The Relationship Between African-American Students’ Perceptions of Mattering, Belonging, and Culturally-Relevant School Climate and their Academic Performance

Dissertation Summary

In America, there has continually existed a gap in academic performance between African-American students and their European-American and Asian-American counterparts. This gap has implications for post-secondary education and income attainment over time. It is imperative for these African-American students that this gap is closed.

My dissertation will investigate, from African-American middle school students’ vantage point, if their socio-emotional needs are met by their institutions. By gaining insight into students’ perceptions of their socio-emotional school environment, their voice is harnessed as an asset for learning. Three socio-emotional constructs that have recently shown promise in enhancing academic outcomes are: positive perceptions of mattering, belonging, and school climate. In addition, my study will specifically investigate African-American middle school students’ perceptions of school climate consistent with an Afro-cultural context, hypothesizing that if African-American students’ culture is used as an asset in schools their performance will improve, as measured through self-reported G.P.A. In an attempt to identify ways to close the academic achievement gap, I will analyze the relationship between these aforementioned socio-emotional variables and student performance for African-American middle school students.


Brielle Brookins is currently a doctoral student in Developmental Psychology at Howard University. Her research interests include student achievement, student phenomenology, student cultural assets, and school climate and culture. Specifically, her work aims to investigate students’ sense of belonging and mattering as it relates to their academic achievement with special attention to how school environments foster this relationship. Brielle obtained her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Howard University in 2014.