The excerpts from this “Atlantic” article give us more research to answer the question, “Why WISE?

Why Do Some Poor Kids Thrive?

Alana Semuels Apr 6, 2016

Despite the challenge of growing up in tough areas with few resources, thousands of inner city kids manage to excel academically. But even some students who seem to thrive early on run a significant risk of faltering on their quest for college degrees or the elite jobs they once envisioned. So what’s the deciding factor behind kids who meet their potential and those who wind up falling short?

That’s the question undertaken by researchers Stefanie DeLuca, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, and Kathryn Edin, in the book Coming of Age in the Other America.

 In 2010, the authors interviewed 150 black young men and women who were born in the late 1980s and early 1990s to parents who lived in public housing. They spent hours with the youth, talking to them in cars, in McDonald’s, in front stoops. In 2012, they followed up with 20 who were representative of the group. Coincidentally, they had interviewed the parents of one-third of the young adults through a separate study launched in 2003.

The kids were doing much better than their parents had done. While just 25 percent of parents had a high school diploma and 6 percent had a GED, nearly 70 percent of their kids had a high school diploma.

And kids who found what researchers call an “identity project,” essentially a passion or hobby that helped motivate them, went even further, onto college or decent jobs.

Where this book differs is that it looks at the other things going on in kids’ lives that can often help determine whether they will excel or not, no matter where they live.

And what helps them excel, more often than not, are these identity projects. Bob, for instance, got into Japanese anime as a kid, and then found a passion by following the musical group Insane Clown Posse. Another—whose father was shot in the courtyard of her public housing complex—was passionate about dance, which drove her to apply for and be accepted into a competitive arts school. Another reared pigeons, an interest that kept her off the streets.

About half of the youth researchers studied found this “life raft,” which helped inspire them despite tough conditions.

Out of the 116 youth studied who are not still in high school, 90 percent of those with an identity project graduated, while only 58 percent of those without one did so. And 82 percent of those with an identity project were in school or working, compared to 53 percent of those without an identity project.

The authors come away with some very concrete policy proposals for how to help students through adolescence and beyond. They suggest creating more robust mobility programs to ensure that kids don’t grow up in the same concentrated poverty that their parents did and more opportunities for “passion projects” in schools and after-schools by investing more in libraries, clubs, and other institutions, and by expanding funding for the arts.

A journey from poverty to the middle class or beyond is a birthright of many of these kids, their shot at the American dream. But the research indicates they can’t just get there themselves. Like anybody, they need a little help.

Sounds like a WISE choice.

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