Added November 1, 2017
In this study, data were collected from 254 middle grades (5-8) students enrolled in a rural southern school district to determine the influence variables such as self-esteem, mattering, and school connectedness have on these students’ perceived sense of overall wellness. Using a two-step hierarchical multiple regression analysis, the school connectedness variable was determined to significantly improve the amount of variance in students’ perceived sense of overall wellness accounted for by self-esteem and mattering alone. In other words, students who felt that adults and peers at their school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals were more likely to report a greater degree of wellness than those students who did not perceive such a connection.
Professional school counselors should focus on student wellness for a variety of reasons. While wellness develops across the lifespan, its promotion during adolescence is especially important if individuals are to live healthy and well throughout their lives. Among adolescents, poor wellness has been associated with delinquent behaviors and psychosocial issues, and serves as a reliable precursor for adult levels of wellness. Consequently, teaching adolescents how to maintain optimal mental health early in life maximizes the chances that they will become more likely to enjoy a positive quality of life; function well at home, in school, and in the community; and buffer the emergence of myriad behavioral health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. Through the development of interventions and preventative programs designed to promote both mental and physical wellness, professional school counselors can have a positive impact in the lives of the children they serve.
The findings from this study highlight the value of school counselors fostering school connectedness as another way of enhancing adolescent wellness. In the computed hierarchical regression model, the researcher found that school connectedness explained an additional 8% of the variance in adolescent wellness after controlling for factors such as self-esteem and mattering. Recognizing the relationship between school connectedness and adolescent wellness, school counselors might consider including several of the effective strategies for promoting school connectedness identified by the CDC (2009) in their wellness-based guidance curricula. One strategy school counselors might try is implementing joint decision-making processes facilitating student engagement and academic achievement. Another is conducting need assessments to determine changes or modifications students would like to see to the school’s physical environment or institutional culture that would make it more pleasant. Finally, planning campus-wide activities encourage students to develop friendships with others at the school and begin feeling like part of a larger community.
In terms of reaching out beyond the school walls, school counselors also can enhance students’ sense of school connectedness through collaborations with parents. By increasing parental involvement, student engagement often increases by extension. Regular communication with parents and guardians helps inform them of what is going on at the school and how they can help in creating a continuous learning environment for their children. Additionally, conducting parent workshops that teach behavior management skills or share ideas for creating a supportive learning environment that promotes child academic development can be beneficial.
Based on the findings reported on in this study, school counselors should consider delivering responsive counseling services aimed at increasing students’ sense of connectedness to their school as a means of promoting positive lifestyle changes that will help meet the wide range of developmental needs common in early adolescence. In addition, the potential improvement in well-being resulting from a stronger sense of school connectedness will serve as a protective factor against future physical and mental health concerns.
Joshua C. Watson, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
Joshua C. Watson, Ph.D.
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