Applied Psychology OPUS

Classroom Emotional Support, Behaviors, and Achievement in Kindergarten and First Grade: An Ecological Approach

Sophie Barnes

Research suggests that classroom emotional support benefits children’s academic and behavioral outcomes. Consistent with these findings, schools across the country are implementing standards to support students’ social-emotional and academic development. Yet, few studies have examined whether associations between emotional support and student outcomes differ across time and vary based on developmental contexts (kindergarten versus first grade), within populations of low-income urban students. Employing an ecological framework, the current study used multi-informant data on 209 Black and Hispanic students from 120 classrooms in 22 New York City public schools to: (1) explore differences in classroom emotional support between kindergarten and first grade classrooms; (2) examine how classroom emotional support predicted changes in student behaviors and academic achievement across the school year; and (3) investigate whether these relations differed by grade. Results revealed significantly less emotional support in first grade classrooms relative to kindergarten. Emotional support predicted increased math and reading achievement and decreased behavior problems across the school year, regardless of grade, suggesting that classroom emotional support is important for academic and behavioral outcomes in both kindergarten and first grade. Implications for policy and social-emotional learning interventions targeted to low-income, urban schools will be discussed.