Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Nicole Zarrett


According to the Pew Hispanic Forum, the dropout rates for Latino youth (15%) are higher than all other youth in the United States (White youth = 8%; Black youth = 12%). Many Latino youth have difficulty identifying with the school environment due to a lack of cultural connection to the context. Youth Program (YP) program is a peer-led, school-based program driven by the theoretical foundations of Positive Youth Development and Self-Determination theory and is distinguished by its emphasis on building social and academic skills that ease the transition into high school for ninth grade students. The current study examines the effectiveness of the YP program for establishing a context for Latino participants that fosters key ecological and protective mechanisms including resilient attitudes and behaviors, acquisition of friends with positive traits (e.g. oriented towards academic achievement), and endorsement of YP core values. Data were collected from 166 Latino high school students in an urban New Jersey community that the Brookings Institution describes as being in the 92nd percentile for economically depressed districts in the U.S. This study has three primary aims. First, we examined how the relationship between risk status and academic achievement might be moderated by participating in the YP school-based intervention. Secondly, we determined if YP participants reported higher levels of three distinct protective mechanisms (i.e. positive peer traits, resilient qualities, and endorsement of YP core values) than comparison group youth. Next, we investigated these three mechanisms’ potential in producing main effects in the relationship examined in our first hypothesis. Finally, we examined if these mechanisms moderated the relationship between risk and 11th grade GPA. Power analyses indicated the sample size yielded findings with medium statistical power. Results indicated participation in YP predicted higher 11th grade GPAs for certain groups of at-risk, and that these gains persisted two years after YP participation. Results also indicated significant main effects of YP core values and resilience on the 11th grade GPA. However, targeted mechanisms of the program were in the opposite direction of our predictions. Specifically, comparison group youth reported higher YP core values than YP youth at 12th grade. There were no significant moderating effects for any of the three examined protective mechanisms. Implications for public policy and improving YP program effects for Latino youth are discussed.


© 2014, Kip Van Thompson

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