The AC Blog

The AC Blog
Nicole Hager Headshot

Nicole Hager Joins AC as Director of School Partnerships

We are excited to welcome Nicole Hager to the AC team as the Director of School Partnerships. For the last 30 years, she has been an administrator in independent schools and her work has focused primarily on student well-being. Nicole has worked closely with Authentic Connections for the last eight years, in two different schools; she brings her knowledge of independent schools, her passion for student health and wellness, and her sincere interest in helping schools know, understand, and respond to the needs of the students and educators in their communities to her new role at AC.

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Amy Wintermeyer Headshot

Amy Wintermeyer Joins AC As Director of School Programming

We are thrilled to announce that Amy Wintermeyer has joined our team as Director of School Programming! She will be a primary resource for schools as they partner with AC, and will be involved in synthesizing survey results, presenting at conferences, and expanding the reach and work of Authentic Connections around the U.S. and abroad.

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Individual Attributes White Paper

Individual Student Attributes During COVID

While research shows that students’ relationships with parents, peers, and other trusted adults are key to their resilience, individual attributes of students themselves, such as satisfaction with life or feelings of authenticity, also play a role in their well-being. In a new white paper, the final in our series based on results from the High Achieving Schools Survey administered to schools in the fall of 2020, we share the individual attributes most closely linked with high levels of anxiety, depression, rule-breaking, and substance use in students. We also examine the influence of sleep quality on students and delve into differences between demographic subgroups to better understand the experiences of minority groups. Based on these findings, we share focus areas and recommendations for schools to consider as they think about how best to support their students.

Read The White Paper →
Dr. Suniya Luthar

In Memoriam: Suniya Luthar

Suniya S. Luthar passed on February 16, 2023 at the age of 64 after two years of increasing health difficulties. In addition to being a beloved mother, sister, friend, mentor, and teacher, Suniya was a distinguished developmental and clinical psychologist and internationally renowned scholar in resilience research; her career was focused on understanding processes in resilience among diverse at-risk groups and on applying insights in prevention. Suniya was deeply committed to developing community-based interventions and leaves behind a rich body of scientific publications.

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Dr. Jessica Joiner - Scientific Researcher

Dr. Jessica Joiner Joins AC As Scientific Researcher!

We are thrilled to announce that Dr. Jessica Joiner has joined our team as a Researcher based in New York, NY! Jessica started with AC at the beginning of the fall 2022 semester and has been working to further enhance our analyses processes, particularly around free response, qualitative data. Moving forward, Jessica will be involved in synthesizing the survey results, and creating the interactive dashboards, for our partner schools.

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AC Fall 2022 Updates

Fall 2022 Dashboard and Survey Updates

As an organization, our goal is to improve mental health and well-being in schools. Each semester, we update our offerings to ensure that they are as helpful as possible to our partner schools. We make these updates based on current scientific research, findings from our work, and in response to feedback from our partner schools.

Our most recent round of updates, available to schools surveying in the 2022-2023 school year, focuses on streamlining our operations processes to make it easier to collaborate with our team, simplifying dashboard navigation to help users quickly find information, and updating survey measures based on the latest research.

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Dr. Stephanie Ramsey - Scientific Researcher

Dr. Stephanie Ramsey Joins AC As Scientific Researcher!

We are excited to announce that Dr. Stephanie Ramsey has joined our team as a Researcher based in New York, NY! Stephanie will work with the AC team to develop scientifically validated instruments, analyze survey results for our partner schools, and derive recommendations for schools to improve student and educator well-being. Stephanie’s expertise will further enhance our ability to provide schools with actionable information to support community well-being.

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HASS School Climate White Paper

School Climate and Student Well-Being During COVID

Research shows that safe and welcoming school environments and the presence of supportive adults are key to student well-being (Ebbert and Luthar, 2021). In a new white paper, the fourth in our series based on results from the High Achieving Schools Survey administered to schools in fall 2020, we share the aspects of school climate most closely linked with levels of student anxiety, depression, rule-breaking, and substance use. We also delve into differences between demographic subgroups to better understand the experiences of minority groups. Finally, we share focus areas and recommendations for schools to consider as they think about how best to support student well-being in the coming academic year.

Read the White Paper →
Impact of COVID 19 on Student Well-being

AC Publishes Study on Student Resilience During COVID-19

The latest Social Policy Report from the Society for Research in Child Development includes a first-of-its-kind study by Dr. Suniya Luthar and the AC research team detailing student well-being among over 14,000 students assessed during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic. This post summarizes the major findings from the paper and shares recommendations for schools to consider when thinking about how best to minimize mental health issues moving forward.

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HASS Student Peer Relationships

Student-Peer Relationships During COVID: Recommendations for Schools

Peer relationships are an essential component of students’ well-being; positive and supportive relationships are linked to higher life satisfaction and better mental health, while bullying and meanness can cause serious harm. Over the course of the pandemic, students were often separated from their close friends by distance learning and COVID-safety protocols. At the same time, some negative aspects of student relationships, such as the ability for students to compare their lives to the curated lives of their peers on social media, went unchecked.

The AC team has published a new white paper examining different aspects of peer relationships and the effect these relationships had on students’ well-being. This white paper, the third in our series on findings from the schools that administered our High Achieving Schools Survey (HASS) last fall, highlights the aspects of student-peer relationships most linked with well-being and shares ways that schools can help create supportive relationships moving forward.

Read the White Paper →
American Psychological Association (APA) Logo

A Case Study: Achievement Pressures Among Asian American Students

Through its close research collaborations with high achieving schools, Authentic Connections has shown many times over that intense pressures to succeed can take a grave toll on young people’s mental health. Until now, in the field of risk and resilience research more broadly, little work has focused on the impact of the high-achieving school environment on ethnic minorities, and this is especially true for Asian American students. As a contribution to a special issue of American Psychologist, AC recently published new research exploring the impact of achievement pressure on Asian American youths.

Read More and Access the Full Paper →
Funding Sources for AC Surveys and Services

Funding Sources for AC Survey and Services

AC is committed to helping all schools and districts maximize community resilience. To aid schools in sustaining well-being initiatives, we have compiled a list of grants and funding that can be used towards our work together.

See Funding Options →
Fall 2021 Demo Dashboard

Fall 2021 Dashboard and Survey Updates

Since the start of the COVID pandemic Authentic Connections has collaborated with over 150 schools. We have been lucky to learn from each of our partners, whose feedback has informed our work and shaped the development of our surveys, dashboards, and support services.

Our latest round of updates, available to schools surveying in the 2021-2022 school year, are focused on providing a simplified view of demographic groups to identify those that may need additional attention, streamlining dashboard operations to make it easier than ever to dive into findings, and updating survey measures based on the latest research.

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Mental Health Icon

University School of Nashville Takes a Data-Driven Approach to Student Well-being

School administrators, faculty, and staff have many competing priorities when it comes to promoting student success, but there is one consideration that should take precedence above all others- protecting students’ mental health and well-being.

In the Summer 2021 issue of Independent School Magazine, Dr. Quinton Walker, Upper School Division Head at the University School of Nashville, argues that positive student mental health is the foundation for all other important school outcomes: academic performance, student achievement, learning, and more. Dr. Walker discusses how schools can take a data-driven approach to supporting student mental health by identifying the factors most linked with well-being and taking direct action to address student concerns.

Read about USN’s ongoing partnership with Authentic Connections to measure and support student resilience and well-being, and how the work we’ve accomplished together has had clear benefits for their students’ experiences.

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American Psychological Association Logo

A New Measure to Directly Assess the Impact of Adverse Childhood Events on Future Well-being

It has been widely documented that Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs)– defined as serious instances of childhood abuse and neglect– have a significant impact on childrens’ future well-being. A recent paper from the Authentic Connections team, published in American Psychology, documents findings on the impact of aspects of students’ home life on their future psychological diagnoses.

Click below to read more and access the paper.

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HASS Parents White Paper

High-Achieving Schools Survey: The Impact of Parent-Student Relationships on Student Well-being

Over the next several months, we will be publishing a series of white papers based on findings from the High Achieving Schools Survey (HASS), our comprehensive assessment of mental health and well-being in relation to risk and protective factors at home and at school among students in grades 6-12. The first white paper, available now, details the aspects of family functioning most likely to be linked with resilience in adolescents.

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PRS Announcement

Announcing the Parent Resilience Survey

At Authentic Connections, we know from science that students’ well-being is inextricably tied to the well-being of their primary caregivers. To that end, we’ve created the Parent Resilience Survey (PRS) to help our partner schools better support parents and families in their school communities. As with faculty and staff, it is important to understand which modifiable factors tend to be most strongly linked with positive well-being and low burnout in the caregiving role.

Read more about how schools can use the PRS to add parents' perception of the school climate into their decision making process.

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NAIS and AC Deepen Collaboration

For years, AC has worked closely with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) to support well-being in member schools and share comprehensive findings through webinars, conferences, and reports. Today, we are excited to announce a deepening of our collaboration.

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Richard Alrachid

A Student's Perspective on the Importance of SEL Support

Richard Alrachid, a student at the Webb Schools of California and founder of the non-profit No Mind Left Behind, shares his perspective on the importance of social-emotional supports in school communities.

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Executive Summary Dashboard

Spring 2021 Dashboards Update

Authentic Connections empowers schools with the data they need to improve their community’s well-being, and helps schools celebrate their successes. With an eye towards constant learning, reflection, and improvement, twice a year we update our survey questions and results dashboards to ensure that our partner schools find the insights we provide as relevant and useful as possible. Given the unpredictability caused by the pandemic, adaptability to the ever-changing environment has never been more important.

For our most recent round of improvements, we’ve focused on updating our results dashboards to be easier to understand, share, and discuss with all members of the school community– including students, parents, and faculty/staff– in conversations around well-being.

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AC Advisory Board

Announcing the Authentic Connections Advisory Board

Authentic Connections is incredibly excited to announce the creation of our Independent School Advisory Board! The Board is composed of 10 well-respected leaders who will bring a wealth and diversity of experience and knowledge to AC. Board members will work closely with the AC team to shape the education wellness landscape and drive improvements in mental health and well-being in school communities.

See the 10 leaders included on the first AC Advisory Board!

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Students of Color

The COVID Pandemic and Students of Color

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people of color at disproportionate rates. However, how the pandemic has impacted the mental health of minority students has remained unexamined - until now. Read more about findings on students of color in our recent white paper.

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Children's Resilience Survey (CRS)

Announcing the Children's Resilience Survey for Students in Grades 2-5

Authentic Connections has launched the Children’s Resilience Survey (CRS), a reimagining of our Student Resilience Survey (SRS) for students in grades 2-5. We know from developmental science that anxiety and depression can begin affecting children at a young age, and we are committed to helping our partner schools proactively address factors impacting the resilience and well-being of all members of their communities. We believe it is crucial to support students during their formative years, especially during times of extreme uncertainty.

Read on for more information about the CRS and to find out how to get started today!

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Faculty Resilience Survey (FRS) Whitepaper

Preliminary Findings from the Faculty Resilience Survey

Rates of burnout, stress, and attrition are high amongst educators in normal times, and these issues have only been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and school closures. Since the start of the pandemic, faculty and staff have been asked to take on even more responsibility, often while teaching across multiple modalities, caring for student academic and emotional well-being, and providing care for their own family.

Between April and June of 2020, our Faculty Resilience Survey (FRS) was administered to a total of 4,356 faculty and staff members from 55 schools across the United States. All assessments were done after schools had moved to distance learning. 

We recently published a whitepaper analyzing initial results from these data. This analysis identified three variables most strongly associated with faculty's symptoms: low levels of feeling heard by leadership, low structure of days, and high levels of support requested. In responses to open-ended questions, faculty and staff often highlighted appreciation of support and desire for an abundance of communication from school leadership.

The report concludes with a discussion of what we at AC believe schools should focus on in order to best support faculty and staff well-being and resilience, along with specific, actionable recommendations based on what we have learned thus far in the pandemic. We will continue to carefully track well-being using the Faculty Resilience Survey, and distill findings to help all schools bolster resilience.

Read the Whitepaper →
Well-Being Index Survey

The Well-Being Index (WBI) for Schools: A Brief Measure of Adolescents’ Mental Health

Schools are taking an increasingly central role in addressing the rising mental health concerns of their student bodies. However, measures used to assess adolescents’ mental health either take a substantial amount of time to administer or are narrow in scope. Authentic Connections works with schools and communities to foster resilience and improve mental health using scientifically validated methods. As part of this work, the team developed a new measure, called the Well-Being Index (WBI) to support schools in efficiently and accurately measuring student mental health. The WBI is brief and easy to administer, enabling schools to use it to monitor and promote youth wellbeing.
The AC team recently published a paper on the reliability and validity of the WBI measure. Read the full post to learn more about the WBI and how it can be used to provide insight into student well-being without causing survey fatigue.

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Social Comparisons in High-Achieving Schools

Students in High-Achieving Schools: Perils of Pressures to Be “Standouts”

In the USA, large percentages of youth spend significant time on social media sites, such as YouTube (85%), Instagram (72%), and Snapchat (69%). At the same time, students in high-achieving schools (HASs) manifest disturbingly high rates of anxiety, depression, and substance use. In light of this, Authentic Connections conducted a study to discern the relationship between social media, achievement pressures, and adolescent distress.

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Fall 2020 Survey Release

Fall Updates: AC Dashboards and Surveys

Continually informed by cutting-edge science, we’ve made several improvements to our dashboards and to all surveys, incorporating what we learned from over 70 schools assessed for students’ and adults’ resilience during distance learning. With the updated dashboards, users will be able to explore more granular data on at-risk students; compare their school's results to different sets of norms; and illuminate still more specific, actionable intervention directions. Multiple refinements have also been incorporated in our three Fall 2020 Survey offerings: Two student surveys, the long-form High Achieving Schools Survey (HASS) and the short-form Student Resilience Survey (SRS), and one survey for faculty and staff, the Faculty Resilience Survey (FRS). Please read on to see details of these changes.

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SRS Dashboard Screenshot

Preliminary Findings from the Student Resilience Survey

Between April and June of 2020, the Student Resilience Survey (SRS) was administered to a total of 15,331 students in grades 6-12 from 54 independent and public schools throughout the United States. All assessments were done after schools had moved to distance learning.

Analyses of risk and protective factors identified three variables most strongly associated with students’ symptoms: low parent relationship quality, low structure of days, and high levels of distraction. In responses to open-ended questions, students often highlighted appreciation of support and understanding from school adults.

The report concludes with a discussion of what we at Authentic Connections believe educators need in order to improve student well-being and resilience, along with specific, actionable recommendations based on what we have learned thus far in the pandemic. We will continue to carefully track students’ well-being in the fall, with updated measures that can be implemented across distance-learning and in-person formats.

Read the Whitepaper →
A Reflection on Teaching During the Pandemic

Five Lessons from the Spring of 2020

Miriam Rock is an Upper School English Teacher at Friends Select School. This past summer, Miriam worked with Authentic Connections as a research assistant. The reflections she shares here, as a teacher during the pandemic, are insightful and will be valuable for leaders to consider as schools reopen.

Friends Select’s last day of in-person classes was on Friday, March 13th. From then until the end of the academic year, we cycled through three different schedules, three different web-conferencing platforms, and 11 weeks of distance learning. Administrators and faculty worked tirelessly simultaneously to support students through these transitions and to reimagine what a Friends Select education should look like during this crisis. As of now, the school is planning to be able to easily transition among three different modes in the fall: 100% in person, 50% in person, and 100% remote. I am working from the assumption that, for Friends Select, at least some portion of the 2020-2021 school year will be remote. Accordingly, I want to share five lessons from distance learning this spring...

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Thank you, Ashley!

Ashley Ebbert, who has served as Director of Research for Authentic Connections since November 2019, will be stepping back from her duties in August to pursue a clinical internship full-time at the University of Southern California. While her internship responsibilities will undoubtedly be time-intensive, we’re delighted that she will continue to work with the AC team as and when her schedule permits.  

Ashley has been a much-valued, core member of AC since its earliest days.  She has played a central role in developing and refining surveys and working closely with partner schools.  Ashley has been the lead person in all data analyses and in summarizing critical findings, both for individual schools and for research publications.  Even as she was working on her own doctoral studies, she co-authored five peer-reviewed research papers with our team, on topics related to resilience in youth, families, and schools.

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Staying Connected During the Pandemic

A Guide on Staying Connected During the Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, the effects of social distancing on mental health have become more evident. In fact, many have called mental health the “second wave” of the pandemic. Dr. Suniya Luthar took a moment to share a how-to guide for staying connected with friends and family while physically distant. See a preview of her post below.

“With the ongoing uncertainties of COVID, now more than ever, we need to be 'ahead of the curve' in fostering and maintaining close connections with supportive others. Stress levels are higher than they have been in most of our lifetimes. Also, loneliness was a big issue even before the pandemic arrived. 

Here is the good news: You can set up your own support network group, and help others to do the same. And there is already good evidence that such groups can be done effectively over video-chats, not necessarily in person.”

We sincerely hope that you are able to stay safe, healthy, and connected through this time.

Read the Guide →
Dr. Lisa Pao

Dr. Lisa Pao Joins AC as Director of Research

We are excited to announce that Dr. Lisa Pao has joined our team as Director of Research, based in New York, NY!

“From my first conversation with Lisa, I could tell that she was going to be a huge asset to our team. The insight and wisdom that she brings as both a researcher and former teacher will really help expand our impact on schools and communities across the globe,” said Nina Kumar, CEO.

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Student Resilience Survey Dashboard

Announcing the Student Resilience Survey

We recently launched the Student Resilience Survey to help schools address the mental health impact of COVID-19. We are offering the first administration at no cost to all schools.

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Suniya S. Luthar

Resilience Reminders From Dr. Suniya Luthar

We hope that you and your families stay healthy during this time of stress. To help, Dr. Suniya Luthar, our Chief Research Officer, has put together a list of resilience reminders and tips for those working remotely; Suniya is among the world’s leading researchers in the science of resilience, or doing well in the face of adversity.

We want to provide all of the help we can to those who need through these difficult times. Please do not hesitate to reach out! We can be reached at nlkumar@authconn.com and sluthar@authconn.com.

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Suniya S. Luthar

Interview with Dr. Suniya S. Luthar: Part 1

Dr. Suniya S. Luthar, one of the foremost experts on child well-being and resilience, recently joined AC full-time as Chief Research Officer. We sat down with Dr. Luthar to ask her about what first interested her in working with children, her most important findings, and what she enjoys most about her work.

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Suniya at the Bishop's School

Dr. Suniya Luthar Joins Authentic Connections as Full-Time Chief Research Officer

We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Dr. Suniya S. Luthar has joined our staff, full-time, as Chief Research Officer, based in Tempe, AZ.

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HASS 2020 Release

Winter 2020 HASS Release

We recently released the Winter 2020 update to our High Achieving Schools Survey (HASS). We've updated our High Achieving Schools (HAS) norms, added new scales, and modified our questions on parents and guardians to foster inclusivity.

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Faculty Well-Being Survey

Launching our Faculty Well-Being Survey

A review of decades of resilience research has found that fostering care for a child’s primary caregiver is a critical factor for maximizing resilience in at-risk children. Caregivers will not be able to provide for and help children if they feel depleted themselves. Because of this, we’ve decided to launch our new Faculty Well-Being Survey to enable schools to closely track levels of faculty burnout and well-being.

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Harrison Tool

Harrison Tool Joins AC as VP of Engagement

We are excited to announce that the AC team is growing! Harrison Tool will be joining us as VP of Engagement, based in Cambridge, MA, starting today. Prior to joining AC, Harrison was a Product Manager at IBM Watson Health where he worked on several healthcare technology products for healthcare providers. Harrison has a background in Finance, Computer Science, and Entrepreneurship.

At AC, Harrison will be responsible for growing the number of schools we work with to expand our impact on improving well-being in schools across the globe.

"I am beyond excited for the opportunity to join the Authentic Connections team. I have firsthand knowledge of the pressure to perform that students experience in today’s society; it is incredibly important that we prioritize students’ mental health and wellbeing just as much as we prioritize academic success,” Harrison said. "AC is in the best position to share that message. I can’t wait to expand AC’s ability to help more schools across the country.”

“Harrison is going to be a great addition to our team. I had the opportunity to work alongside him at IBM, and am confident that he’s going to help us reach and help many more schools,” said Nina Kumar, CEO.

See the Team →
Southern Association of Independent Schools

AC and SAIS Partner to Improve Mental Health at Member Schools

AC is proud to be partnering with SAIS for the next two years to advance health and wellness across the SAIS schools!

Learn More →

Coming soon!