To assist schools in making informed decisions around student health and well-being, NAIS partnered with Dr. Suniya Luthar, a leading expert on resilience in adolescents, and her organization Authentic Connections to launch a pilot research study with eight NAIS member schools.
The High Achieving Schools Survey (HASS) examined student well-being in a comprehensive manner by learning about students’ substance use, mental health, state of relationships, and perception of their school community. Authentic Connections has conducted the HASS in schools across the country, creating a thorough, up-to-date data set of student wellness and behavior. In this pilot study for NAIS, Authentic Connections used its extensive data collection to compare eight independent schools to the national average of High Achieving Schools (HAS). This report walks through the key findings of the pilot study.
Students in the pilot schools reported substance use similar to the national HAS trends; 9.9% commonly use vaping products at clinically significant levels, followed by marijuana (6.5%). Students turn to substances primarily to relieve stress and for socialization. Cigarettes were more commonly used in the eight pilot schools (5.3%) than in the HAS nationally (4.1%).
Rates of depression, anxiety, and rule-breaking were also higher in the eight pilot schools studied than the national average. Almost 10% of the students in the pilot schools have clinically significant levels of depression (9.6%) and anxiety (9.4%). This is contrasted to 7.3% of students nationally with clinically significant levels of depression and 6.7% with anxiety. Additionally, 8.9% of the pilot school students surveyed partake in clinically significant levels of rule-breaking behaviors, compared to 6.8% of HAS students nationally.
Relationships and school climate were also surveyed to see which of the variables studied had the strongest, unique links with substance use and mental health factors, meaning which links stood out from the other variables studied. Peer sexual harassment, teacher alienation, and mom alienation had the strongest positive associations with the substance use and symptoms examined. When schools understand the predictor variables with the strongest associations with negative behaviors and mental health issues, they can work to address most critical modifiable aspects of school and home culture.