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Neighborhood Characteristics and African American Adolescents’ Academic Engagement: The Role of Adolescents’ Academic Beliefs Open Access

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Disparities in educational performance and attainment between African American and White students are pervasive and longstanding. Statistics indicate that African American students underperform in vocabulary, reading, and math, and on tests of scholastic aptitude and intelligence; they have lower attainment across several domains. Most attempts to identify predictors of, and interventions for, academic outcomes in African American youth have focused on individual, family, and school factors to the relative neglect of the neighborhood context, despite evidence of variation in academic outcomes according to neighborhood characteristics. Grounded in an ecological framework, this study examines associations between neighborhood characteristics (social characteristics and violence characteristics) and academic engagement, and tests whether adolescents’ academic beliefs mediate this association. Participants included a community sample of 100 African American adolescents ages 13-17 years. Study constructs were assessed using adolescent self-report measures of neighborhood violence exposure, violence related youth risk behaviors, perceptions of neighborhood, academic beliefs, and academic engagement. Multiple regressions were conducted to examine adolescents’ academic beliefs as mechanisms linking violence neighborhood characteristics and social neighborhood characteristics and academic engagement. Results indicated that adolescents’ academic beliefs did not mediate associations. Findings inform neighborhood- and school-level interventions and policies to promote academic engagement and achievement in African American youth.

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