Frank Schofield
superintendent, Logan City School District

My wife recently overheard a young college student talking with her parent about the activities her university offered to help new students become familiar with the university, the community, and other students. The young student expressed her desire to withdraw from the planned activities and finally told her parent, “I just want to go back to my room and binge-watch something.”

Situations we may find overwhelming are real, and many of us may desire to withdraw when we find ourselves in those situations. Although many of us have moments where we need some time to ourselves, we live in a world that provides options for individuals to become increasingly isolated from one another. From working remotely and ordering our groceries for online delivery, to an ever-growing number of options for personal entertainment that allows us to avoid personal interactions (i.e., binge-watching the latest series on Netflix), these incredible conveniences that make our lives easier can diminish the personal connections we need as human beings. This loss of human connection affects our overall well-being. The Cook Center for Human Connection regularly compiles research studies that show that “human connection has been proven to boost mental health and protect against depression, anxiety, and uncertainty. In the company of loved ones, mentors, or trusted advisors, threats become smaller challenges, stigmas can be overcome, and painful shocks become manageable.” When we feel connected, we feel we belong, and we all derive strength from that sense of belonging.

THE IMPORTANCE OF HUMAN CONNECTION AT SCHOOL

This sense of connection is particularly important as children attend school.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, research shows that students who feel a genuine sense of belonging at school are more likely to do well in school, stay in school, and make healthy choices. This sense of belonging is often described as school connectedness. Connected students believe their parents, teachers, school staff, and other students in their school care about them and about how well they are learning.

Scientists who study youth health and behavior understand that strong connections at school help young people have fewer behavioral problems, and this particular connectedness also contributes to school safety by decreasing the likelihood that a student chooses to engage in vandalism or violence against the school or the people in it. School connectedness also improves student attendance, prevents dropping out, and decreases the likelihood of students engaging in other high-risk behaviors, including tobacco use, alcohol use, carrying a weapon, being involved in violence, having sexual intercourse, and experiencing emotional distress or attempting suicide.

Because of the benefits of school connectedness, school employees employ various strategies to help students build connections with others at school.

Encouraging participation in sports and clubs, providing in-class learning activities that encourage students to develop positive relationships with one another, maintaining open lines of communication with parents, and making deliberate efforts to get to know each student’s individual needs and interests are all steps teachers, staff, counselors, coaches, and principals take to help students feel connected to the school.

In the Logan City School District, parents, staff, and students often share “shoutouts” in which they highlight the contributions of
their teachers. Comments like the following illustrate the impact of the work teachers do to help students feel connected:

• “Ms. _______ always knows how to make me have a better day, and cares for all of her students.”

• “I can’t remember a day when Mr. ______ wasn’t happy, positive, and kind. I always look forward to the days when I get to go
to his class.”

• “Ms. ______ always makes me feel like I belong at school, and I know if I need someone to talk to, I can go to her anytime.”

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO INCREASE YOUR CHILD’S CONNECTION TO SCHOOL?

In addition to the actions taken by school employees, there are many things parents can do to help a child become more connected to their school. Some of the options that the Centers for Disease Control recommend include:

• Encourage your child to talk openly with you, teachers, counselors, and other school staff about their ideas, needs, and worries.

• Find out what the school expects your child to learn and how your child should behave in school by talking to teachers and staff, attending school meetings, and reading information the school sends home. Then, support these expectations at home.

• Read school newsletters, attend parent-teacher-student conferences, and checkout the school’s website to learn what is happening at the school. Encourage your child to participate in school activities.

• Interact regularly with your child’s teachers to discuss their grades, behavior, and accomplishments.

• As your schedule allows, help in your child’s classroom, attend after-school events, or participate in school committees and activities. Find out what programs or classes the school offers to help you become more involved in your child’s academic and school life. For example, the Logan City School District provides free online parenting classes and individual consultation with mental health professionals through ParentGuidance.org. These courses are available through the school district’s website and offer training to help parents talk with their children and strengthen the parent-child relationship.

• Communicate with teachers and school staff to suggest simple changes to make the school more pleasant and welcoming, especially if you have specific concerns.

In the words of Melinda Gates, “Deep human connection is … the purpose and the result of a meaningful life — and it will inspire the most amazing acts of love, generosity, and humanity.”

As parents and schools work together to help children feel connected and give them tools to build future connections for themselves, our children will be better prepared to successfully manage the personal relationships that will bring them happiness and fulfillment throughout their lives.