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Social Work With African American MalesHealth, Mental Health, and Social Policy$

Waldo E. Johnson

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195314366

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195314366.001.0001

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School Engagement, Peer Influences, and Sexual Behaviors Among High School African American Adolescent Boys

School Engagement, Peer Influences, and Sexual Behaviors Among High School African American Adolescent Boys

Chapter:
(p.101) 6 School Engagement, Peer Influences, and Sexual Behaviors Among High School African American Adolescent Boys
Source:
Social Work With African American Males
Author(s):

Dexter R. Voisin

Torsten B. Neilands

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195314366.003.0006

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter shows that African American adolescent males are disproportionately infected with HIV compared to their White counterparts. While factors like early sexual debut, sex without condoms, and a higher number of sexual partners may in part account for such disparities, the factors associated with such risk behaviors remain unclear. The literature suggests that parents are critical in keeping adolescents safe. However, there is a dearth of research on African American adolescent males in relation to family constellation and sexual risk behaviors. A self-administered survey was used to examine family characteristics, parental support, peer networks, and HIV sexual risk behaviors among 171 African American high school males. The results suggest that cultural factors may weigh more heavily than family structure, which has been traditionally viewed as the discerning factor in assessing sexual behavior.

Keywords:   HIV, sexual behavior, African American males, teenagers, academic achievement

African American adolescent boys are one of the least-studied populations in the United States, and yet one in which educational disparities, sexual risk behaviors, and associated health outcomes converge in a way that further marginalizes them from the broader society and perpetuates social immobility. For example, African American adolescent boys are almost two times more likely than White boys to drop out of school and have lower grade point averages (GPAs). In addition, by age 13, 44% of African American boys are one or more years below grade level compared to 30% of White boys (U.S. Department of Education, 2006).

In addition to low school academic engagement (e.g., GPAs and student teacher relations, positive expectations towards college) another major problem among this population is that of sexual risk taking. African American boys have their first sexual intercourse at an earlier age, and they report higher rates of sex without condoms and group sex, compared to their male counterparts across other ethnic groups (Centers for Disease Control, 2006). Such behaviors are reflected in rates for some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as much as 30% higher than those for boys in other ethnic groups (Centers for Disease Control, 2006). Unfortunately, these low academic trends coupled with high rates of sexual risk taking and STDs have further reinforced the marginalization, stigmatization, and disenfranchisement of African American boys. However, there is growing recognition that risk behaviors are not merely influenced by individual traits but profoundly driven by contextual factors that may influence social (Wilson, 1987) as well as sexual risk trajectories (DiClemente, Salazar, Crosby, & Rosenthal, 2004).

(p.102) School Engagement and Sexual Risk Behaviors

Numerous studies (with diverse youth including substantial numbers of African Americans) document that school engagement markers (i.e., student–teacher relations, GPA) and sexual risk behaviors (e.g., first sexual intercourse and unsafe sex) are interrelated (for reviews, see Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992). For instance, Slonim-Nevo, Auslander, Ozawa, and Jung (1996), in a study of 358 African American and White adolescents aged 11–18 in 15 residential centers, reported that educational parameters such as relationships with teachers predicted AIDS knowledge, attitude, and behaviors. One shortcoming of the research, however, is that it failed to examine the impact of race/ethnicity on this relationship. Race/ethnicity is an important consideration given that there is considerable social inequality across racial/ethnic communities. In addition, the nature and type of educational outcomes may differ across neighborhoods, owing, in part, to racial segregation, variations in family structures, and differing resources across communities (Sampson, Morenoff, & Gannon-Rowley, 2002). Therefore we are uncertain whether findings may be different across specific ethnic groups. In addition, Voisin et al. (2005), in a study of 550 detained adolescents boys (White, African American, and Hispanic) found that youth who reported low student–teacher connectedness prior to being detained were twice as likely as their peers who reported high teacher connectedness to be sexually active and engage in risky sexual behaviors.

Results from population-based samples have also substantiated that positive educational factors are associated with lower risk behaviors. For instance, Resnick et al. (1997), using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) on 12,118 adolescents in grades 7–12, found that school connectedness was associated with a delay in first sexual intercourse. No racial differences were reported in this study. In addition, McNeely and Falci (2004), also using Add Health data, found that among a multiethnic sample of 13,579 adolescents aged 12–17, increased teacher support was associated with delayed initiation of sexual intercourse. No ethnic differences were examined in this study.

Peer Influences and Sexual Behaviors

Adolescence is a period of heightened peer influence (for reviews, see DiClemente et al., 2004) and sexual activity among youth (Centers for Disease Control, 2006). Significant research documents that peer influences (i.e., perceived norms and negative peer affiliations) are strongly associated with sexual behaviors among youth (for reviews, see DiClemente et al., 2004). Specifically, with regard to HIV sexual risk behaviors, negative peer norms have been associated with unsafe sexual risk behaviors. Studies have documented that when adolescents believe that their friends are engaging in certain sexual practices (e.g., multiple partners, (p.103) older partners, anal sex, etc.), they will be more likely to adopt such behaviors (Bachanas et al., 2002; Boyer et al., 2000; Crosby et al., 2000; DiClemente & Wingood, 2000; Millstein & Moscicki, 1995; Voisin, 2003).

Several studies have shown that peer affiliation such as gang involvement is a predictor of first sexual intercourse, unsafe sex, and other problem behaviors (for reviews, see Bjerregaad & Smith, 1993). For instance, researchers have found that adolescents who report being in a gang were 6.5 times more likely than peers not in gangs to be sexually active, they were 3 times more likely to use condoms inconsistently, 3 times more likely to have caused a pregnancy, and nearly 4 times more likely to be high on alcohol or other drugs during sexual intercourse, have sex with a partner who was high, or have sex with multiple partners (Voisin et al., 2004).

School Engagement, Peer Influences, and Sexual Risk Behaviors

Given that peer influences are especially salient for youth, researchers have also attempted to further our understanding of how school engagement in conjunction with such influences is related to sexual behaviors. However, there are several gaps in our current understanding of the interrelationships among school engagement, peer influences, and sexual risk behaviors. For instance, we know from the extant literature that the above variables are correlated. However, it is unclear whether they are interrelated to form a pathway of risk. For instance, Bjerregaad and Smith (1993), examining a multiethnic sample of 969 youth (grades 7 and 8), examined the associations between school engagement markers, negative peer involvement such as gang affiliation, and sexual risks. Findings documented that low expectations for graduating were associated with gang involvement and lower commitment to positive peer norms. In addition, higher rates of risky sex were associated with gang membership. Gang involvement was related to substance use for both boys. However, this study reported only bivariate findings and did not test whether gang involvement or other peer influences mediated the relationship between academic indicators and sexual behaviors. In short, it did not test whether expectations for graduating were indirectly related to higher rates of risky sex through gang involvement. In the absence of gang involvement, no relationship existed between graduation expectations and unsafe sex. Nor did the study examine racial/ethnic differences.

Finally, Kassen, Vaugham, and Walter (1992) investigated causal inferences between academic markers and sexual risk behaviors. They found that among a group of 27,743 multiethnic youth aged 10–17, school bonding was predictive of lower gang membership and rates of alcohol abuse and dependence behaviors over a 5-year period. It is widely accepted that having sex while using drugs increases the risk of unsafe sex (Kassen, Vaugham, & Walter, 1992). Unfortunately, the (p.104) researchers did not explore any mediators among the observed variables. They also did not explore for ethnic differences.

Collectively, the above studies have provided very useful information. However, there are several gaps in the extant literature, and further research is warranted. There is a dearth of studies that have examined the interrelationships among school engagement, peer influences, and sexual behaviors across the same sample of adolescents using statistical techniques that explore for mediation among observed variables. While there may be direct relationships among any of the variables in this study, identifying mediators will identify a set of variables that exert in direct influence on sexual risk taking.

Furthermore, we need to explore whether explicit dimensions of academic achievement (i.e., student teacher connectedness or GPAs) may be related to specific sexual behaviors (i.e., first sexual intercourse or risky sex) and whether particular dimensions of peer influences (i.e., perceived peer norms or negative peer affiliation such a gang involvement) may mediate this relationship. This information may be useful to the design of culturally relevant interventions for this population. Finally, we need to know whether these factors are interrelated, specifically with regard to African American adolescent boys who report low on school engagement parameters and high on sexual risk behaviors.

The purpose of this study was twofold: First, the study examined whether school engagement, as measured by grades and student–teacher connectedness, is independently related to sexual behaviors, including first sexual intercourse and risky sex (sex with multiple partners, sex without condoms, sex while using drugs). Secondly, the study identified whether peer influences (i.e., safer sex norms, risky sex norms, or gang involvement) mediate these relationships.

Study Design

In April 2006, 20 trained research assistants (masters- and doctoral-level social work students) handed out parental permission forms describing the scope of the study to 673 students who identified themselves as African American (ages 13 to 19) in 25 homeroom classes in a large urban school district. Students were eligible to participate in the study if they self-identified as African American boys between age 13 and 19 and were attending regular high school classes (i.e., not special education). Data collection occurred within a 2-week period. The study achieved an 83% participation rate. The final sample comprised of 219 boys who self-identified as African American.

Students who brought signed parental forms were required to assent prior to completing the self-administered survey. The questionnaire was written at a fifth-grade reading level. Participants were offered $10 for completing the survey, which took no more than 40 minutes, and it was administered in a small school auditorium. Names were recorded on questionnaires, and identifying links were removed once GPA scores were obtained from the central database. No students reported (p.105) any adverse reactions from answering study questions. Institutional Review Board approval was obtained from the university and the local school council and regional office.

Measures

School Engagement was assessed by current GPA and student–teacher connectedness. We obtained students’ combined GPA in their core courses (math, English, social studies, and science) from school records. We assessed student–teacher connectedness with the Student Assessment of Teachers Scale (McNeely & Falci, 2004). Adolescents responded to 10 items, which assessed students’ perceptions of teachers as caring, fair, supportive, understanding, invested in teaching, trying to make school work interesting, and feeling safe in school. These items were measured on a 5-point, Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 5 (“strongly agree”). An example includes, “Teachers at my school care about me.” Higher scores on the scale indicated higher teacher connectedness. The alpha coefficient was .86.

Peer Influences were assessed by the Peer Risk Norm Scale (Voisin, 2003). This scale has been previously validated and used to evaluate perceived negative peer norms among populations of mostly African American youth (Voisin, 2003). We assessed what participants perceived were their current peer norms with three items that evaluated perceived negative attitudes of peers toward condom use and positive attitudes to alcohol and drug use. There is substantial literature documenting that adolescents are more likely engage in these risk behaviors if they perceive their peers are supportive of these norms (for reviews, see DiClemente et al., 2004). Additionally, low condom use and having sex while using drugs and alcohol increases the risk for contracting STDs, including HIV (Centers for Disease Control, 2006). An example of perceived peer norms is, “How many of these people believe that condoms reduce pleasure?” Adolescents responded to these questions on a 7-point scale ranging from “0” to “6 or more times.” The alpha coefficient was .72.

There are significant debates in the literature about what constitutes a gang, accompanied by recommendations to employ self-definitions of gang membership (Bjerregaad & Smith, 1993). In addition, it is well documented that affiliation in such groups often depends on adhering to group norms that may sanction risky sex (Petraitis, Flay, & Miller, 1995). In addition, adolescents may move in and out of gangs and may still be influenced by the negative socializing influences of many of those norms, although they are not actively gang members (Bjerregaad & Smith, 1993). Therefore, we assessed gang membership with one item: “Have you ever been a member of a gang?”

Sexual Behaviors were assessed by two variables. A single survey item, “Have you ever had sex?” assessed first sexual intercourse. This was defined as ever having had vaginal or oral sex with the opposite sex. While vaginal sex represents a higher HIV risk category than oral sex, the latter can result in the acquisition of other (p.106) STDs, which increases vulnerability for the acquisition and transmission of HIV (Centers for Disease Control, 2006). Risky sexual behaviors within the last 12 months were defined as recently having had one or more of the following experiences: sex without condoms, sexual intercourse with multiple persons simultaneously, sex while high on drugs, and sexual intercourse while under the influence of alcohol or drugs without a condom (0 = none of these experiences; 1 = one or more of these experiences).

Data Analysis

Initial analyses described the characteristics of the sample via one-way frequency tables and measures of central tendency. On the basis of the above hypotheses, we then fit structural equation models (SEM) to the data, in which a latent GPA variable (measured by GPAs in English, math, social studies, and physical science) and the observed student–teacher connectedness variable explain the likelihood of gang membership and risky peer norms. These intermediary variables in turn explain a history of sexual intercourse and HIV sexual risk behavior. Because we measured several of our constructs with single indicators (e.g., gang membership) or previously validated scales (e.g., student–teacher connectedness), we treated these variables as observed rather than latent. On the basis of previous research on the impact of school engagement variables on sexual behaviors among adolescents, we opted to examine first sexual intercourse and HIV high risk behaviors in separate analyses.

We specified the SEMs using Mplus 4.2 for Windows (Muthén & Muthén, 2006). Owing to the dichotomous nature of gang membership and the sexual behavior outcomes, we used weighted least-squares estimation with a mean and variance adjustment (Mplus estimator, WLSMV) (Flora & Curran, 2004). We assessed the global fit of the model to the data with a robust chi-square test of exact model fit. Because chi-square tests are often sensitive to trivial data-model fit discrepancies, we also report the following approximate fit indices: Bentler’s comparative fit index (CFI; Bentler & Bonnett, 1980), the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA; Browne & Cudek, 1993), and the weighted root mean square residual (WRMR; Yu, 2002). To attain adequate fit, a model’s CFI should meet or exceed .90 (Vandenberg & Lance, 2000), RMSEA should be .06 or lower (Hu & Bentler, 1999), and WRMR should be 1.0 or lower (Yu, 2002). Because these statistics’ performance varies in certain circumstance—for example, RMSEA may be inflated in small to moderately sized samples (Curran, Bollen, Chen, Paxton, & Kirby, 2003)—we followed the recommendations of Hu and Bentler (1999), who suggest satisfactory model fit is attained when two or more of the fit statistics meet the recommended cutoff levels.

Owing to the presence of indirect effects in the analysis, we computed confidence intervals via the bias-corrected (BC) bootstrap for asymmetric indirect effect distributions (MacKinnon, Lockwood, Hoffman, West, & Sheets, 2002; MacKinnon, (p.107) Lockwood, & Williams, 2004; Shrout & Bolger, 2002). Therefore, for each parameter estimate, we report the unstandardized regression coefficient (B), the bootstrap-based bias-corrected 95% confidence interval of B, and the standardized regression coefficient (β). The number of bootstrap samples was set at 5,000 to ensure sufficient precision of the confidence intervals (Hox, 2002). Confidence intervals that do not include zero imply that the parameter estimate around which the confidence interval is constructed is statistically significant at p < .05.

Results

The sample was comprised of 219 boys, the majority of which (55%) lived in female-headed households, with 61% reporting receiving “free school lunch,” indicating they were from low-income families. Bivariate correlations appear in Table 6.1. Core subject GPAs were highly intercorrelated, while student–teacher connectedness was not associated with GPA variables. Risky peer norms and gang membership were uncorrelated with GPA variables with the exception of their math GPA, which was weakly negatively correlated with gang membership (r = –.14).

Table 6.1 Correlations Among Observed Variables

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

1. English GPA

1.00

2. Math GPA

.70***

1.00

3. Social studies GPA

.79***

.70***

1.00

4. Physical sciences GPA

.79***

.74***

.81***

1.00

5. Student–teacher connectedness

.12

.09

.08

.11

1.00

6. Risky peer norms

–.05

–.06

–.08

–.08

–.05

1.00

7. Gang membership history

–.11

–.14*

–.10

–.11

–.16*

.17*

1.00

8. First sexual intercourse

–.31***

–.19**

–.31***

–.27***

–.15*

.16*

.15*

1.00

9. High–risk sex

–.23***

–.14*

–.26***

–.26***

–.15*

.15*

.18**

.81***

1.00

Notes. N = 218 boys; Correlations were estimated using full information maximum likelihood in Mplus 4 with significance levels determined via the bootstrap with 5,000 replicate samples.

*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.

GPA, grade point average.

(p.108) GPA variables and student–teacher connectedness were negatively correlated with the two sexual risk behavior outcomes. GPA measures for social studies, physical sciences, math, and English, were significantly negatively correlated with the two sexual risk behavior outcomes. Risky peer norms were positively correlated with gang membership and risky sexual behavior. Additionally, gang membership was associated with risky sexual behavior.

SCHOOL ENGAGEMENT AND FIRST SEXUAL INTERCOURSE

The SEM examining the impact of school engagement factors on first sexual intercourse for boys was an excellent fit: The chi-square test of absolute fit was not significant (χ 2 [N = 218, DF = 8] = 8.27, p = .08), indicating that the null hypothesis of exact model-data fit was upheld. The approximate fit indices also indicated excellent model fit to the data (CFI = .97, RMSEA = .07; WRMR = .61). Direct effects from this analysis appear in Table 6.2. Higher levels of latent GPA were negatively associated with

Table 6.2 Sexual Intercourse: Direct Effects From Structural Equation Models

Boys

DV

IV

LCL

B

UCL

β

English GPA

Latent GPA

1.00

1.00

1.00

0.89

Math GPA

Latent GPA

0.69

0.82

0.97

0.79

Physical science GPA

Latent GPA

0.96

1.07

1.20

0.90

Social studies GPA

Latent GPA

0.93

1.05

1.18

0.90

Risky peer norms

Latent GPA

–1.38

–0.45

0.51

–0.07

Gang membership

Latent GPA

–0.42

–0.19

0.03

–0.17

Risky peer norms

Student–teacher connectedness

–0.98

–0.24

0.61

–0.04

Gang membership

Student–teacher connectedness

–0.41

–0.22

–0.04

–0.21

First sexual intercourse

Achievement

–0.67

–0.41

–0.16

–0.32

First sexual intercourse

Risky peer norms

0.00

0.04

0.08

0.18

First sexual intercourse

Gang membership

–0.06

0.22

0.55

0.20

First sexual intercourse

Student–teacher connectedness

–0.40

–0.17

0.06

–0.15

Notes. N = 218 for boys; DV = outcome or dependent variable; IV = explanatory or independent variable; B = unstandardized regression coefficient; LCL = lower 95% confidence limit; UCL = upper 95% confidence limit; and β is the standardized regression coefficient. Confidence intervals that do not include zero are significant at p < .05 and are displayed in boldface type.

GPA, grade point average.

(p.109) ever having had sexual intercourse. Higher levels of student–teacher connectedness were negatively associated with gang membership. By contrast, none of the indirect effects linking latent GPA or student–teacher connectedness to first sexual intercourse were significant.

SCHOOL ENGAGEMENT AND UNSAFE SEX

The fit of second SEM examining the impact of latent GPA on high-risk sexual behavior to the data was not rejected (χ 2 [N = 218, DF = 4] = 8.33, p = .08). Moreover, the approximate fit indices indicated very good model fit to the data (CFI = .97, RMSEA = .07; WRMR = .61). Direct effects from this analysis are shown in Table 6.3. Higher levels of latent GPA were negatively associated with high-risk sexual behavior. Gang membership was positively associated with risky sex. Lower levels of student–teacher connectedness were associated with a higher likelihood of a gang membership. No indirect effects involving GPA reached statistical significance, but student–teacher connectedness was negatively associated with risky sex by way of gang membership (B = –.06; 95% CI = –.18, –.004; β = –.05). This result suggests that as high levels of student–teacher

Table 6.3 High-Risk Sexual Behavior: Direct Effects From Structural Equation Models

Boys

DV

IV

LCL

B

UCL

β

English GPA

Latent GPA

1.00

1.00

1.00

0.88

Math GPA

Latent GPA

0.69

0.83

0.98

0.79

Physical science GPA

Latent GPA

0.98

1.10

1.25

0.92

Social studies GPA

Latent GPA

0.94

1.06

1.21

0.90

Risky peer norms

Latent GPA

–1.40

–0.45

0.52

–0.07

Gang membership

Latent GPA

–0.42

–0.19

0.03

–0.17

Risky peer norms

Student–teacher connectedness

–0.98

–0.24

0.61

–0.04

Gang membership

Student–teacher connectedness

–0.41

–0.22

–0.04

–0.21

High-risk sexual intercourse

Achievement

–0.57

–0.31

–0.07

–0.25

High-risk sexual intercourse

Risky peer norms

–0.01

0.03

0.07

0.16

High-risk sexual intercourse

Gang membership

0.004

0.26

0.57

0.24

High-risk sexual intercourse

Student–teacher connectedness

–0.36

–0.15

0.06

–0.13

Notes. N = 218 for boys; DV = outcome or dependent variable; IV = explanatory or independent variable; B = unstandardized regression coefficient; LCL = lower 95% confidence limit; UCL = upper 95% confidence limit; and β is the standardized regression coefficient. Confidence intervals that do not include zero are significant at p < .05 and displayed in boldface type.

GPA, grade point average.

(p.110) connectedness is associated with lower rates of gang membership, and lower incidences of risky sex for boys.

Policy and Practice Implications

There is a dearth of literature on the relationship between school engagement, peer influences, and sexual behaviors. In addition, few studies have examined the interrelationships among these variables focusing exclusively on African American adolescent boys. Major findings from this study indicate that the higher GPAs are associated with lower rates of sexual début and risky sex. Student–teacher connectedness is also negatively associated with gang involvement, and such involvement is associated with risky sex. In addition, the relationship between student–teacher connectedness and risky sex is linked by gang involvement. These are important and novel findings because they both substantiate and expand knowledge gained from prior studies. For instance, several studies document that both school engagement markers (Slonim-Nevo et al., 1996; Voisin et al., 2005) and gang involvement (Bjerregaad & Smith, 1993; Voisin et al., 2005) are associated with sexual behaviors. However, this study documents that gang involvement links the relationship between student–teacher connectedness with African American boys. There might be several reasons for this finding many of which may resonate with educators, clinicians, and community-based organizations (CBOs) providing services to this population.

According to social control theory (SCT) (Hirschi, 1969) the bond to conventional society is represented by four elements: (1) attachment to others, (2) commitment to conventional institutions, (3) involvement in conventional activities, and (4) belief in conventional values. Consistent with one application of this theory, low grades and poor attachment to prosocial “agents” such as teachers is associated with involvement with or recruitment by risky peer groups such as gangs, which endorse unsafe norms. Membership in such peer groups may then reinforce risky norms, such as increased drug use and unsafe sexual behaviors (Petraitis, Flay, & Miller, 1995). Such involvement and diminished prospects for a viable future further undermine the belief in conventional values.

In this study, 30% of boys reported gang membership. This is a disturbing figure and may reflect a host of neighborhood factors that underscore an environment of risk. For instance, as cited elsewhere, boys from this sample report extremely high and disproportionate levels of community violence exposure (see Voisin & Neilands, 2009). Consistent with Wilson (1987), in communities with significant community violence and crime, youth may join gangs as a source of protection or income generation. The high rates of gang membership may also underscore the need that all youth developmentally have the need to belong to something, and they may sadly highlight what viable options are perceived by these boys in this study. Without viable prosocial opportunities for membership (p.111) in developmentally appropriate groups some youth may drift towards gang involvement.

However, given that the data were cross-sectional, findings cannot infer causality and can only highlight associations. Longitudinal research will be needed to clarify causal ordering. For instance, it is also plausible that gang membership may lead to lower student–teacher connectedness, and sexual risk behaviors. Nevertheless, as these results highlight, it is first important to document the interrelationships among key constructs prior to designing costly and complicated longitudinal studies to clarify causal inferences. These findings provide the basis for such future studies. Another consideration in contextualizing this finding is that this study assessed ever being involved in a gang and not current gang involvement. Nevertheless, as we have discussed earlier, it is feasible that some adolescents, regardless of their current gang status, may still be influenced by the socializing influence of such groups, even though they do not currently belong to them. In addition, youth may also move in and out of such groups throughout adolescence. Future research should examine such assumptions, and qualitative designs are needed to further illuminate reasons for gang membership among this population.

At minimum, these findings suggest that empirically based youth interventions to promote student–teacher connectedness are viable prevention approaches. For example, efforts could be made to hire, train, and support competent teachers, or to ensure that adolescents feel connected to at least one supportive adult at school (McNeely & Falci, 2004; Voisin et al., 2005). Consistent with this recommendation, increasing the number of African American male teachers is important to challenging fallacies that high academic performance is a challenge to African American masculinity (Davis, 2003). The increased presence of supportive and nurturing African American males in the classroom is critical on several fronts given that the majority of African American boys are coming from single-female-headed households (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Other measures to promote higher school engagement include providing multicultural curriculum support, eliminating tracking, providing more supports for families, and expanding mentor and internship programs, all of which have shown some promise (Davis, 2003).

Likewise, interventions that prevent gang membership or target current gang members by promoting greater parental involvement in their adolescents’ lives or by promoting viable future options such as school completion and employment (Bjerregaad & Smith, 1993; Voisin et al., 2004) are also necessary. According to Hill and colleagues (1999), factors such as early initiation of problem behaviors, poor family management, drug use, and failure to become successfully engaged in school predict gang involvement (Hill, Howell, Hawkins, & Battin-Pearson, 1999). Providing measures to curtail such antecedents may be effective in reducing gang involvement. Although not considered directly here, the above recommendations should supplement, not replace, efforts to enhance knowledge and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases in the school curricula which is lacking in the curricula of some many inner city schools.

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