Fostering School Connectedness: Improving Student Health and Academic Achievement

Information for School Districts and School Administrators

This fact sheet answers questions about school connectedness and identifies strategies school districts and administrators can use to foster it among their students.

A group of school staff

School connectedness is the belief held by students that the adults and peers in their school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals. Students who feel connected to school are more likely to have a number of positive health and academic outcomes.

Why is it important for students to feel connected to school?

School connectedness is an important factor in both health and learning. Students who feel connected to school are

  • More likely to attend school regularly, stay in school longer, and have higher grades and test scores.
  • Less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or have sexual intercourse.
  • Less likely to carry weapons, become involved in violence, or be injured from dangerous activities such as drinking and driving or not wearing seat belts.
  • Less likely to have emotional problems, suffer from eating disorders, or experience suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Implementation of evidence-based health promotion programs, coupled with strategies to promote school connectedness, can help schools have the greatest impact on the health and education outcomes of their students.

What factors can increase school connectedness?

Four factors can help strengthen school connectedness for students: adult support, belonging to a positive peer group, commitment to education, and a positive school environment. School staff members are important adults in students’ lives; the time, interest, attention, and emotional support they give students can engage them in school and learning.

What steps can school administrators take to increase school connectedness?

School Connectedness: Strategies for Increasing Protective Factors Among Youthpdf icon (Division of Adolescent and School Health, CDC, 2009) describes six science-based strategies for fostering school connectedness. The chart below outlines the six strategies and describes specific actions school districts and administrators can take to influence their implementation in schools.

Strategies and Actions School Administrators Can Take to Increase School Connectedness

School Connectedness Is Especially Important for At-Risk Youth

School connectedness is particularly important for young people who are at increased risk for feeling alienated or isolated from others. Any student who is “different” from the social norm may have difficulty connecting with other students and adults in the school, and may be more likely to feel unsafe. Those at greater risk for feeling disconnected include students with disabilities, students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or question their sexual orientation, students who are homeless, or any student who is chronically truant due to a variety of circumstances. Strong family involvement and supportive school personnel, inclusive school environments, and curricula that reflect the realities of a diverse student body can help students become more connected to their school.

What should school administrators consider when planning for action to improve school connectedness?

Advancing students’ health and academic outcomes by improving school connectedness is a team effort. It involves the school community as well as individuals, groups, and organizations outside the school grounds. Making changes of this kind requires 1) convincing these stakeholders of the importance of school connectedness in helping students learn and stay healthy, 2) involving them in the development, implementation, and evaluation of these actions, and 3) securing their buy-in to ensure the changes happen.

Some of the strategies and actions described in the previous pages require small changes in school processes that can be done in the short term with relative ease, whereas others might be broader and longer-term and might require administrative or budgetary changes. Schools and school districts should determine which actions are most feasible and appropriate, according to the needs of the school and available resources.