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Study Links Pupils' Stress to School Environments

"Classroom Learning Environments and the Mental Health of 1st Grade Children"

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Between inadequate supplies, rundown school buildings, and disrespected teachers buried in paperwork, school can be stressful for 1st graders, who are in a fragile place in their educational lives, according to a study released last week.

The study, based on interviews with more than 10,700 1st-grade parents and teachers in spring 2000, is being published in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, a quarterly publication of the Washington-based American Sociological Association.

For children who are poor, such psychological stresses may be magnified, because they are more likely to experience “harsher, more noxious conditions in school compared with children occupying more advantaged statuses,” wrote the study authors, sociology professor Melissa A. Milkie, of the University of Maryland in College Park, and Catharine H. Warner, a doctoral candidate in the sociology department.

The lack of adequate, appropriate materials can affect children negatively in part because teachers become more harsh or frustrated when they cannot teach properly given a lack of resources, according to the report.

And having a larger number of peers below grade level in reading is associated with interpersonal problems for black children, but that has no significant effects on white children who are in similar settings, the researchers found. Similarly, a perceived lack of respect on the part of teachers affects black and white children, but the effect is greater on black children.

In turn, children’s behavior problems are a major source of teacher dissatisfaction, turnover, and lowered expectations, the study finds, and discipline issues in the school can take teachers away from teaching, that can lead to teacher exhaustion, making it more difficult to regulate children’s behavior within the classroom, according to the authors.

Researchers found that students in those kinds of learning environments were more likely to have “learning, externalizing, interpersonal, and internalizing problems,” which translate to problems with attentiveness, arguing, acting impulsively, forming friendships, low self-esteem, and sadness.

Vol. 30, Issue 24, Page 5

Published in Print: March 16, 2011, as Students' Stress Linked to Class Environments
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