New data reveals only half of students feel welcome in their schools

Feeling a sense of belonging and connectedness to one's school is important for ensuring engagement and motivation in the classroom. The pandemic has damaged this feeling for many students.

As schools prepare to welcome their students back for the upcoming post-pandemic school year, it is crucial that those students feel like they belong. When they feel at home in their schools, they are much more likely to excel academically and show greater levels of academic success, engagement and motivation, and physical and emotional health, according to 2020 data from the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Furthermore, creating a welcoming environment for students also helps those who learn differently by connecting them with their teachers and peers. “When students feel a sense of belonging, they’re going to learn more and retain more information,” said Simmi Goomer, chief learning and impact officer at Eye to Eye. “They’re going to be willing to take more risks in their learning, and they’re hopefully going to have a sense of dignity as they move through that learning.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic has taken a toll on students and their sense of belonging in their schools, according to new research from Qualtrics released this week.

More than 1,000 high school students in the U.S. were asked about their connectedness to their peers, teachers and staff members. Here are the main findings:

Nearly half of students feel they don’t belong

  • 51% of respondents feel a sense of belonging at their schools compared to 81% of college students.
  • 52% of respondents are comfortable being themselves at school compared to 83% of college students.
  • 56% of respondents feel their school experience is satisfactory compared to 86% of college students.

One key element that could help students feel welcome is to foster a supportive student-teacher relationship. In the current state of education, findings show:

  • Only 32% feel comfortable enough to talk to a teacher about a personal issue.
  • 39% of students are confident their teacher would be sensitive to their issues.
  • Just half of students feel comfortable reaching out to their teacher outside of the classroom.
  • 66% of students say they can talk to their teacher about an academic issue.

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Stakeholders are at risk

  • Public school students report the lowest levels of belonging (48%).
  • Students who participate in free or reduced-price lunches report a lower sense of belonging compared to those who don’t (49% vs. 58%).
  • Females report a lower sense of belonging than males (50% vs. 58%).
  • Students who swapped high schools after ninth grade report a lower sense of belonging (40%).

Sense of belonging = more graduates

Students who report high levels of belonging are more likely to:

  • Feel thankful for their schools (83% vs. 32%).
  • Feel their experience is satisfactory (79% vs. 31%).
  • Commit to graduate (93% vs. 84%).
  • Recommend their current school to others (31% vs. 5%).

According to the data, students gave three key reasons they wouldn’t graduate from their current school:

  • They don’t like their current school (38%).
  • They don’t feel connected with their teachers (28%).
  • They don’t feel welcome (25%).

Read the full report here.

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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