A new study led by Janine M. Jones, an associate professor of psychology and director of the school psychology program at the University of Washington, finds that African American girls who participate in an after-school program designed to enhance racial identity and pride can experience a positive impact on their academic success.
Girls at a middle school in Seattle participated in a six-week after-school program called Sisters of Nia (a Swahili term for ‘purpose”). The girls participated in interactive lessons, discussing issues such as myths and stereotypes of African-American women, and recorded their thoughts in a journal. The program culminated in a Kwanzaa ceremony, which aimed to further bond the girls and symbolize their achievement. A control group focused on curriculum for six weeks. Then the groups switched programs. The group that went through the Sisters of Nia program first did much better in school and were more engaged in their studies.
Dr. Jones stated that “there are a lot of girls who check out in school when they feel like they’re not seen, not understood or invested in by school personnel. There are a lot of negative perceptions of African-Americans, and the perception they receive is that it’s not a good thing to be Black. We may think it’s easier to avoid it than to address it. But if we start addressing oppression by countering it with the humanness of who these kids are, we’re more likely to keep them engaged and feeling a sense of belonging.”
Dr. Jones joined the faculty at the University of Washington in 2005. Earlier, she taught at Seattle Pacific University. Dr. Jones holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a Ph.D. in school psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. She also holds a master’s degree in marriage, family and child counseling from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
The full study, “Using Sisterhood Networks to Cultivate Ethnic Identity and Enhance School Engagement,” was in the journal Psychology of Schools. It may be accessed here.