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 Promoting School Connectedness through Positive Youth Development

By Amber Arb
Region V Member

In February 2010 the Pew Research Center released a report on Millennials, the generation of teens and young adults born after 1980.1 According to the Pew Report, Millennials are "far and away the most educated generation with over half of all Millennials (54 percent) having some college education."4 Predicting this trend in educational attainment will continue to grow due to the demands of our current knowledge-based economy, the academic success of young people is becoming increasingly vital to the health of our country.1 Youth advocates and researchers spend a great deal of time trying to influence youth behaviors and environments to promote positive development and a seamless transition into adulthood. Taking into account where young people spend the majority of their time, it is clear that we need to start with the schools.

Feature 10-1.jpgData show that youth who struggle academically engage in higher rates of risk behavior (such as substance use, early sexual initiation, violence and risk of unintentional injury), and conversely, youth who are successful in their academic life engage in fewer risk behaviors.2,3,4 According to the CDC, School Connectedness, defined as the belief by students that adults in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals, has a great deal to do with this positive correlation between academic success and fewer risk behaviors in adolescents.  Reviewing the research on Positive Youth Development will allow for a deeper understanding of how to facilitate School Connectedness.

In 1990, the Search Institute published the well-known list of 40 developmental assets that became the foundation for the principles of Positive Youth Development.3 Listed among the assets are measures echoed by the CDC strategies to improve school connectedness such as: deepening the relationships between youth and adults, promoting a caring school climate, establishing school boundaries (fair disciplinary rules), connecting youth to adult role models who have a vested interest in them personally, connecting youth to peer role models, and setting high expectations for student outcomes.2,3,5 This overlay of youth developmental assets and school relationships and environments provides us with a beginning framework for reaching youth and keeping them actively engaged in school longer.

These changes would essentially change the school culture, which is not easy and cannot be done by just one person. Change takes sustained effort and a willingness to share power, resources and time. The CDC recommends several strategies to navigate the change process including:

  • Create a decision-making process that facilitates student, family, and community engagement, academic achievement, and staff empowerment
  • Provide educational opportunities that enable families to be actively involved in their children's academic and school life
  • Provide students with the academic, social and emotional skills necessary to actively engage in school
  • Use effective classroom management and teaching methods to foster a positive learning environment
  • Provide professional development and support for teachers and other school staff to enable them to meet the diverse cognitive, emotional and social needs of youth
  • Create a trusting and caring environment that promotes open communication among administrators, teachers, staff, students, families and communities 5

School connectedness is more than a feeling of belonging. It involves intentional actions that include youth, families, schools and communities. The sustained effort and resources to create protective spaces and relationships for youth is a challenge that, if addressed, could mediate later risk for youth and help young people navigate their place in the global knowledge-driven world.

  1. Pew Research Center. The Millennials: Confident, Connected, and Open to Change. 2010.
  2. Search Institute.(1997) 40 Developmental assets for adolescents®, 1997, 2007
  3. School connectedness: Strategies for increasing protective factors among youth. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2009.
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013) Youth Risk Behavior Survey Report 2013- United States.
  5. Blum, Robert, School connectedness: Improving lives of students. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009) Health & Academics Data & Statistics.