School Connectedness

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School Connectedness
Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs
Bullying and Harassment at School
College Eligibility
Community Connectedness
Food Security
Dating and Domestic Violence
Disconnected Youth
High School Graduation
Math Proficiency
Emotional/Mental Health
Gang Involvement
Pupil Support Service Personnel
Reading Proficiency
School Safety
Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions
Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury
Teen Sexual Health
Why This Topic Is Important
When students feel connected to their schools (i.e., they feel treated fairly, close to people, happy, part of, and safe at school), they are more likely to succeed academically and engage in healthy behaviors. Specifically, school connectedness is associated with better school attendance, retention, and test scores, and lower rates of emotional problems, substance abuse, early sexual initiation, violence, and other risky behaviors (1, 2).

Schools can foster student connectedness by creating safe environments, promoting caring and supportive relationships, and providing opportunities for meaningful participation in the school environment, among other strategies (2).
For more information on school connectedness, see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Adolescent and school health: School connectedness. Retrieved from:

2.  O'Malley, M., & Amarillas, A. (2012). What works brief #4: School connectedness. California Safe and Supportive Schools. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
About half (49%) of California public school students (grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional classes) reported a high level of agreement that teachers or other adults at school had high expectations of them in 2011-13. However, only 34% expressed a high level of agreement that those adults cared about them, and just 15% reported a high level of agreement that they had opportunities for meaningful participation at school. Levels of total school assets (a summary measure that includes student reports of caring adults, high expectations, and meaningful participation) vary by demographic group. For example, 7th and 11th graders more often expressed a high level of school assets (34% and 35%, respectively) than 9th graders (29%). Of all groups of students, males in non-traditional schools least often reported a high level of school assets (22%). Among racial/ethnic groups, White students most often reported high levels of school assets (40%); Latino students least often reported high levels (28%).

School connectedness (a summary measure that includes student reports of being treated fairly, feeling close to people, feeling happy, feeling a part of, and feeling safe at school) also varies by grade and race/ethnicity. In 2011-13, 7th graders reported a high level of school connectedness (49%) more often than 9th (45%) and 11th graders (44%). Among racial/ethnic groups, White students reported a high level of school connectedness most often (54%), while African American/Black students least often reported a high level of school connectedness (34%).
In 2011-13, almost half (49%) of California public school staff (at elementary, middle, high, K-12, and non-traditional schools) reported that "nearly all adults" at their school really care about students, and 39% reported that "nearly all adults" believe that every student can be a success. While 33% of California public school staff in 2011-13 "strongly agreed" that their school motivates students to learn, only 7% reported that "nearly all students" are motivated to learn.

Policy Implications

Students’ sense of connectedness to school is influenced by many factors, such as the nature of relationships with adults and peers at school, feelings of safety, school discipline policies, parent involvement in school, and opportunities to participate in and contribute to activities during and after school (1). California school districts are required to develop annual Local Control and Accountability Plans that address student engagement, parent involvement, and school climate (a broad term to describe the school environment, which includes school connectedness), among other state priorities (2). Education leaders can continue to strengthen policies and practices that enhance school connectedness, thus increasing a key protective factor associated with improved academic outcomes and reduced risky behavior (3, 4). Students who have become disconnected from school or experience frequent school transitions may need additional support (1, 5).

According to research and subject experts, policy options that could improve school connectedness include:

  • Engaging all school stakeholders -- leaders, teachers, students, families, and others -- to develop a shared understanding of what a “positive school climate” means and how it will be implemented (5)
  • Creating environments that foster caring relationships, trust, and open communication among students, teachers, staff, administrators, and families (1, 3, 5)
  • Engaging students in decision-making processes and meaningful activities during and outside of school hours, such as providing opportunities for volunteering, peer tutoring, and service learning projects (1, 3)
  • Creating opportunities for parents to actively participate in school activities and decision-making processes (1, 3, 5) 
  • Offering professional development to teachers and school staff, so that they can effectively support the diverse needs of students and promote healthy behavior (3, 4)
  • Providing students with opportunities to develop skills to help them stay engaged in school, e.g., problem-solving, relationship skills, self-regulation, and decision-making, along with high expectations and the support necessary to achieve them (3, 4)
  • Implementing school-wide, prevention-oriented discipline policies that are fair, consistent, and promote a positive learning environment; such policies should be based on a tiered system of appropriate responses to misconduct that keep students in school when possible (1, 4, 5)
  • Creating clean, appealing physical environments, which can communicate respect to students and foster a sense of community; such efforts have been linked to reduced violence (5)
  • Ensuring that school practices and policies are respectful and responsive to the diverse cultural norms and values of its students, their families, and the broader community (1, 4, 5, 6)

For more policy ideas and information, see California Safe and Supportive Schools and the School Discipline Consensus Report. Also see Policy Implications on under Emotional/Mental Health, High School Graduation, Bullying/Harassment at School, Pupil Support Service Personnel, and Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  O'Malley, M., & Amarillas, A. (2012). What works brief #4: School connectedness. California Safe and Supportive Schools. Retrieved from:

2.  California Assembly Bill 97. (2013). Retrieved from:

3.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Adolescent and school health: School connectedness. Retrieved from:

4.  Voight, A., et al. (2013). A climate for academic success: How school climate distinguishes schools that are beating the achievement odds. California Comprehensive Center. Retrieved from:

5.  Morgan, E., et al. (2014). The school discipline consensus report: Strategies from the field to keep students engaged in school and out of the juvenile justice system. The Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from:

6.  Ross, R. (2013). School climate and equity. National School Climate Center. Retrieved from:


Websites with Related Information
Key Reports
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For School Connectedness