Relationships with Caring Adults and Social and Emotional Strengths Are Related to High School Academic Achievement

By Vanessa Sacks, Rebecca M. Jones, Hannah Rackers, Zakia Redd, & Kristin Anderson Moore, Child Trends

youthCONNECT is an integrated student supports initiative, developed by Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP), that is being implemented in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in partnership with the Prince George’s County government and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS). At Suitland High School, the youthCONNECT theory of change posits that providing college and career preparation services, life skills training, and a connection to a caring adult—all via a coordinated network of five nonprofit organizations working in collaboration with each other and with school staff—will improve students’ healthy behaviors, engagement in school, and social and emotional skills. Additionally, youthCONNECT aims to leverage these improvements into stronger academic outcomes, high school success, and to postsecondary engagement and employment.

Using data from a student survey, school administrative records, and youthCONNECT Network Partner program data, Child Trends found evidence in support of this theory of change. In particular:

  • Students who have a relationship with a caring adult—as well as students who have an adult to talk to about educational and career decisions—are more likely to report strong social and emotional outcomes, avoid risky behaviors, and have better academic outcomes.
  • Students who report engaging in fewer risky behaviors have better academic outcomes.

This brief is the second in a series of reports describing youthCONNECT at Suitland High School. The first report reviewed the history of youthCONNECT and identified several lessons learned for collecting and using student data (see the related research box to the right). Upcoming reports will describe findings from the youthCONNECT evaluation and compare the outcomes of students served by youthCONNECT to their peers.

About 1,900 students attend Suitland High School each year, and the findings in this report draw on data from 721 students—some of whom received youthCONNECT programming and some who did not—who completed a student survey that Child Trends and VPP developed to assess short- and mid-term outcomes from the youthCONNECT theory of change. These students and their parents or guardians also gave permission for Child Trends to access their academic records, including for grades, attendance, and suspensions. About 60 percent of the 721 students self-identified as female, and about 60 percent were in either 11th or 12th grade. Child Trends analyzed the data to predict various outcomes, controlling for several key demographic and economic characteristics: gender, race and ethnicity (although about 90% of students at Suitland High School, and in the data for this analysis, are Black and non Hispanic), eligibility for Free and Reduced Price Meals (FARMs), age, and grade level. For more details on the methods used in this analysis, see the text box at the end of this report.

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