Discerning ways to better support Hispanic students from low SES backgrounds at Brophy College Preparatory
As a ninth-grade English teacher at Brophy College Preparatory Academy, I always looked toward the end of the school year with a certain amount of anticipation and trepidation. The anticipation celebrated students who had successfully completed their freshman year; whereas the trepidation resulted from the end-of-year memo indicating which students had chosen not to return to Brophy next year. Unfortunately, the latter group included a disproportionate number of Hispanic students from low-SES backgrounds. Given Brophy valued diversity and the terrific abilities of these students, an innovation was devised to foster development of ‘school-navigation’ skills to assist students in adapting to the social and academic demands of the school.
The intervention was rooted in several theoretical frameworks including Bourdieu’s (1977) Cultural Capital Perspective, McMillan and Chavis’ (1986) Sense of Community Theory, and Duckworth’s (2007) Grit Framework. Sixteen freshmen and four 12th-grade mentors participated in the study. The 12-week innovation incorporated four topics—transitioning to high school, learning about strategies for academic success, becoming involved in school culture and community, and working more effectively with teachers. Each topic was considered in a 3-week cycle. During week 1, students participated in a large group discussion about the topic led by the researcher. Subsequently, they wrote in journals to reflect on the topic. During week 2, four small groups of four freshmen and one senior, mentor met to consider the topics. Mentors led discussions and also shared how they had coped with the topic. Again, freshmen wrote in journals. In week 3, freshmen met in a large group with the researcher and shared their reflections and their experiences. In this context, the freshmen learned from each other and realized they were all experiencing similar challenges that could be overcome with grit and a community to support them.
Qualitative results indicated freshmen developed a sense of community, learned to respond in positive ways to failure, and developed academic and social school-navigation skills. Freshmen and mentors became tightly knit communities, texting each other with questions coming from freshmen and responses from mentors. The discussion focused on how the theoretical frameworks were useful in understanding the results.