Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial 4.0 by Otago Polytechnic

"I belong at school"

Feeling they belong at school is critically important for the mental health of young people.

Even before the impact of COVID-19 on school attendance and engagement and on students' mental health, secondary school students in New Zealand were experiencing mental health issues. Teachers do not have the knowledge or training to address these, but surely something can be done?

Senior Lecturer Adrienne Buckingham found there are a wealth of evidence-based interventions which were proven to help mental wellbeing. With ethics approval and support from a school and parents, Adrienne implemented some of these proven strategies with a class, not just to help these students but also to find out what might be most effective strategy for New Zealand secondary students.

The results were unequivocal. The number one predictor for wellbeing was a sense of belonging at school. Other strategies, such as understanding their own strengths, learning how the brain works, meditating and practising gratitude, were individually less important although they can be useful tools for develop that sense of belonging.

One of the implications is that cultural safety is critical, so that students do not experience a disconnect between their sense of cultural identity and their school. It is important for schools to be culturally responsive, to enable students from every culture to feel they belong at school.  

Adrienne's research was conducted prior to COVID-19 but remains relevant as the mental health of secondary students continues to suffer. Her results have informed two co-authored chapters in a new book edited by Damian Scarf, Adventure Education and Positive Youth Development in Aotearoa, New Zealand, published by Nova Publications, ISBN 978-1-68507-753-2,