Contextual and geographical influences on high school dropout
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The purpose of this research is to examine the contextual influences on a youth’s decision to drop out of high school based on characteristics of place and family. I hypothesized that features of the built and social environments, i.e. aspects within neighborhoods and among family members, would distinguish individual academic outcomes. The research consisted of two studies. Each study examined youth who took part in the Healthy Teens Longitudinal Study, a CDC-funded study (2002-2009) which sought to increase understanding of risk and protective factors that influence trajectories of problem behaviors from middle to high school. The sample for Study One consisted of approximately 600 randomly selected Healthy Teens participants; the sample for Study Two consisted of 176 Healthy Teens participants at high risk for aggression, and their parents or caretakers. Study One provided some support for the hypothesis by finding higher neighborhood disadvantage and structural disrepair in neighborhoods of dropouts. The findings from Study Two were more ambiguous. The influence of a family’s social processes over time, as measured through family social capital, distinguished the value youth placed on academic achievement but did not improve grades or decrease the likelihood that they would drop out of high school. The studies used multiple methods (observations, surveys, and GIS) and sources of data (census, geocoded addresses, youth, parents, and archival) to draw inferences. In future, a mixed-methods approach using qualitative reports of youth, parents, and residents could elucidate the processes of how they relate to their neighborhood and social environments in ways that would affect a youth’s academic outcomes.