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School Belongingness

By Julie M. Hughes

Jeanne Cetrulo-Goins

Jeanne Cetrulo-Goins, left, who received a master’s in counseling in December from New Mexico State University, reviews research data with Ginger Dickson, a counseling and educational psychology faculty member in the New Mexico State University College of Education. Dickson said graduate students from the department were instrumental in assisting with data processing.

School belongingness, culturally responsive teaching critical to student success

A 2010 study of seventh-grade middle school students in Las Cruces indicates that their feeling of belonging at the school and teachers’ responsiveness to their cultural backgrounds can positively impact their academic performance, especially for Hispanic students.

New Mexico State University researchers Heejung Chun and Ginger Dickson, both faculty in the College of Education’s Counseling and Educational Psychology Department, wanted to find out how culturally responsive teaching practices, parental involvement and school belongingness influence students’ confidence and actual performance in school.

The researchers developed a measure of students’ perceptions of teachers’ responsiveness to their cultures, and with the cooperation of local middle schools, evaluated a model of academic performance for Hispanic students specifically to determine what factors contribute to their feeling of belongingness at school.

The measurement tool, the Student Measure of Culturally Responsive Teaching, is the first of its kind that looks at students’ perceptions of their teachers. Previously, the measurement of teachers’ cultural responsiveness was done through teachers’ self-reporting, which might not give a clear indication of what students are actually experiencing, Dickson said.

The measurement tool looked at diverse teaching practices, cultural engagement and diverse language affirmation. It asked students if their teachers show interest in their cultures, use different types of examples in class, try to get to know what is important to students and use or acknowledge the Spanish language.

Dickson said questions were specific to the Spanish language because of the geographical area in which the study was conducted, but other languages could be used to make the measurement tool relevant anywhere.

“We want to teach students that everyone has valuable knowledge and skills, regardless of cultural background,” Dickson said.

The measurement tool, which is based on sound teaching and culturally responsive practices included on previous self-assessment tools, can help school psychologists and counselors assist teachers in becoming more culturally responsive and perhaps more effective with students from different cultural backgrounds, Dickson said.

Chun and Dickson also looked at students’ confidence in their academic abilities and how their parents’ participation impacted their confidence levels; both of these were seen as factors in how much a student felt they belonged at school.

Using the data collected only from the students that self-identified as Hispanic, Chun and Dickson examined a Psychoecological Model of Academic Performance among Hispanic Adolescents.

Chun said they looked specifically at Hispanic students because teachers’ responsiveness to their cultural background and parental involvement in their school activities might improve their academic performance.

Heejung Chun

Heejung Chun, a counseling and educational psychology faculty member in the New Mexico State University College of Education, shares a laugh with Ricardo Terrazas, a Camino Real Middle School student. Camino Real was one of four Las Cruces middle schools to participate in a study to look at culturally responsive teaching.

The data indicated that parent involvement and culturally responsive teaching both encourage a sense of school belongingness for Hispanic students and that leads to confidence in their academic abilities, which often directly impacts academic success.

Chun said sometimes teachers lower their expectations of students who come from families where parents do not seem engaged. She indicates that teachers should have the same high expectations for students of all cultures and look for ways to engage parents in their child’s academic life.

Chun suggests something as simple as providing flexibile meeting times or offering translators for meetings can help parents feel more welcome in the school setting.

“Parent involvement is critical to student academic success, but some parents may not know how to navigate the schools,” Chun said. “We really want to get teachers to understand that they cannot assume that parents who do not attend school functions do not want to do so.”

“Results from these types of studies can impact the development of teacher preparation programs as well as professional development programs for those already in the classroom, especially as our student population continues to diversify,” Dickson said.

Chun and Dickson said they will be providing individual results from the assessment to the schools and would like to help the schools translate the data into meaningful training opportunities.

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