Contextual Influences on Children's Identity Development (2017-2018)


Identity development is a contextualized process in which experiences in social contexts shape children’s perceptions of their current (early adolescent) and future identities. Youth who perceive themselves as successful and competent students now and in the future have better academic achievement, attainment and grades. Youth experiences in their immediate contexts (e.g., schools, neighborhoods, community organizations) might inform students’ identity, shaping their current and future academic self.

Children’s academic identity has important implications for their academic outcomes and schooling attainment. The more children perceive school as an important part of who they are (academic identity), the higher their grades, motivation and classroom participation—and the lower their chances for dropping out and participating in deviant behaviors.

Additionally, youths’ racial identity—their psychological orientation toward being their race, especially for youth of color—has important associations for youths’ thoughts about themselves, their future and their lives. Children with a positive racial identity are more likely to have higher schooling achievement and attainment as well as exhibit positive schooling behaviors. Given the overrepresentation of youth of color living in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, attending poor quality schools and being placed in lower school tracks, the relation between racial and academic identity might be interconnected for youth of color. However, participating in community organizations might buffer the negative effects economically disadvantaged youth encounter by providing parent advocate groups, tutoring, food and other important resources.

Project Description

The first aim of this Bass Connections project is to examine the relation between youths’ schooling experiences and their academic and racial identity. Children’s schooling experiences with teachers, peers and in their classrooms shape their perceptions of school, which might have implications for their academic identity. Additionally, children’s racial background might shape their school perceptions as well as their relationships with teachers and peers. This project team’s goal is to examine how children’s school type (charter, public, private) and schooling experiences (teacher-student relationship) contribute to children’s academic and racial identity. Additionally, the team will compare elementary and middle school-aged youths’ schooling experiences and identity.

The second aim is to examine ways children’s participation in community organizations associates with their racial and academic identity. Research indicates that community organizations can buffer children’s negative schooling and neighborhood experiences. Thus the team’s goal is to examine the practices, strategies and activities used by community organizations to observe how they associate with students’ academic and racial identity.

The last aim is to explore similarities and differences in students’ schooling experiences in Durham and Chapel Hill and how they contribute to children’s academic and racial identity.

The project consists of a mixed methods design. The team proposes to collect quantitative data from fifth- through eighth-graders in September 2017 and April 2018. Qualitative data will be collected from third- through eighth-graders through individual face-to-face interviews that will last approximately 30-45 minutes. Additionally, five to six staff members at each participating organization will be interviewed.

Anticipated Outcomes

New information about perceptions and opinions of children this age, which will inform design of educational mentoring programs; publication(s) in peer-reviewed journals of education, psychology and/or public policy; dissemination to educators and parents throughout the Research Triangle of North Carolina


Fall 2017 – Spring 2018

  • Fall 2017: Quantitative and qualitative data collection; community engagement
  • Spring 2018: Quantitative data collection; community engagement; manuscript preparation

Team Outcomes to Date

Contextual Influences on Children’s Identity and Development (talk by Victoria Prince, Kalito Luna and Julia Sutherland), EHDx, April 19, 2018

Contextual Influences on Children’s Identity and Developmennt (poster by Kamilah Legette, Victoria Prince, Amy Jiang, Kalito Luna, Malini Mehta, Julia Sutherland), presented at Bass Connections Showcase, April 18, 2018, and EHDx, April 19, 2019; winner of Best Education & Human Development Poster

Presentation at 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (April 13-17, 2018, New York, NY)

Project team website

This Team in the News

Bass Connections Showcase Presents Research Highlights from Durham to Malaysia

Third Annual EHDx Talks Celebrates Student Research

See earlier related team, Schooling and Parenting: Implications for Students' Academic Identity (2016-2017).

/faculty/staff Team Members

  • Angel Harris, Arts & Sciences-Sociology
  • Jennifer Lansford, Social Science Research Institute-Center for Child and Family Policy*
  • Kamilah Legette, Social Science Research Institute*

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Ashley Jeffers, Economics (AB), Public Policy Studies (AB2)
  • Shanjiao (Amy) Jiang, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Kalito Luna, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Malini Mehta, Neuroscience (AB), Psychology (AB2)
  • Victoria Prince, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Nicholas Simmons, English (AB)
  • Julia Sutherland, Public Policy Studies (AB), Political Science (AB2)