Skip to content

U. professors find Black students' school connectedness correlates with developmental health

Adrian Gale, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, and Lenna Nepomnyaschy, an associate professor in the School of Social Work, studied the effects of Black students' sense of belonging in primary schools and its correlation to depression and aggressive behavior as they age.  – Photo by

Earlier this month, Adrian Gale, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, published a study analyzing the correlation between Black students' relationships with their school communities.

Gale said that, as the lead author of the study, the goal of his research was to explore the relationship between how connected teens feel to their schools and the effect this had on their mental health.

"I'm interested in their perceptions of the climate within their schools, the support that they receive inside their schools, the extent to which they feel that they belong and, of course, how or the extent to which they feel connected to their school," he said.

Results of the study concluded that individuals' school connectedness perceptions had a direct correlation with their mental health six years later, Gale said. The correlation presents itself as depression and aggressive behaviors.

Lenna Nepomnyaschy, an associate professor in the School of Social Work, said the term "school connectedness" is measured through a survey that asks how often children feel like they are part of their schools, how close they are to others in school and the degrees to which they feel happy and safe at school.

Nepomnyaschy said she has been observing the data sets utilized in this research since 2001, and when she heard of Gale's research, she thought this study would be an excellent way to examine his research questions.

"This study is unique because it contains a large, population-based, representative sample of Black adolescents and their families, who were being followed from birth," she said.

Regarding methods, Nepomnyaschy said they utilized multivariate linear regression to confirm that the relationship between school connectedness and mental health in adolescents was directly related, and not driven by confounding variables.

Gale and Nepomnyaschy used the data set from the Future of Families and Child Wellbeing Study that included surveys from 5,000 adolescents whose families were interviewed at the time of the child's birth, as well as periodically through their childhoods until the age of 15, she said.

"We looked at (children's reports) of their connectedness at school at age nine and their mental health at age 15, which we measured as their self-reported depression symptoms and their parent-reported aggressive behaviors," Nepomnyaschy said.

Gale said the analysis showed that if school connectedness was exhibited at age nine, there was a correlation to lower rates of depression and aggression at age 15. He said the influence of connectedness was more substantial for female students rather than male students.

Gale also said that school environments are essential to analyzing the trends in the mental health of adolescents.

"Adolescents spend a large amount of time in their schools or interacting with their peers. I think schools are a place that we can focus on when it comes to the uptick in mental health issues that adolescents face," he said.

Gale said overall school connectedness is important for everyone, even those who did not take part in the study.

"Social connectedness matters," he said. "I think these findings point to something that we have known as a society, but maybe we move away from because we're connected electronically. School connectedness matters, our connectedness in general matters."

Related Articles

Join our newsletterSubscribe