Forget grades: Bad schools are hazardous to kids’ mental health

6a0105369e3ea1970b0147e362657f970b 320wi - Forget grades: Bad schools are hazardous to kids' mental health What schools need to succeed is a hot debate – but we all know that a school that doesn’t have what it needs will fail.  

What we don’t know, what we’re just beginning to ask, is:  what impact does a failing school have on a child’s mental health? 

A recent study published in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, looked at how lack of resources in the classroom impacts mental health. Researches found that children who attended schools that did not have the resources for supplies or for their teachers to focus on teaching, were more likely to have mental health problems.

The study used a representative sample of 10,700 first graders. Their teachers and parents were interviewed as a part of the study.

They found five aspects of the classroom that they believe impacts a child’s learning and sense of safety in a classroom.  They are:


Material resources – This includes supplies and the room itself. Imagine using old textbooks in a classroom that barely has heat or air conditioning, with torn up walls and decaying desks. 

Teachers – A teacher’s experience in the classroom as well as in the school is central to their ability to teach. Researchers found a link between the amount of respect a teacher thinks they receive and a teacher’s impact the on classroom environment. If teachers do not feel respected by their colleagues and the school administration that frustration can ooze in to their interactions with their student and show up as apathy or impatience.

School Bureaucracy – The over-emphasis on fulfilling the educational requirements for school assessment tests can dominate the learning experience. Teachers are required to teach for the tests more than in the past. Assessments require paperwork and paperwork requires more time and energy to complete, leaving very little for the teachers and the students.

Academic standards – Teachers may feel that the academic standards for the school are too low. Their perceived lack of input in the school curriculum may block creativity and create a boring learning environment for kids and teachers.

Student discipline – Teachers in this study reported that “problem behaviors” in classrooms made it difficult for them to focus on teaching.  Children who are acting out their rage, frustration, anxiety and stress classroom would benefit from counseling and strong social support systems.


The researchers found that if these five aspects of the classroom environment were negative or just outright bad, children were more likely to be stressed, depressed, anxious, and act out.

A school environment that is unable to meet the needs of the children isn’t just denying them opportunity:  it’s stunting their growth and damaging their communities.  

What this suggests is that we can’t just treat school funding as an educational issue — a question of whether students will pass or fail a test.  It’s also an environmental issue.  Poorly performing schools without adequate resources damage children and poison neighborhoods the way other environmental hazards do.

— Makenna Berry 

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