School Connectedness in the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children Study: The Role of Student, School, and School Neighborhood Characteristics

Article excerpt

School connectedness has been defined in different ways, (1) but common indicators include liking school, a sense of belonging at school, positive relations with teachers and friends at school, and an active engagement in school activities. A growing literature shows that school connectedness predicts a variety of health outcomes. Students who feel connected to school report higher levels of emotional well-being, less substance abuse, better health, decreased levels of suicidal ideation, decreased depressive symptoms, and decreased risk of violent or deviant behavior and teen pregnancy. (2-7) Given the variety of positive outcomes associated with school connectedness, it is worthwhile to gain a better understanding of factors that could lead to higher levels of school connectedness and, conversely, risk factors for low levels of connectedness. This was the goal of the present research.

Past studies have identified predictors of school connectedness. Higher levels of connectedness have been found in younger students, those from 2-parent families, males, students with a high grade point average, students with more educated parents, and students with a large number of friends, while lower levels of connectedness have been found among black students, students who failed to participate in extracurricular activities, and those who skipped school. (4,5,8) At the school level, connectedness was higher in schools with well-managed classrooms, a greater percentage of Hispanic students, a greater percentage of 2-parent families, and a greater percentage of students participating in extracurricular activities, while connectedness was lower in schools with harsh disciplinary practices, urban schools, and larger schools. (4,5,8)

The goal of the present study was to examine factors associated with school connectedness, specifically characteristics of students, schools, and school neighborhoods. The primary source of data was the 2001-2002 Health Behavior in School-Aged Children (HBSC) Study, with a cross-sectional, school-based sample of students in grades 6-10 in the United States. The HBSC was first conducted in a handful of European nations in 1982, and by the 2001-2002 school year there were 35 member nations officially involved in the HBSC. (9,10) The HBSC was conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organization.

The analysis included variables that were related to school connectedness in past studies. At the student level, these were gender, age, urbanicity, student academic performance, 2-parent household, parental education, race/ ethnicity, and participation in extracurricular activities. At the school level, school size and percent of students in different racial/ethnic groups were examined.

This study also tested hypotheses that were not examined in past work on school connectedness. Specifically, at the student level, the analysis included immigrant status, parental involvement in the school, self-rated physical attractiveness, and friendships with other students of the same sex and the opposite sex; at the school level, it included household wealth of the student population. The hypothesized relations between each of these variables included in the study and school connectedness are described in Table 1.

No past work on school connectedness considered the influence of the neighborhood around the school. The school neighborhood may be important because students' feelings of safety and impressions of school as a stable, reliable environment may be affected by the school neighborhood. In this study, school neighborhood characteristics measured in the decennial census were used as indicators of wealth and poverty in the neighborhood and transiency of the local population.

METHOD

Data

This research drew upon linked data files constructed for continued use of the funding agency, the Health Resources and Services Administration. The files included data compiled at the student level, school level, and district level. …