Applied Psychology OPUS

The Role of Interpersonal Relationships on Youths’ Academic Orientation in Urban Afterschool Programs

Samantha Harding

Faculty Mentor | Dr. Elise Cappella

Doctoral Student Mentor | Sophia H. J. Hwang

Exposure to multiple risk factors, such as poverty and ethnic minority status, places some youth in a vulnerable position for unfavorable outcomes, including academic disengagement and early school dropout. Relatedness among students and staff can provide a strengthened, supportive environment that may help alleviate risk and promote academic competence and success. In traditional school settings, interpersonal relationships among teachers and peers have been found to influence youths’ academic engagement and self-concept. However, little is known about these associations in the afterschool setting, where supervised programs may provide supportive relationships that enhance academic outcomes among youth facing risk.

The current study stems from a collaborative research project between New York University (NYU) and Good Shepherd Services (GSS), a community-based organization that serves youth in afterschool programs throughout low-income neighborhoods of New York City. This study examines the association between interpersonal relationships (i.e., staff-student and peer) and students’ academic orientation (i.e., academic self-concept and work habits), using measures that have been normed and validated in this context. Data was collected from four afterschool (three elementary and one middle school) sites in the Bronx, NY. Participants included 15 staff members and 242 youth ages 8-14. Youth were primarily Latino and African-American, with equal numbers of boys and girls.

Preliminary results suggest that youths’ perceptions of their relationships with peers were uniquely associated with academic orientation, holding constant youths’ perceptions of supportive relationships with staff. Regression analyses revealed that youth who reported more support from their peers experienced greater academic orientation, despite low to moderate levels of support from staff, suggesting that low-income, urban youths’ peer relationships may be especially important for academic outcomes. Examining the role of interpersonal relationships in youths’ academic orientation in afterschool expands our understanding of potential mechanisms through which youth may continue to advance their academic development at the transition to adolescence, and informs efforts to increase the quality of afterschool programs in low-income, urban communities.