Male Pupil Studying At Desk In Classroom

A team of researchers from the University of Oxford analyzed a group of more than 4,900 participants from England up to age 16 and looked at the results of their secondary education standardized examinations. (© Monkey Business - stock.adobe.com)

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — School can serve as much more than just a place to learn for countless children. Scientists from Rutgers University have found that Black adolescents with a stronger sense of community at their schools tend to display lower levels of aggression and depression up to six years later.

Study authors explain that school connectedness, or the degree to which students feel part of their school community, can end up influencing far more than grades and exam scores.

“Our data provide fairly strong evidence for the idea that the experiences Black adolescents have in their school impacts their long-term mental health,” says lead study author Adrian Gale, an assistant professor in the Rutgers School of Social Work, in a university release.

The benefits of school connectedness on overall youth well-being and physical health outcomes have been known for some time among scientists. However, most research on this topic to this point has focused on White adolescents.

So, Prof. Gale and Lenna Nepomnyaschy, an associate professor in the Rutgers School of Social Work, analyzed a data set provided by the Future of Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS). That project is a population-based birth study that tracked kids born in major United States cities between 1998 and 2000.

Among the entire cohort of close to 5,000 kids, Gale and Nepomnyaschy recorded 1,688 who self-identified as Black or African American. They were interviewed between the ages of nine and 15, and their primary caregivers were also interviewed during the 15-year follow-up.

Around the age of nine, the children were asked about their connectedness to schools. More specifically, they had to rate if they felt “part of your school, close to people at your school, happy to be at your school, and safe at school.”

Then, another six years later, their caregivers were asked about the children’s propensity for aggressive behaviors. Meanwhile, the youth themselves reported on any feelings of depression.

Unhappy, stressed teen
(© Monkey Business – stock.adobe.com)

Next, researchers controlled for variables that may have influenced the association bridging school connectedness, depression, and aggressive behaviors. Those included family characteristics, mother’s education, neighborhood characteristics, and perceived neighborhood disorder – for example, the presence of garbage.

Despite this “rich set of child, parent, family, neighborhood and school-district characteristics that could potentially confound the associations between school connectedness and mental health,” researchers explain they still found evidence suggesting that early school connectedness may reduce depressive symptoms and aggressive behaviors later on in life. Notably, this association was stronger for girls.

“These findings demonstrate that when Black children felt connected to their school at age 9, they had fewer depressive symptoms and less aggressive behavior issues as adolescents,” Prof. Gale adds. “Simply put, when Black kids feel closely tied to their school, their mental health benefits.”

Prof. Gale believes these findings hold implications for school districts all over the country, and should be viewed as further evidence in support of increased school funding.

“School connectedness, no matter how it’s defined, is about the relationships people in school have with one another,” the study author concludes. “The extent that you can improve the quality of those individual relationships – with funding for smaller classes, for example – is what will lead to improved school connectedness and better student outcomes.”

The study is published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

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Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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