E. Sybil Durand, Arizona State University - Small Research Grant

How can youth participatory action research promote civic learning and engagement?

What We’re Learning

E. Sybil Durand (Arizona State University) – Small Research Grant

Developing the Civic Participation of Marginalized Youth through a Literature-Infused Youth Participatory Action Research Program

Civic engagement is often discussed in terms of voting or community service and overlooks the everyday practices through which young people in general, and youth of color in particular, engage in civic life (Kirshner, 2015; Wood, 2014). Scholars argue that the civic capacity of communities of color is undermined by oppressions such as poverty and marginalization; thus, civic engagement needs to be conceptualized differently for youth and communities of color (Ginwright, 2011; Ginwright & Cammarota, 2007). Within the context of education, students of color often lack access to the learning experiences that promote civic engagement, which can influence young people’s commitment to civic participation (Kahne & Sporte, 2008), resulting in a civic opportunity gap (Fine, Burns, Payne, & Torre, 2004; Fox, et al., 2010; García Bedolla, 2012; Kahne & Middaugh, 2008; Mirra, Morrell, Cain, Scorza, & Ford, 2013; Sherrod, 2006). Youth participatory action research (YPAR), has shown promise for developing the civic engagement of traditionally marginalized youth by having young people research local systemic inequities and take action to make changes in their schools and communities (Cammarota, 2011; Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008; Irizarry, 2011; Mirra, et al., 2013).

This mixed methods study investigated how a literature-infused youth participatory action research (YPAR) program influenced the development of civic participation in historically marginalized junior high students, including low-income students of color and students identified for English language learner (ELL) and special education services. In this year-long after-school program, which was designed and implemented by the research team, 9 students in seventh and eighth grade engaged multicultural young adult literature and critical texts, researched school and community issues, and began to effect change. The main finding from this study reveals that students learned how to engage in civic participation through the activities they did in the YPAR program, including identifying local school and community issues, applying multicultural young adult literature and critical theory to understand the problem, interviewing school and community members, and using action research methods to produce and disseminate new knowledge. These activities concretized for students specific practices they can use to engage in civic action.

The pedagogical framework that informed this YPAR program also played a role in supporting students’ civic participation by deliberately re-mediating the learning space to create opportunities for students to contribute their varied expert knowledges and to take on various leadership roles. This approach to participation repositioned all students as experts, including students designated as struggling, ELLs, or having a learning disability. Our study indicates that the quality of civic learning and civic action can increase when facilitators intentionally create spaces in which hierarchical boundaries are blurred and traditional written and unwritten rules of schooling are disrupted. Under such circumstances, adults decrease their power as youth take increasingly agentive action, resulting in radical possibilities for collective civic growth. YPAR is an ideal approach to create such a space in that it attempts to disrupt hierarchies along various lines, including age, race, gender, dis/ability, language, and more. In addition, it focuses on collective inquiry with the intention of supporting social justice efforts.

E. Sybil Durand
Arizona State University 
Melanie Bertrand 
Arizona State University 
Taucia Gonzalez 
University of Wisconsin, Madison

E. Sybil Durand

Dr. Elizabeth Sybil Durand is an assistant professor of English Education at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on representations of youth of color in young adult literature, including multicultural, international, and postcolonial young adult texts, and how teachers and students engage such narratives. Her current study examines how middle school students engage young adult literature in the context of a youth participatory action research (YPAR) after school program.

Co PI Melanie Bertrand

Dr. Melanie Bertrand is an assistant professor at Arizona State University. Her research explores the potential of student voice and youth participatory action research (YPAR) to improve schools and challenge systemic racism and other forms of oppression in education. Specifically, she is interested in understanding how students can engage in roles of activism, governance, and leadership within their schools.

Co PI Taucia Gonzalez

Dr. Taucia Gonzalez is an assistant professor of special education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research addresses issues of equity and inclusion for emergent bilingual students with and without learning disabilities. She is currently examining how historically marginalized youth contribute their own notions equitable and inclusive schools through a youth participatory action research after-school club funded by the Spencer Foundation. The second strand of her research focuses on preparing teachers to work at the intersection of language and ability differences. Dr. Gonzalez’s work bridges general and special education and has been featured in journals such as the Journal of Multilingual Research and the European Journal of Special Needs Education. She currently serves as an advisory board member for New York University’s Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality as well as the Wisconsin Education Research Advisory Council. Dr. Gonzalez has spent over 15 years working in and with Latinx communities as an educator and educational researcher. During her time as an educator, Chicanos Por La Causa honored her as an exemplary Latina educator with the Esperanza Award. She currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses that prepare future practitioners and researchers to create more inclusive educational systems across intersecting markers of difference.

Bertrand, M., Durand, E. S., & Gonzalez, T. (2017). “We’re trying to take action”: Transformative agency, role re-mediation, and the complexities of youth participatory action research. Equity & Excellence in Education, 50(2), 142-154. doi:10.1080/10665684.2017.1301837

Bertrand, M. (2016). “I was very impressed”: Responses of surprise to Students of Color engaged in youth participatory action research. Urban Education, 1-28. doi: 10.1177/0042085916648744

ASU project helps empower civic involvement for marginalized youth

A November 4, 2015 publication by Arizona State University (ASU Now) shares an interview with Dr. Durand on the research for the Spencer Foundation Grant...Click here

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