Well-Being of Children in Working Poor and Other Families: 1997 and 2004. Measures of interaction with the community


Participation in extracurricular activities. Involvement in activities outside of school has been associated with a reduced risk of children being involved in delinquent activities, as well as greater academic success, higher self-esteem, and greater community involvement as adults (Eccles & Barber, 1999; Mahoney, 1997). Children who participate in organized out-of-school programs also become more socially developed than their non-participating counterparts (Mahoney, Larson, & Eccles, 2005; Zaff, Moore, Papillo & Williams, 2003). Out-of-school time programs and extracurricular activities that provide children and youth with opportunities to learn skills, interact with other youth, and develop relationships with non-familial adults contribute to the positive development of youth (Eccles & Gootman, 2002).

We have constructed an index of extracurricular involvement based on responses to questions about participation in sports teams, music, dance, language, computers or religion, and clubs or other organizations.  The index ranges from 0-3 with a higher value indicating greater involvement.

School engagement.[v]  Children and youth with high levels of school engagement score higher on tests, have better attendance records, and are more likely to advance from one grade to the next (Ehrle, Moore & Brown, 1999).  Additionally, engagement and time spent on homework is positively associated with academic achievement (Glandville & Wildhagen, 2006).  Teenagers with a high level of school engagement are less likely to get pregnant and drop out of school (Glandville & Wildhagen, 2006; Manlove, 1998). School engagement is negatively associated with sixth graders desire to start drinking (Simons-Morton, 2004).  

We have constructed an index of the childs engagement in school based on the parents view of whether the child likes to go to school, is interested in school work, and works hard in school.  The index ranges from 0-6 with higher values indicating higher levels of involvement.

Parental attitudes toward the community.  Adolescents with parents who are active in community activities are more likely to be involved in community activities, such as leadership, sports, and community service (Fletcher, Elder & Mekos, 2000). Likewise, adult political and school involvement can influence childrens later political interest (Matthews & Howell, 2006).

Parents were asked questions in two categories  one category reflecting positive views and one category reflecting negative views. We have constructed an index of positive views toward ones community based on responses to questions concerned with whether people in the neighborhood help each other out, whether they watch out for each others children, whether there are people I can count on, whether there are adults a parent could count on to help my child, and whether there are safe places in this neighborhood for children to play outside.  The index ranges from 0-20 with higher values indicating a more positive attitude toward the community.

We have constructed an index of negative views toward ones community based on responses to questions concerned with whether the parent keep[s] my child inside as much as possible because of the dangers in the neighborhood and whether there are people in the neighborhood who might be a bad influence on my child.  The index ranges from 0-8 with higher values indicating a more positive attitude toward the community.

Attendance at kindergarten and private and religious schools. In a study of students in the Philadelphia public schools, researchers found that students who attended full-day kindergarten were 2.2 times as likely to be on grade level by third grade as students who did not attend kindergarten, after controlling for age, sex, and neighborhood poverty. (Del Gaudio, Weiss & Offenberg, 2001).  Similarly, students who attended half-day kindergarten were 70 percent more likely to be on grade level. Full-day kindergarten was also associated with higher achievement in reading, mathematics, and science, as well as grade point average and attendance. Kindergarten students skills (specifically their knowledge of the alphabet, concept of word, spelling, and word recognition skills) predicted their first grade reading performance (Morris, Bloodgood & Perney, 2003). Likewise, kindergarten students mid-year performance accurately predicted their first and second grade reading achievement (Ibid).

Children who attend Catholic schools have been found to be less likely to use cocaine, and female students have been found less likely to engage in sex (Mocan & Tekin, 2002). For urban students, particularly those of racial or ethnic minorities, attendance at Catholic secondary schools is associated with academic achievement, and suburban minority students who attend Catholic secondary schools have a greater likelihood of attending college than their non-attending peers (Grogger & Neal, 2000).  However, because these studies are so limited in scope, we have chosen not to count attendance at a religious school as a factor likely to lead to improved child well-being. Similarly, there isnt sufficient evidence to count attendance at a private school as a factor likely to lead to improved child well-being.

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