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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
(more on the Journal)

Winter 2007
Vol. 34 No. 1

Religion and High Academic Achievement in Puerto Rican High School Students

René Antrop-González, William Vélez, and Tomás Garrett

This research project was funded by generous grants through the University of Wisconsin System Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Graduate School, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Institute for Excellence in Urban Education Initiative. The authors would also like to acknowledge the valuable feedback of the anonymous reviewers on earlier drafts of this paper.

Puerto Rican high achievers are largely invisible in traditional, public urban high schools and in educational research. Over the last three decades, numerous scholars have written about the connections between the academic underachievement of Puerto Rican colonial subjects educated in the United States and socioeconomic/academic barriers like internal and direct colonialism, single-parent households, poverty, culturally irrelevant curricula, and the non-academic tracking these students face within traditional public urban schools on a continual basis.[i] Although the above-mentioned scholarship is important, it places exclusive emphasis on the academic underachievement of these students. Furthermore, this academic underachievement has been exacerbated by the fact that Puerto Rican and other Latina/o students are disproportionately represented in special education programs that academically miscategorize them and espouse watered-down curricula.[ii] This academic (mis)categorization and subsequent overrepresentation of urban youth of color in special education programs often stems from the gravely erroneous and racist belief that being poor equates to being unintelligent. Consequently, some teachers mislabel their students of color.[iii] This academic miscategorization is also reinforced by teachers and administrators who hold low academic expectations for their students and who sincerely feel that neither these students nor their families care about their educational aspirations.  

To counteract the overabundance of scholarly literature that discusses reasons why Puerto Rican students are pushed out of school and/or academically underachieve, we felt it was important to ask the following question: What factors do poor urban Puerto Rican students, enrolled in traditional urban high schools, attribute to their academic success in spite of the previously mentioned socioeconomic and sociopolitical barriers? As a result of our larger conversations with these students, we discovered that all of them credited their religiosity as having a positive impact on their high academic achievement. Furthermore, these students theorized how their religiosity played an important dual role in their academic and personal lives.

The purpose of this article is to describe this dual role according to the experiences of ten poor Puerto Rican high school students schooled in a large comprehensive urban high school in the United States. These students’ theorizing of the impact of their religiosity on their high academic achievement is especially important because, unlike the large majority of studies that have examined the effects of religiosity on academic achievement through quantitative analyses[iv], our particular study focuses on the lived experiences and voices of urban high school youth of color. Finally, this study has implications for the development of sanctuary partnerships between urban schools and churches.

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