Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling and Psychological Services

First Advisor

Kristen Varjas - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Andrew Roach - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Gabriel Kuperminc - Committee Member

Fourth Advisor

Joel Meyers - Committee Member


Researchers have demonstrated that students who had a strong sense of school belonging exhibited greater academic motivation and performance (E. Anderman, 2002; Faircloth & Hamm, 2005), had fewer emotional and behavioral difficulties (Furrer & Skinner, 2003; McMahon, Singh, Garner, & Benhorin; 2004), and were less likely to dropout of school (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004; Knesting, 2008). Limited attention has been given to the potential factors that promote school belonging, especially in high school students. The purpose of this research was to examine the unique influence of adult connections on high school students’ sense of school belonging utilizing the framework of self-determination theory. The role of adult connections was examined as a moderator of the relations between five student risk factors (behavior problems, peer problems, minority ethnicity, male gender, and poverty) and school belonging. This cross-sectional study analyzed data from a survey completed by 368 ninth grade students. The survey consisted of items from existing instruments, including the Psychological Sense of School Membership (Goodenow, 1993a), the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (Goodman, Meltzer, & Bailey, 2003), and the Basic Need Satisfaction in Relationships Scale (La Guardia, Ryan, Couchman, & Deci, 2000). Hierarchical regression analyses confirmed study hypotheses by indicating that adult connections was a significant predictor of the students’ sense of school belonging and significantly moderated the relationship between school belonging and behavior problems (p < .05). Additional analyses indicated that adult connections accounted for more of the variance in school belonging for males than for females. These findings supported the importance of adult connections in high school students’ sense of school belonging. Future research should address the relationship between adult connections and school belonging as it evolves over students’ high school careers.