Côté-Lussier C, Fitzpatrick C. (2016). Feelings of safety at school, socio-emotional functioning and classroom engagement. Journal of Adolescent Health. 58, 543-555.
Purpose : Classroom engagement is a key indicator of student motivation, learning potential, and the eventual probability of persisting to high-school completion. This study investigated whether feeling unsafe at school interferes with classroom engagement and simultaneously considered whether this association is mediated by poorer student well-being in the form of experiencing symptoms of depression and demonstrating aggressive behavior problems. Methods: Data were from the Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, an ongoing study that began in 1998 with a population-based cohort of 2,120 Quebec 5-month-old infants. Structural equation modeling was used to test the central hypothesis that concurrent youth self-reported feelings of a lack of safety at school are associated with poorer teacher-reported student classroom engagement (at age 13 years) and the mediating role of emotional and behavioral problems. The model controlled for concurrent measures of victimization, the school safety climate, and earlier measures of students’ academic adjustment. Results : The findings support the central hypothesis that youth who feel safer at school are also more engaged in the classroom (p ≤ .05). Students who felt safer demonstrated less depressive symptoms, but this only partly explained the association between feeling safe and being engaged. Conclusions : Increasing student feelings of safety at school (e.g., by reducing victimization, improving the overall school and neighborhood safety climate) is likely to represent an effective strategy for promoting classroom engagement. Such interventions could also contribute to future academic achievement and high-school completion and decrease symptoms of mental health problems among youth.