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Does Peer Group Identity Influence Absenteeism in High School Students?

The focus of this piece is on exploring questions regarding school organizational structures and cultures and their unintentional encouragement of teenage absenteeism. The organizational structure and culture of a school setting contributes to how students experience the system. School characteristics and culture can influence student absenteeism and truancy (Epstein & Sheldon, 2002). Perhaps organizational school structures endorse and reward particular peer groups while shunning or ignoring others. If so, peer identity becomes relevant in schools as the values, attitudes, and beliefs held within the peer groups predispose those in the group to endorse or reject the mission of schools. Eckert (1989) insightfully classified students into two groups describing this endorsement or rejecting scenario. She called some students "Jocks," endorsers of the system endorsers, and others "Burn-outs," non-endorsers of the system.

Does peer group identity influence high school absenteeism? Harris (1996) claims that peer groups are more powerful than parents in shaping values. "Teenagers sort themselves out into peer groups that vary in their attitudes toward intellectual achievement, and they can usually find anti-intellectual groups even in middle-class neighborhoods" (Harris, p. 263). If this is in fact the case, the choice of peer group could have a profound effect upon the academic outcome of a high school student.

Maslow, Erickson, Kohlberg, and many other theorists have studied development across the human life span. They each espouse the stages of human development, and they all have room for the notion of those stages being interrupted or challenged when environmental factors make it more difficult for a person to keep growing and developing. Teenagers are especially prone to environmental influences because they are still being formed as persons, and the cruel reality is that many struggle daily for acceptance from their peers.

Predictors of a student's potential for a successful life after high school are comprised of family identity, income, and choice of peer

group. Perhaps if teachers and other school personnel are aware of this phenomenon, being intentional about reaching out to all peer groups could increase students' feelings of welcome, and school attendance would increase.