Engaging with community members to enhance the academic success of African American youth
In Iowa, African American students graduate from high school at a lower rate than the overall student population. This graduation gap can affect earnings, students’ likelihood of enrolling in higher education, and their prospects of earning college and professional degrees.
A team of Iowa State University faculty, extension and outreach professionals and community members came together with the goal of enhancing the academic success of African American youth. This project reflected the spirit of Iowa State’s land-grant philosophy, sharing knowledge beyond the campus borders. It also furthered the College of Human Sciences’ mission and vision to expand human potential and create, share, and apply knowledge to improve people’s lives through the science and technology of living and learning.
“We knew there was a disparity between the academic performance of African American youth and their peers,” said Tera Jordan, Assistant Provost for Faculty Development and Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University and study principal investigator. “We had a unique opportunity to work with Extension and Outreach, lay leaders, and area residents to enhance programming and make a difference in communities that serve African American students and their families.”
The team brought together African American adults and African American youth residing in Polk County for a series of study circles focused on listening to participants’ experiences and learning more about their educational goals, ideas and needs related to promoting academic success.
Informed by the information shared in the study circles, action forums were then held where a different group of residents weighed in on ideas centered around academic success.
“We really focused on discussing and enhancing academic success at the individual, family, school and community level – and exploring how all of those factors can have an impact on youth’s academic success,” said Kimberly Greder, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies and Family Wellbeing Extension State Specialist at Iowa State University.
The team’s published article details the evaluation along with four recommended strategies and several tactical implementation strategies that are already being used to enhance ISU Extension and Outreach programming.
Recommendations in action
One example of strategy implementation from the recommendations in the article is partnering with local organizations that reach African American youth, advancing awareness about what people know.
The annual 4-H RISE Conference in Des Moines is dedicated to helping youth discover passions and develop skills to be college, career, and community leaders. Conference planners intentionally partnered with Brother 2 Brother, Sisters 4 Success, Dream to Teach and Upward Bound to reach local African American youth with conference information.
Polk County Extension has also used the recommendations to adjust programming to better fit the needs of residents; held a workshop series for middle schoolers in partnership with the Wilke House; engaged several hundred youth in programs via a partnership with Boys & Girls Club of Central Iowa sites and Des Moines Public Schools Metro Kids; and, several professional development opportunities for staff have been held related to cultural competency, diversity, equity and inclusion.
“In addition to community organizations, I think the findings are really relevant for schools,” shared Greder. “Engaging parents and youth in collaborative efforts with teachers and other school staff can create more positive school environment for youth learning.”
The team’s work provides strategies for organizations like ISU Extension and Outreach to continue to seek opportunities to partner with schools and local organizations to engage African American parents and youth together in programming that builds on families’ strengths to meet their goals and dreams for their families.
Urban Youth Leadership Academy
ISU Extension and Outreach staff hosted an Etiquette Dinner at the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families as part of the Urban Youth Leadership Academy. The program utilized findings and strategies from the study.
Article links and author information
The article was originally published in 2022, volume 14 issue 3 of Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship (JCES) and was recently chosen for the printed Anthology Issue, a compilation of articles that best represent the mission of JCES. A report for community residents was also written and is accessible.
- Tera Jordan, Assistant Provost for Faculty Development and Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Kimberly Greder, professor of Human Development and Family Studies and Family Wellbeing Extension State Specialist
About the Authors: Tera R. Jordan publishes scholarly work using the name, Tera R. Hurt. She is the Assistant Provost for Faculty Development and an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University. Kimberly Greder is a professor of Human Development and Family Studies and Family Wellbeing Extension State Specialist at Iowa State University. Jonathan Cardamone is the former Executive Director of Willkie House, Incorporated. Benjamin Bell, Sr. is the pastor at Present Truth Ministries and a Fatherhood Outreach Director YMCA of Des Moines. Kim Cheeks is a program assistant in the Office of the Status of African Americans, Iowa Department of Human Rights. Rosa Gonzalez is a Field Specialist I in Human Sciences Extension and Outreach, Dallas County Extension. Margaret C. O’Connor was a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University. Barbara Woods is an Extension special project manager, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University.