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Generational poverty: The relationship of ninth grade high school students' self -perceptions on their future education and life choices

Donna A Valentine, Johnson & Wales University


The educational system today faces a major challenge of improving quality education for students living in poverty. Family instability, early exposure to violence and both situational and generational poverty are a few of the hardships that are typical of growing up in an urban environment. "Crime, unemployment, human discouragement, and feelings of hopelessness are other often cited as problems that pervade many urban communities, and accentuate the consequences of poverty" (McKinney, Frasier & Abrams, 2005). This study provided a portrait of students living in generational poverty: how they perceived themselves, how they determined their future choices about life decisions, education and careers, and what factors influenced those choices. It also evaluated the role of a specific personalization program using lessons guided by Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin'- by World, (DeVol, 2004). This study examined the following research questions as they related to students living in generational poverty. (1) What factors do students perceive as influencing the choices they make about their education, careers and lives as adults in the community? (2) What motivates students to make particular choices about their futures? (3) To what degree do students perceive value in the specific type of personalization program used in this study? (4) Is there a significant difference in student self-perceptions and life choices based on student gender? Students involved in this study were selected by meeting the following criteria: living at or below the national poverty level, qualifying for free or reduced lunch, and having no immediate family who were high school graduates. There were a slightly unequal number of male (n=31) and female participants (n=29). These N=60 ninth grade students participated in pre and post personalization questionnaires and one hour individual interview sessions. One-half of the participants, ( n=30) students, were randomly selected to participate in a 30 hour personalization program conducted by the researcher. The major findings of this study suggested that students: (1) Had a strong belief in destiny and fate; (2) Often had poor role models in school, at home and in their neighborhood; (3) Were under extreme peer and family pressure that often led them to make poor choices about education, career and life in the community; (4) Had become victims of learned helplessness; (5) Possessed strong feelings of hopelessness; (6) Participated in adult driven, ill-planned personalization programs at school; (7) Felt a need for personalization programs focusing on their needs as students living in poverty; (8) Wanted improved teacher understanding and training; (9) Wished that their teachers had higher expectations for student success. In addition, the particular personalization program used by the researcher did significantly effect students' perceptions about school, their careers and the choices they make regarding their futures. Most students stated that a program in which students could help with the content for implementation could not only be a help to them, but to most teenagers as well. They also stated that this particular personalization program helped them think more carefully about their future and the choices they would make regarding their education, career and life in the community. Information gained from this study will provide educators and other stakeholders a picture of what factors are most significant in helping students make choices that bring them out of generational poverty. The results of this research may impact personalization programs for students living in poverty, aid in the selection of appropriate teacher professional development and lead to further research surrounding the failures and successes of students who live in poverty.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Valentine, Donna A, "Generational poverty: The relationship of ninth grade high school students' self -perceptions on their future education and life choices" (2009). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3344545.