Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

School Size and Youth Violence: The Mediating Role of School Connectedness

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

School Size and Youth Violence: The Mediating Role of School Connectedness

Article excerpt

Violence in some form has always existed in our schools and communities, but highly publicized shootings in the 1990s, such as Littleton, Colorado, Jonesboro, Arkansas, and Paducah, Kentucky have led to increased public awareness and concern (Modzeleski et al., 2008). In 2001, the Surgeon General concluded that youth violence is a public health concern in the United States (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). Interestingly, although school and community violent crimes committed by juveniles have declined over the past decade (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2013), compared to all other age groups, children and adolescents are most likely to be crime victims (Furlong & Morrison, 2000), and youth violence is the second leading cause of fatal injuries for adolescents (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014).

In addition to consequences like injury or death, violence exposure and victimization are associated with a wide range of psychological risk factors (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD], depression, high-risk sexual behaviors) and serious physical health conditions (e.g., heart disease; Hammond, Haegerich, & Saul, 2009; Kia-Keating & Ellis, 2007; Ludwig & Warren, 2009). An additional concern of youth exposure to violence tends to be a consequent cycle of violence where victims become the perpetrators (Osofsky, Werers, Hann, & Fick, 1993). Brookmeyer, Fanti, and Henrich (2006) found that simply being exposed to violence is a significant predictor of subsequent increases in violent behavior.

Research on school violence has tended to examine characteristics of youth who exhibit violent or high rates of aggressive behavior. In reviewing the extant research, Furlong and Morrison (2000) asserted that research on youth violence should expand the focus to examine the context and precursors that may influence violent behaviors. In this regard, social and environmental factors (e.g., social settings, social networks, school characteristics) may be particularly important (Hoagwood, 2000). More specifically, relationships between students and adults may have a significant impact on the occurrence of youth violence (Vossekuil, Fein, Reddy, Borum, & Modzeleski, 2002), and there is growing literature that specifically addresses enhancing students' relationships with school personnel (e.g., Chapman, Buckley, Sheehan, & Shochet, 2013; Lapan, Wells, Petersen, & McCann, 2014). The impact of students' relationships with adults in school settings has been studied as "school connectedness."

Youth Violence and School Connectedness

School connectedness has been defined in different ways, but a common theme emphasizes the quality of relationships between students and school personnel (faculty, staff, and administrators). A commonly accepted definition of school connectedness is students' perception of quality relationships with students and school personnel, feeling supported by school personnel, and feeling safe while in school (McNeely & Falci, 2004; Resnick et al., 1997).

Researchers have found that adolescents who tend to feel nurtured, supported, and accepted within such contexts as peers, school, and community are more likely to attend school, experience improved academic performance, and graduate (Hawkins et al., 2000; Kearney, 2008; Resnick et al., 1997; Shochet, Dadds, Ham, & Montague, 2006; Thompson, Iachan, Overpeck, Ross, & Gross, 2006). Studies have also indicated that students who feel connected to their teachers and peers are more likely to seek help with interpersonal issues (McNeely, Nonnemaker, & Blum, 2002; Townsend & McWhirter, 2005). Furthermore, students' trusting relationships with school personnel may have a positive impact on academic achievement, well-being, and resiliency (Catalano, Haggerty, Oesterle, Fleming, & Hawkins, 2004; Joyce & Early, 2014; Shochet et al., 2006; Smith & Sandhu, 2004). …

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