"This Makes me Who I Am": The Meaning and Significance of School Membership for Ninth Grade Students Transitioning to High School

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This dissertation examines the motivational aspects of academic engagement from a social-psychological perspective by introducing the concept of school membership as a mediating factor between academic environment and the behaviors that comprise academic engagement. School membership is rooted in identity theory and is defined as the possession of social bonds with a social network of school members through which a highly salient self-identity and high levels of commitment as a member of the school are internalized.

In order to identify links between academic environment, school membership, and academic engagement, I qualitatively examine disadvantaged students within "City High", a school employing the Talent Development High School Model, a comprehensive school reform model with that creates an environment conducive to the internalization of school membership. Using ethnographic methods, I compare and contrast school membership levels and perceptions of in and out of school environment within a diverse group of students at "City High". In order to test my qualitative findings on a broad scale, I quantitatively examine links between academic environment, school membership, and academic engagement through multilevel modeling techniques, using data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002.

Both the qualitative and quantitative portions of this dissertation provide suggestive results indicating both the presence of school membership within disadvantaged students with high levels of academic performance and effort. In addition, both phases of this project indicate that students' social and structural academic environment were related to the creation and maintenance of school membership. This dissertation concludes by examining the ways in which comprehensive school reform models benefit by focusing on students who are transitioning to high school and placing the creation of a "culture of success" on par with raising student achievement levels, as these goals are intertwined.