Associate Professor of Child Development Anne Sebanc is convinced that a local community can be a critical laboratory - a platform that likely helped her win a substantial grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2005. Now entering the final year of her multi-year NSF project, Sebanc finds herself fully engulfed in a comprehensive study on friendships and the influence they exude during the transition from elementary to middle school, particularly among Latino students in a nearby school district.
"Moving from elementary to middle school is stressful for most students, so understanding what happens during this time may lead to insight about how to foster an easier transition," she says, explaining the basis and goal for her project.
According to Sebanc, past related research clearly demonstrates that children who develop quality friendships tend to do better in school, though the data has predominantly come from observation of white, middle-class children. Interested in drawing experience from the differing demographics and socio-economics that characterize local Whittier communities, however, Sebanc has focused her project primarily on Latino students enrolled in the El Rancho schools in Pico Rivera, and whether or not similar aspects of friendship can predict positive adjustment to middle school.
Taking on a multi-year study has meant not only a significant professional commitment, but securing a great deal of involvement from and cooperation with school administrators and teachers, as well as the students themselves. Too, a handful of Whittier undergraduates, who contribute to the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, are getting an outstanding opportunity to participate in a professional study - an experience that at many other institutions, Sebanc notes, is typically restricted to graduate students.
In fact, she adds with pride, her most recent paper, "Predicting Having a Best Friend in Young Children: Individual Characteristics and Friendship Features," was co-authored by three recent Whittier alums and was published in the Journal of Genetic Psychology.
Sebanc's NSF multi-year award exceeds $175,000 and is slated to end in 2008. Until then, she and her team will continue to amass data, present their findings at academic conferences, and write for publication.
However, she anticipates her work will not end there.
"The principals with whom I work are excited to know more about which students adjust well to middle school and why. Ultimately, I'm hoping that what we learn now will help more children succeed in schools locally - and overall."