for just over 4% of the variance (R2 = .041; F(4, 628) = 6.670; p < .05). Data in the second step, related to parental support, contributed a significant though small amount of additional variance, beyond demographic factors (R2 change = .017; F(5, 627) = 11.308; p < .05). Teacher support data, entered in the third step, contributed a significant amount to the variance, above demographic variables and parental support (R2 change = 042; F(6, 626) = 29.275; p < .05). Teacher support contributed just over 4% to the total variance in the school behavioral problems of Latino middle and high school students, beyond demographic variables and parental support. Once we included teacher support in the equation, parental support, which had produced a significant effect in step 2, no longer reached statistical significance. In the last step of the analysis, no interaction effects were discovered contributing significantly to the overall variance in behavioral problems at school, beyond first-order effects. The lack of significant interaction indicates that the effect of teacher support on problem behavior occurs across demographic subgroups. Teacher support remained a significant predictor of problem behavior in the full model as well (Beta = −.223). As perceptions of teacher support increased, levels of problem behavior at school decreased. Gender was the only demographic variable with a statistically significant beta in the final step. Females evidenced lower levels of problem behavior than males. School Meaningfulness Table 3 presents regression analysis results related to the prediction of school meaningfulness. The first step of analysis revealed demographic factors contributing over 4% to the variance in perceived school meaningfulness (R2 = .045; F(4, 628) = 7.386; p < .05). School level, gender, and school lunch predicted a significant amount of variance. Parental support, entered in the second step, contributed significantly (5%) to the variance, above demographic factors (R2 change = .051; F(5, 627) = 35.636; p < .05). We entered teacher support during the third step. This factor explained an additional 10% of variance in



perceived school meaningfulness, beyond the influence of demographic variables and parental support (R2 change = .098; F(6, 626) = 76.212; p < .05). In contrast to the results related to problem behavior, the influence of parental support on perception of school meaningfulness remained statistically significant, even after we added teacher support to the equation. No interaction effects contributed significantly to the explanation of variance in school meaningfulness in the final step, related to problem behavior. Such lack of significant interaction indicates that the effects of teacher support on school meaningfulness are equivocal across demographic subgroups. Both parental and teacher support had significant beta weights in the full model (Step 4). Teacher support had the largest beta weight (B = .313); the beta weight for parental support was .130. As levels of student-perceived parental and teacher support increased, levels of school meaningfulness also increased. School lunch constituted the only significant demographic variable related to level of perceived school meaningfulness; students receiving free or reduced-price lunch reported higher levels of school meaningfulness in the full model.

Discussion The results of this investigation substantiate our central hypothesis that teacher support is important for the school engagement of Latino middle and high school youth, beyond the support provided by parents. Findings of this study support ecological models of educational persistence (Richman & Bowen, 1997), which maintain that elements from multiple social systems (e.g., family and school) affect school engagement and thus educational attainment. The findings support our expectation regarding the importance of adult social capital for increased school engagement on the part of Latino youth considered at risk of school failure. Of the two aspects of school engagement investigated here, the strongest effect in the analysis was between perceived teacher support and level of perceived school meaningfulness; levels of meaningfulness increased as levels of perceived teacher support increased. Teacher support contributed approximately 10% of the variance in level of school meaningfulness, beyond parental support. One could argue that a high level of school meaningfulness, or “liking school,” is not a prerequisite for achieving passing grades and graduating from high school. However, this may be more likely in the



case of students possessing capital (resources) in other areas, such as financial, social, and educational capital (Becker, 1994). Disliking school is thus unlikely to get in the way of accomplishing goals for these students. For others, such as those students in this sample, liking or disliking school may play a more important role in either dropping out or graduating. Results from large-scale national longitudinal surveys indicate dropouts cite school-related reasons, such as “disliked school” and “couldn’t get along with teachers,” more often than any other reason (NCES, 1995; Rumberger, 1983). In particular, Latino students’ reasons are more often school-related than either family- or jobrelated (NCES, 1995). We also found teacher support to be more important than parental support in the prediction of problem behavior in school; an increase in perceptions of teacher support corresponded to a decrease in levels of problem behavior. When teacher support was added to the model predicting students’ problem behavior, the influence of social support from parents became nonsignificant. This finding indicates the greater relative importance of teacher support for predicting problem behavior in school. Finn and Rock (1997) found that at-risk students are more likely to stay in school and to graduate if they attend school regularly and maintain low levels of behavioral problems in school. Our study suggests that teacher support is an important factor contributing to better attendance and fewer behavioral problems. None of the second-order interaction effects was statistically significant in the models for either measure of school engagement, suggesting that increased teacher support benefits both male and female Latino students, as well as Latino students in both middle school and high school, in different types of family structures, and irrespective of the poverty status of their household. Teacher support may be more important for youth designated at risk of school failure than for other students. In general, youth who have more risk factors for negative outcomes may benefit more from protective factors, such as adult social support (Werner & Smith, 1992). More specifically, teacher support is especially important for students at academic risk (Muller, 2001) and reduces the odds of dropping out (Croninger & Lee, 2001). Results from this study do not indicate whether social support from parents and teachers is more important for Latino students than for students of other race and ethnic backgrounds. However, results from this research do substantiate StantonSalazar’s (1997) claim that teacher support is an important factor in Latino students’ school engagement.



The results of this study have theoretical implications in the identification of salient social process variables associated with school engagement, grades, and educational attainment. Bronfenbrenner (1995) suggests that researchers increase their focus on process-oriented variables that relate to outcomes, such as parent-child or teacher-child interactions. The design of effective interventions depends on the identification of such processes (Finn & Rock, 1997). Longitudinal research designs are ideal for studying complex relations among structure and process variables, such as those involved in the school dropout process. Thus, the cross-sectional nature of this study’s design limits its ability to address temporal relationships among variables. It does not, for example, indicate whether a supportive teacher influences the school behavior of students or a particular student’s behavior influences the actual support given by the teacher. Likely, the answer is that the influence is bi-directional, an expectation that a more dynamic design could explore. It was not possible to determine the country of origin, level of English proficiency, or level of generation in the United States for the students in the sample. Research, for example, indicates that Latino youth with lower levels of English proficiency are more likely to drop out (Rumberger & Larson, 1998). They may also be less engaged in school. Consequently, the findings need very general interpretation in the case of Latino students. Future research should collect more specific demographic data on Latino youth under investigation.

Implications for Practice and Policy The results of this investigation contain positive implications for schoolbased practice with Latino youth and indicate that a focus on social processes, such as teacher support, can positively affect school engagement. School social workers are school-based professionals who can play an important role in helping teachers provide additional support for Latino youth at risk of school failure. Consistent with the results of this investigation, Aguilar (1996) makes three recommendations that could promote the educational engagement and achievement of Latino youth. First, school professionals, including administrators, teachers and support staff, need to learn more about Latino cultures, specifically about practices and interventions that are effective for the educational achievement and attainment of Latino youth. Second, school professionals should develop a



strengths-based perspective in their practice with Latino youth and their families, becoming aware of cultural or other stereotypes that may inhibit students’ academic success and emphasizing the strengths of different cultures. Finally, school professionals should maintain a macro approach in helping Latino students achieve academic success; for instance, by working to increase family-school connections. The majority of school policies promote adult support at the elementary level, but less at the middle school level, and even less at the high school level. This investigation suggests that adult support is important for students at both middle school and high school levels. Furthermore, while teachers do not need to be Latino to positively affect the education of Latino youth, the presence of more Latino and bilingual teachers may increase Latino student engagement, providing positive role models and promoting a cultural strengths-based perspective, as advocated by Stanton-Salazar (1997). Essentially, practice with youth considered at risk of school failure will be most effective when based on a strengths- or assets-based perspective (Benard, 1997; Benson, Leffert, Scales, & Blyth, 1998), and when intervention and prevention activities focus on the importance of nonparental adults in the lives of youth (Scales & Gibbons, 1996). A primary policy and practice consideration related to promoting teacher support is the nature of the school context for teachers. Muller (2001) raises questions about support mechanisms for teachers. Teachers experience “burnout” when they do not feel a sense of self-efficacy, the belief that they can influence students’ performance in the classroom (Brouwers & Tomic, 2000). Policies and practices designed to increase collaboration between school social workers, teachers, administrators, parents, and the students themselves can help maintain a network of social support and partnership.

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