S.O.A.R.: Using a Role Model Intervention to Close the Achievement Gap Between Latino American and Caucasian Students

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.” — Chesar Chavez

“As you discover what strength you can draw from your community in this world from which it stands apart, look outward as well as inward. Build bridges instead of walls.”– Sonia Sotomayor

The achievement gap in academic performance between ethnic minority students and Caucasian students is a social issue that not only concerns parents and students, but educators, social scientists and—most importantly—policy makers. A recent study has shown that Latino American students earn on average a GPA of 2.74, while their Caucasian counterparts earn on average a 3.47 (Sherman et al., 2013). Why does this achievement gap exist?

One popular theory is that minority students do not do well in academics due to stereotype threat, the fear of confirming negative stereotypes about your group. Since Latino Americans are stereotyped as doing badly in academics, they do badly in this field due to stereotype threat. Two types of interventions have focused on changing this ameliorating stereotype threat through self-affirmation and group-affirmation.

Self-affirmation theory posits that stereotype threat harms students’ self-image and that students can reduce threat by writing about their other positive attributes. Though research on this has shown that self-affirmation deflects the downward trajectory of the grades of Latino American seventh graders, this method is not ideal. It’s effectiveness varies depending on the individual’s level of ethnic identification (Sherman et al., 2013) and it can have negative effects on some individuals. Group-Affirmation theory posits that stereotype threat harms student’s social identity and it seeks to ameliorate stereotype threat by having participants write about their group’s positive attributes. As with self-affirmations, group-affirmations can also have negative effects depending on the participant’s level of ethnic identification. Considering the drawbacks of both methods, I asked the question: What type of ethnic identification is associated with good grades?

A review of the literature brought me to Oyserman et al’s (2003) Racial Ethnic Self Schema Theory. Based on this theory, there are four types of our types of racial ethnic self-schema (RES) that describe youths’ orientations towards society and to the broader society. The RES most associated with academic success is Minority RES, which focuses on the need to “overcome obstacles in order to engage with broader society” (p. 305). Can an individual’s RES be changed? Though no one has conducted an intervention that focuses on changing RES, one theory directly addresses the connection between identity and academic motivation: The Identity-Based Motivation Model (IBM; Oyserman, 2007, 2009a, 2009b), which posits that identities are multi-faceted, dynamically constructed and that they have an effect on an individual’s behavior and interpretation of events. Using this model, Oyserman and Destin (2010) created the School to Jobs intervention a seven-week long intervention. Though this intervention was effective, I decided to create a more specific intervention.


In creating this intervention we sought to create a program that incorporated all of this research into one model. Since self-affirmations and group-affirmations can have possible negative effects depending on the participant’s level of in-group identification (Derks et al., 2007; Derks, van Laar, & Ellemers, 2009; Sherman et al., 2007), we sought to create an intervention that stealthily included values affirmations as well as positive messages about participants’ in-group. Taking the RES theory (Oyserman et al., 2003) and IBM model (Oyserman, 2007, 2009a, 2009b) into account we also sought to create an intervention that focused on overcoming obstacles, creating a school identity and a focus on how academics will help students reach their desired future. I also sought to create an intervention that, if all else failed, would provide the participants with important academic skills, namely: writing skills, research skills, analytical skills, teamwork skills, presentation skills, oral skills and a group of friends. The outcome was called Surpassing Obstacles through Appreciation and Respect (S.O.A.R.), a five week long, role model intervention with six parts that will take place at the beginning of the school year, preferably during Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15th- October 15th). Steps one through three should be completed in three weeks and steps four through six should be completed in two weeks. Before starting the intervention, students were split into groups of three or four and they were asked to choose a famous Hispanic role model or historical figure to do a project on, each group chose a different role model that the teacher then approved.

A brief step-by-step synopsis of S.O.A.R.:

  1. Biography: Students wrote a short one or two page biography on their chosen Hispanic role model (meta-message: “There are many successful Latinos, who have succeeded in many career areas.”)
  2. Obstacles: Student groups analyzed their role models’ past and chose three obstacles their role model faced (meta-message was: “Everyone faces obstacles.”)
  3. Role models’ Traits: students wrote a paper about the three obstacles their role model faced and the values/ traits that helped them overcome the obstacles (meta-message: “Latinos have the tools needed to overcome obstacles” and “persevering is important when the goal is worthwhile.”
    • Short 5-10 minute presentation on their role model, his/her obstacles and the traits/ values that helped them overcome the obstacles they faced
  4. Self-affirmation: students wrote about the traits and values they shared with their Hispanic role model. (meta-message: “Everyone has the tools to succeed”).
  5. Academic success and obstacles: students wrote about how these shared traits would help them succeed in school and how it would help them overcome academic obstacles (meta-message: “I have the tools needed to overcome obstacles” and “we all care about academics.”
    • Short presentation where they will introduce a member of their group and say what traits this person shares with their chosen role model, as well as what traits this person has that will help them succeed academically
  6. Future Paths: students will write a letter to their future selves where they will talk about their dream career and three obstacles they might face in making this dream come true, as well as what traits they have that can help them overcome these obstacles.


By incorporating important elements from several theories, this intervention seeks to reduce the academic achievement gap between Latino American students and Caucasian students. Why is this important? By helping to raise the grades of minority students, this intervention aims to reduce the social and racial inequalities that keep America and the world from truly being a place of equal opportunity.


  • Oyserman, D. (2007). Social identity and self-regulation. In A. W. Kruglanski & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford.

  • Oyserman, D. (2009a). Identity-based motivation: Implications for action-readiness, procedural-readiness, and consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 19, 250-260.

  • Oyserman, D. (2009b). Identity-based motivation and consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 19, 276-279.

  • Oyserman, D., & Destin, M. (2010). Identity-based motivation: Implications for intervention. The Counseling Psychologist, 38(7), 1001-1043.
  • Sherman, D. K., Hartson, K. A., Binning, K. R., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Garcia, J., Taborsky-Barba, S., Tomassetti, S., Nussbaum, A. D. & Cohen, G. L. (2013). Deflecting the trajectory and changing the narrative: How self-affirmation affects academic performance and motivation under identity threat. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 104(4), 591-618. doi:10.1037/a0031495

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