School & District Management

School ‘Connectedness’ Makes for Healthier Students, Study Suggests

By Darcia Harris Bowman — April 24, 2002 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Students are less likely to engage in drug use, violence, and early sexual activity when they attend schools with caring teachers and tolerant discipline policies, according to a new study.

In an analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a federally funded survey of 72,000 adolescents in grades 7-12, a group of researchers found that a sense of “connectedness” to school is critical to a teenager’s well-being.

Well-managed classrooms and ample opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities were also found to foster that bond, according to a summary of the analysis published in the April issue of the Journal of School Health.

“What goes on in the classroom is key to keeping kids from becoming disenchanted with school,” said Dr. Robert Blum, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Adolescent Health and Development and an author of the analysis. “It doesn’t matter whether you have 20 or 30 kids in a class. It doesn’t matter whether the teacher has a graduate degree. What matters is the environment that a student enters when he walks through the classroom door.”

The findings underscore the need to invest in programs that promote good education and good health, experts say.

“Health and education are very much an interdependent phenomenon,” said Dr. Lloyd J. Kolbe, the director of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health. “What these data help us understand is that socio-psycho environment, and that the climate young people live in for 13 years at a very vulnerable time of their lives is critical to their development.”

For schools to foster the strong connection needed to help students avoid unhealthy behavior, Dr. Kolbe said, they need to build comprehensive health programs that include health services for poor students, nutritious meal programs, physical education, counseling, health education, health programs for faculty and staff, and family and community involvement.

“School health programs have been languishing and actually deteriorating in our nation,” he said.

The researchers focused their analysis of the national longitudinal study on what factors can alienate a teenager from his or her school community. They found that teenagers’ links to their schools are lower when classroom climates are chaotic and negative.

The solution? “When teachers are empathetic, consistent ... and allow students to make decisions, the classroom management climate improves,” the authors write.

The overall level of school connectedness is also lower in schools that suspend students for what the authors say are relatively minor infractions, such as possessing alcohol. That means so-called zero-tolerance policies, which typically mandate suspension—even for first-time offenders—for certain transgressions, could do more harm than good, the authors warned.

“We found that students in schools with those types of discipline policies actually report feeling less safe at school than do students in schools with more moderate policies,” Dr. Blum said. The analysis also found that, on average, students in smaller schools feel more attached to school than students in larger schools. “Several researchers suggest that large school size negatively affects school connectedness because, in such settings, teachers cannot maintain warm, positive relations with all students,” the authors wrote.

Still, the effect of school size was minimal, and class size was not found to have any influence on teenagers’ sense of attachment to their schools, leaving the authors to suggest that even large classes may be a small enough setting for students to form strong social ties with teachers and classmates.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 2002 edition of Education Week as School ‘Connectedness’ Makes for Healthier Students, Study Suggests

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion ‘This Is Not What We Signed Up For’: A Principal’s Plea for More Support
School leaders are playing the role of health-care experts, social workers, mask enforcers, and more. It’s taking a serious toll.
Kristen St. Germain
3 min read
Illustration of a professional woman walking a tightrope.
Laura Baker/Education Week and uzenzen/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Letter to the Editor Educators Must Look to History When They Advocate for Changes
Educators and policymakers must be aware of the history of ideas when making changes in education, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Letter to the Editor Reconsidering Causes of Principal Burnout
The state and federal governments are asking us to implement policies that often go against our beliefs, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management From Our Research Center Just How Widespread Are the Threats to Educators Over COVID Policies?
An EdWeek Research Center survey asked district and school leaders if they, or anyone on their staff, had faced threats.

3 min read
Seminole County, Fla., deputies remove a parent from a school board meeting during a heated discussion about mask mandates in September.
Seminole County, Fla., deputies remove a parent from a school board meeting during a heated discussion about mask mandates in September.
Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP