Polk County study addresses academic success among African American youth

ALTOONA, IA (September 13, 2018) –Earlier this evening Des Moines area community leaders, residents and project participants were the first to hear the results of the Enhancing African American Youth Academic Success project sponsored by Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach, Polk County. Principal Investigator Tera Jordan, associate professor of human development and family studies in the Iowa State University College of Human Sciences, investigated methods to help address the critical disparities in education among Polk County’s African American community and provided a series of recommendations to address these gaps during a community presentation held at the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families in Des Moines.
“The goal of our research was to better understand the challenges, find opportunities and discuss potential solutions to help enhance academic success among African American youth in Polk County,” said Jordan. “This research will steer what types of ISU Extension and Outreach, Polk County programs can be offered to help support the African American community.”
According to education data in Iowa, the overall African American high school graduation rate in Iowa is just under 80 percent compared to just over 91 percent for their white peers. Lower graduation rates are not the only issue for African Americans in Iowa. African American youth tend to have less of a desire to pursue education beyond high school, at about 74 percent compared to their white peers at 80 percent, and only about 20 percent of African Americans in Iowa actually earned their college degree.
Forty-five Polk County residents took part in study circles and action forums to share their personal experiences, educational goals and academic needs. Through these conversations four recommendations were developed to better enhance the services and programs offered by ISU Extension and Outreach, Polk County:
Advance awareness about what people know
ー Better market and communicate the goals and programs of Extension and Outreach
ー Identify key community groups and leaders willing to serve as partners and liaisons to build bridges between Extension resources and the African American community
Increase participation and promote what people do
ー Identify influential African American individuals to partner and promote broad participation in various community initiatives
ー Encourage African American adults and youth to plan and lead programming
ー Promote parent advocacy and engagement within community and schools
Foster conversations to improve what people hear
ー Require safe spaces for adults and youth in order to have truthful conversations about educational goals and interests and for them to learn more about their needs and wants
ー Encourage local political leaders and elected officials to speak at African American community events
Build capacity to enhance knowledge about resources and activities
ー Review diversity of staff to develop trust and rapport with families
ー Nurture opportunities for Extension staff and school educators to examine and review their assumptions and expectations of youth and families of various race, ethnicities, income and geography
ー Ensure Extension and school curricula across the county are engaging, based on experience, include a wide breadth of topics, build on family strengths, and leverage contributions of diverse leaders
ー Collaborate with school districts to ensure program offerings are consistent and fair
ー Request African American parents, adults and organizations to partner with Extension and Polk County school districts to develop, implement, and deliver youth and family focused programs and promote safe and welcoming learning environments
“The findings in this study will be very helpful as it relates to ISU Extension and Outreach, Polk County by providing us guidelines to tailor existing programs and develop new programming to fit the needs of the African American community and to secure additional resources for such programming.” said Paul Gibbins, executive director of ISU Extension and Outreach, Polk County. “The opportunity to support the African American community through research-based programs and services will help young people succeed in school, shape a stronger community and build a stronger Iowa.”
The project was funded by Iowa State University Human Sciences Extension and Outreach and Polk County Extension Council through the Engaged Scholarship Funding Program and took place over the course of six months from October of 2017 through April of 2018. Co-investigators of this study included Kimberly Greder, an Iowa State associate professor of human development and family studies, and a family life extension state specialist; and Jonathan R. Douglas, incoming executive director of the Willkie House in Des Moines.
View the full report here.
About Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Polk County
Since 1916 ISU Extension and Outreach, Polk County has served its residents by connecting them to research and resources developed by Iowa State University. Knowledge and programs offered through the Polk County Extension and Outreach office have been specifically tailored to represent, enhance and meet the needs of Polk County citizens. For 2018 ISU Extension and Outreach, Polk County will focus on these local issues: K-12 youth outreach; health, well-being, and nutrition; and community and economic development. Polk County Extension and Outreach is part of a 99-county campus serving all Iowans to create a strong Iowa.
About Iowa State University College of Human Sciences
The Iowa State University College of Human Sciences improves people’s lives through teaching, research, and outreach that put humans first. The college is humanizing science by advancing health and wellness, education and human development, science and technology, community, and entrepreneurship.

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