Youth Civic Engagement in Urban Middle Schools: Agency and Wellness across Ecological Levels
Voight, Adam Matthew
This project was undertaken with the general goal of improving the wellness of disadvantaged young people. Low-income, urban youth face a variety of ecological barriers to their positive development. These young people also have the capacity to reshape their environments in a manner more conducive to wellness. In this dissertation, I use a mixed method approach to explore how the civic engagement of urban middle-school students is associated with wellness both at the individual level and at the school-setting level. A quantitative analysis of middle-school student survey and administrative data from an urban district shows that students who are more regularly engaged in activities to help improve their schools and neighborhoods enjoy better educational outcomes, in terms of achievement, attendance, and discipline referrals. A second analysis of these data show that an aggregate of civically engaged students in a school setting is associated with more positive school-climate and educational outcomes for all students, on average, in that setting. Finally, a case-study analysis of a student voice program in an urban middle school elaborates the mechanisms through which civically engaged youth can alter the culture and climate of their school. In sum, this project offers evidence that encouraging civic engagement on the part of urban youth holds much promise for improving their overall wellness. Youth civic engagement may be a strategy for simultaneously addressing multiple levels of ecology that influence youth development.