Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Promoting School Connectedness: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. (Research Papers)

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Promoting School Connectedness: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. (Research Papers)

Article excerpt

When adolescents feel cared for by people at their school and feel like a part of their school, they are less likely to use substances, engage in violence, or initiate sexual activity at an early age. Students who feel connected to school in this way also report higher levels of emotional well-being. (1-3) In an analysis of risk and protective factors for eight different health risk outcomes among adolescents, Resnick et al (1) identified school connectedness as the only school-related variable that was protective for every single outcome.

Intervention research suggests that the relationship may be causal: increasing students' sense of connectedness to school decreases health-risk behavior. For example, a classroom management program that increased school connectedness and promoted self-discipline found that after one year, 30%-100% fewer students were sent to the principal's office for acting out in class, fighting, or assault. (4) Variation in the decrease depended on the intensity of program implementation. The Institute of Medicine speculates that "in some situations, a healthful psychosocial environment [in school] may be as important -- or even more important -- than classroom health education in keeping students away from drugs, alcohol, violence, risky sexual behavior, and the rest of today's social morbidities." (5)

Why do some adolescents feel connected to school while others do not? Students enter school with a range of predispositions toward education as well as with varying levels of family encouragement to do well in school. Yet, theory and empirical evidence also suggest that schools can influence students' feelings of being cared for at school. This study adopted the stage-environment fit perspective to explore ways in which schools can enhance school connectedness. (6) Stage-environment fit theory suggests behavior, motivation, and mental health are influenced by the fit between the developmental stage of the adolescent and the characteristics of the social environment. Adolescents are not likely to feel connected to school if they are in a school that does not meet their developmental needs. Conversely, school connectedness is maximized when the social environment meets their core developmental needs. The main developmental needs of middle and high school students include steadily increasing opportunities for autonomy, opportunities to demonstrate competence, caring and support from adults, developmentally appropriate supervision, and acceptance by peers. (6-8)

The challenge for public health professionals and school leaders is to identify and promote school attributes and policies that correspond to adolescents' developmental needs. By extension, these policies should promote school connectedness. This analysis used data from a nationally representative sample of 7th-12th-grade students to test the association between connectedness and several features of schools positively linked, both theoretically and empirically, to developmental needs of adolescents.

METHODS

Data

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) is a longitudinal, nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7-12. (9) The primary sampling frame for the Add Health study included all high schools in the United States that included an 11th grade and at least 30 students. A stratified, random sample of 80 schools was selected, and for each sampled high school, a feeder school (typically a middle school) was selected. A confidential paper-and-pencil survey was administered to all students in each sample school during the 1994-1995 academic year. The in-school questionnaire was completed by 77% of enrolled students. School administrators also completed self-administered questionnaires about school policies and procedures, teacher characteristics, and student body characteristics.

Add Health is uniquely applicable to understanding the effects of school context on connectedness to school. …

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