Dr. Ned Hallowell is a noted child psychologist and author of many books including, Connect. The book discusses the need for people, students and adults alike, to have vital connections in their lives. Though the book weaves its way between its application to adults and adolescents; there is much to be learned for both parties, and certainly for schools.
This idea of connection is defined by Hallowell as "feeling a part of something larger than yourself, feeling close to another person or group, feeling welcomed or understood-with contacts."
In a study completed by Dr. Hallowell, he looks at American adolescents and time and time again the theme of connection became obvious. He states, "From the huge amount of data, one factor emerged as the most telling: connectedness. Those students who did well had it, while those who didn't lacked it." He also found that the connected students "were the least depressed, had the highest self-esteem, felt most comfortable with their families, were the most positive about their education, and had the highest grade point averages."
The two most important sources for connection among the adolescents in Hallowell's study were, not surprisingly, family connections and school connections. There was no formula for these connections, however, as the feeling of connection varied from different family configurations to every sort of school. He states, "No one kind of school was best. All that mattered was that the student felt connected."
At Harding Academy, as with many schools, efforts are made in many ways to provide the opportunity for students to connect. Required interscholastic athletics, for example, is less about wins and losses than it is about the experience a student has throughout the season with teammates and coaches. Connections with one's art, theater, music and computer teachers, and classmates are fostered and nurtured through curriculum and personal interaction. We hope the House System will also become an important and necessary part of our program as well. Community service provides connections to the larger community and allow students to connect with teachers and each other in a different way than they would in the classroom.
There is no blue print for getting adolescents to feel this sense of connection, but a culture can be created where it's difficult for a student not to find a way to achieve the contact Dr. Hallowell writes about, and this is certainly our goal at Harding.