Happy in School: A Parent's Checklist

Last Updated Feb 7, 2011 5:39 PM EST

Is your child happy in school?

Gallup and Operation Hope, a nonprofit, have teamed to research the relationship between money smarts and students' sense of hope, engagement and wellbeing -- three areas that they say are at the core of happiness in the classroom.

Never mind the money stuff for now. That part of the research is just beginning. The working theory is that when students have a basic understanding of financial matters they have more hope for their future, are more engaged in the classroom, and generally feel better about their life. Higher readings in these three areas, in turn, are believed to lead to greater academic success.

Again, this work is just beginning. Gallup representatives spoke about the link between money know-how, happiness and good grades at the first meeting of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission this year. That's where I saw the survey questions and began to wonder how my own kids might answer.

Here, then, is a parent's guide to how happy their kids are in school. I have grouped the 20 questions, as does Gallup, into three sections. Answer the best you can or, heck, ask the kids at dinner.

On Hopefulness (award 1 to 5 points, with 5 meaning that you strongly agree):
  • I know I will graduate.
  • There is an adult in my life that cares about my future.
  • I can think of many ways to get good grades.
  • I energetically pursue my goals.
  • I can find lots of ways around any problem.
  • I know I will find a good job after I graduate.
  • My school is committed to building the strengths of each student.
On Engagement (same scoring):
  • I have a best friend at school.
  • I feel safe in my school.
  • My teachers make me feel my schoolwork is important.
  • At my school I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  • In the last seven days I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  • In the last month I volunteered my time to help others.
  • I was treated with respect all day yesterday.
  • I learned or did something interesting yesterday.
  • I had enough energy to get things done yesterday.
  • I have no health problems that keep me from doing the things other people my age normally do.
  • If I get in trouble I have family or friends I can count on to help when I need them.
On Wellbeing (imagine a ladder with 10 steps (points); the top step represents your best possible life):
  • Which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand on at this time?
  • Which step do you think you will stand on in five years?
This last pair of questions is especially tough to answer on behalf of your kids. But it gives you an idea of how to approach the issue if you want to have a conversation.

Gallup wouldn't share its "proprietary" scoring system with me. Clearly, though, the higher the score the happier the child is at school. Anything over 65 seems worth celebrating.

Photo courtesy Bank of Dad's oldest daughter
More on MoneyWatch:
· 6 Ways Money Skills Give College Students an Edge
· Top 6 Signals That a College Student is Abusing Credit
· Students in Debt: $1 Trillion Hole and More Dropouts
· Top 5 Money Lessons for Older Kids

  • Dan Kadlec

    Daniel J. Kadlec is an author and journalist whose work appears regularly in Time and Money magazines. He is the former editor of Time’s Generations section, which was written and edited for boomers. Kadlec came to Time from USA Today, where he was the creator and author of the daily column Street Talk, which anchored the newspaper's business coverage. He has co-written three books, including, most recently, With Purpose: Going from Success to Significance in Work and Life. He has won a New York Press Club award and a National Headliner Award for columns on the economy and investing.

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