The purpose of this article is twofold: to describe a model for understanding how students' responses to science are related to the degree of congruency between their worlds of family, friends, school, and science; and to explore the implications of this model for practice and policy in science education. The study focuses on the meaning-perspectives of students to understand how they differentially experience school science. On the basis of classroom observations, teacher recommendation, and students' willingness, 43 high school science students were interviewed to gain information on their perceptions of school and science, the importance and influence of friends on these perceptions, and family conditions that were significant to their lives. Through the identification of five distinctive patterns regarding the relationship between personal experiences and success in school and science, this study draws attention to the necessity of curriculum and school practices that facilitate the integration of students' multiple worlds. © 1995 John Wiley & Sons. Inc.