Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Psychology

First Advisor's Name

Mary J. Levitt

First Advisor's Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

William Kurtines

Third Advisor's Name

Marilyn Montgomery

Fourth Advisor's Name

Dionne Stephens

Keywords

serial migration, immigration, structural equation modeling, academic achievement, expectations

Date of Defense

11-8-2010

Abstract

Academic achievement and educational expectations as a function of parental absence were examined among 268 newly immigrant elementary, middle, and high-school students from Spanish-speaking countries. Data collected as part of a longitudinal study of adaptation and achievement in newly immigrant students were analyzed. Participants had varying experiences with parental absence, in terms of length of absence, gender of absent parent, and reason for absence. Reasons for parental absence included parental divorce, parental death, and serial migration, a cause unique to immigrant children. Students who experienced parental absence reported lower educational expectations. Students who experienced the death of a parent had lower achievement scores and lower expectations than students who did not experience parental death. Prolonged absence was also important, with students who experienced parental absence for more than one year performing worse than students who had minimal parental separation. In addition, boys who experienced parental absence because of serial migration performed worse academically than boys who did not have this occurrence. Educational expectations were reduced among students who experienced parental absence as a result of the migratory process, especially for younger students. The extent to which parental absence related to achievement and expectations through potential mediating factors, such as economic hardship, perceived school support, and parental school involvement was assessed with structural equation modeling. Overall, the model was able to explain some of the relationship between parental absence and the academic achievement and educational expectations of immigrant students from Spanish-speaking countries.

Comments

I dedicate this dissertation to Garry, my soul mate, for his complete devotion, support, understanding, and love. Without his presence, all of this would have been impossible. Without his patience and support I would not have been able to complete the program. Thank you for doing what husbands normally do not do and for making me continue when I felt there was no hope or desire. And to my children: Ivy, Micah, Zachia, Azariah, and Iona. Their patience, love, and seeing their future in their eyes helped me to keep going when I did not think I could. This is also for my mother, Demetria Smith, who watched gracefully as her only child left her hometown in pursuit of her dreams. She was saddened to watch my family and I leave but remained supportive throughout. She repeatedly offered words of encouragement and offered support when she could. I hope that my accomplishment makes her proud; proud to be the mother of the first person in our family to pursue a college education and see it all the way through. I also dedicate this dissertation to the loving memory of my grandparents, Ethel M. Wright and Clayton F. Wright, both of whom were confident in my ability to do what no other member of my family has done. They were supportive of my goals, understanding of my desires, and loved me unconditionally. In the course of my goal to complete a Ph.D. in Psychology, I lost both of them and struggled to continue in the program because of my grief and pain. I know that both of them would be proud of my accomplishments; not just a Ph.D. in Psychology but accomplishing such an educational endeavor with five lovely children to care for. I would like to thank the members of my committee for their support, patience, understanding, and guidance. Their scholarly direction has been greatly appreciated. Dr. William Kurtines was particularly helpful in guiding me toward the implementation of structural equation modeling. Not only was he extremely helpful as a committee member but he was also a great instructor, opening my eyes to varying aspects of methodology during my first course and first semester in the doctoral program at Florida International University. Dr. Kurtines was the first Professor of Psychology I met at FIU and truly made an impact immediately. Dr. Marilyn Montgomery has been extremely helpful in directing my attention to other areas of expertise, which are related to developmental psychology. She guided my efforts to incorporate educational research into the project and has proven herself to be an expert in the field. Dr. Montgomery’s professionalism is something to be admired. Dr. Dionne Stephens has proven to be one of the most inspirational people I have encountered at FIU. Not only did she provide helpful insight regarding the dissertation project along the way, but she also provided much needed support throughout the process. I have come to truly care for Dr. Stephens and not only consider her to be a role model but also a dear friend. Finally, I would like to thank my major professor, Dr. Mary J. Levitt. Dr. Levitt was extremely helpful in guiding my ideas on analyses as well as guiding me in my writing ability. From my beginning at FIU, Dr. Levitt demonstrated confidence in my abilities to complete the doctoral requirements with flying colors, regardless of the additional responsibilities I have at home. She understood that my family life and children served as motivation and inspiration for me to complete the program. Not only has Dr. Levitt passed on her knowledge and passion of the field to me, but she has also passed on her determination, drive, and attention to detail. She truly is an inspiration to me and demonstrates accomplishments I hope to achieve myself one day in the future. Dr. Levitt has become a lifelong mentor whom I will always cherish and hold close to my heart. I have enjoyed my experience at FIU and, while am happy to be completing the program, am saddened that this chapter in my life is coming to an end. I have learned more about myself and the world than I could have ever imagined. The multicultural atmosphere is amazing and the instructors within the psychology department are stimulating and thoughtful. They have provided me with the tools needed to investigate and examine developmental processes and have inspired me in my research endeavors.

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