School can be a challenge for many kids whatever their age. There is the push to succeed academically alongside the need for social success. Mixed in are the expectations of parents and peers which can be conflicting. And what about the child or youth’s own expectations? Success at school is not a given, but we are identifying some very positive factors that improve every child’s opportunities for success.
In particular, we know that the presence of caring relationships in schools is increasingly recognized as a vital for successful schools. This concept of ‘connectedness’ acts as a protective factor for youth and children when they are faced with challenges. To use the example of ‘Healthy Schools BC
’, consider connectedness as if it were a good raincoat. It doesn’t change the ‘bad weather’ but it does minimize the impact. A good ‘raincoat’ of connectedness can take a child from just getting by at school to thriving.
A recent UBC research paper (using Grade 4 students in Vancouver) found that connections with adults at school were the most important connections to the students, even more important than family support. School connectedness is a key part of promoting positive mental health among children and youth.
School connectedness is about creating a school community where everyone feels safe, heard, supported, significant and cared for. The key is to build strong and positive relationships among students, between students and school staff, and between school staff, families and the larger community.
The McCreary Centre Society’s 2013 Adolescent Health Survey measured the level of connectedness among students. Unsurprisingly, they found that school connectedness is associated with positive academic and health-related outcomes. More specifically, the survey reports that the majority of students felt like they were a part of their school, were happy to be at school, and felt safe there. Connectedness to school was highest among students in Grade 7 and lowest among students in Grades 9 to 11: 40% of Grade 7 students reported the highest levels of school connectedness compared to 16% in Grade 10 and 21% in Grade 12. Overall, this survey confirmed that school connectedness is associated with positive academic and health-related outcomes.
Why does connectedness matter? Because students who are well-connected to their school do better across all aspects of schooling. It starts with them placing a greater value on school which helps them stay motivated for class and homework. It also results in better attendance and ultimately, in higher school completion rates.
The protections offered by school connectedness extend beyond academics into health and wellbeing. Students who feel greater connections to their school are more likely to report good health, tend to have higher self-esteem and are less likely to have behaviour problems. While the positive impacts of school connectedness are greatest on the students involved, there is a spill-over effect on communities. When school connectedness is increased, graduation rates do too. There are social benefits ranging from better wages and longer life expectancy to lower healthcare and social assistance costs and reduced crime and incarceration rates.
The research is strong and consistent: students who feel connected to school do better academically and are healthier overall.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.