• IDRA Newsletter • March 2007

Studies have shown that greater student engagement increases academic achievement and encourages students’ positive self-concept, to the point of reducing dropout rates (Brookhart and Durkin, 2003; Finn and Voelkl, 1993). Student engagement refers to a school environment and activities that value students and incorporate them in learning and co-curricular school activities resulting in academic achievement. “Students who are engaged in learning are actively seeking meaningful information that makes sense in their lives – often because they see an immediate connection to real-life experiences” (Learning Point Associates, 2005). Whether engagement is used in the context of students being captivated during lessons by powerful learning opportunities or in the larger arena of activism, engagement is a vital part of academic success for students.

A Snapshot of What IDRA is Doing

Developing leaders – IDRA has begun its Youth Education Tekies project in a second community (San Antonio) at two community-based organizations. In this project, 30 high school students are working with their parents and other community members wanting to learn to use technology and/or needing support for personal use (job applications, college access information, etc.). These “Tekies” have continued to meet, help adults at community-based technology centers, and also have access to computers and the Internet in neighborhoods where there are very few computers available outside of schools. This project is funded by the IDRA Texas Parent Information and Resource Center and JP Morgan Chase.

Conducting research – IDRA has developed a professional development model to help teachers engage English language learners. Through this training, teachers learn, reflect on use and adapt instructional strategies so that English language learners are engaged in the instructional process. See Engagement-Based Sheltered Instruction for more information.

Informing policy – IDRA’s South Central Collaborative for Equity works to inform district policy to create classrooms that are safe and comfortable for all students. The center is the equity assistance center serving federal region VI (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas). It is working with several school districts to get them back into compliance with federal mandates around equity for all children regardless of race, gender or national origin.

Engaging communities – Recently, IDRA convened two Blueprint Dialogue roundtables in New Mexico and Arkansas that were highly successful in extending community and school leader interaction to urban and rural communities through a cross-sector and multiracial approach that focused on Latino and African American youth, preschool through graduation. Supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the dialogues were action-focused and challenged leaders to plan specific strategies that would improve educational opportunities for all students, especially minority students. See http://www.idra.org/mendezbrown for more information.

What You Can Do

Get informed. The High School Survey of Student Engagement can help you find out how engaged in learning students are in your school. This survey offers teachers and administrators actionable information on school characteristics that shape the student experience. HSSSE was completed by nearly 300,000 students from high schools across 29 states in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Find out how you can use the survey in your own school: http://ceep.indiana.edu/hssse/.

Find out more. The National Survey of Student Engagement has developed an inventory for student engagement that is a self-guided framework for conducting a comprehensive, systemic and institutionwide analysis. Get more information on Assessing Conditions to Enhance Educational Effectiveness: The Inventory for Student Engagement and Success at http://bl-surv-george.ads.iu.edu/NSSE_INSTITUTE/?view=deep/book_flyer_2.

Get results. Use the tool, Promoting Student Leadership on Campus: A Guide for Creating a Culture of Engagement, to build a vision of engagement and student leadership on your campus. You can find the IDRA publication at http://www.idra.org/publications/. It is available for free download online.

Also, student engagement is strengthened when students’ families are engaged with their schools. You can work with your school to create involvement strategies that are meaningful to families. See “Improving Educational Impact through Community and Family Engagement,” by R.G. Rodríguez and A. Villarreal for suggestions, http://www.idra.org/resource-center/improving-educational-impact-through-community-and-family-engagement/.

Comments and questions directed to them via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2007, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2007 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]