Research indicates that natural features surrounding schools are associated with better academic achievement, enhanced focus, and reduced stress in students. However, few studies have examined the associations between school landscape elements and anxiety, depression, and behavioral concerns in students. The purpose of this study was to determine whether greenery and impervious surfaces surrounding schools are associated with student internalizing and externalizing problems.
Fifth-grade students (n = 21,378) reported internalizing and externalizing behaviors on the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, an anonymous school-based survey administered statewide. Geographic information system landscape data were available for 268 schools in metropolitan areas. We calculated the percentages of tree canopy, grass and shrub cover, and impervious surfaces within 300- and 500-m radius areas around each school building. Multilevel regression models evaluated the associations between student-level internalizing and externalizing behaviors and school-level landscape percentages, controlling for sex, race, and free/reduced-price lunch.
Students attending metropolitan schools with a higher percentage of impervious surfaces were more likely to report externalizing behaviors and marginally more internalizing symptoms than students in schools with a lower percentage of impervious surfaces. Higher percentages of tree canopy and grass and shrub cover surrounding schools were not associated with internalizing or externalizing behaviors.
Increased impervious surfaces around schools in metropolitan areas were related to increased student externalizing behaviors. Further studies are necessary to understand the significance of the built environment, types of greenery, impact of greenery on student adjustment in nonmetropolitan settings, and varying areas surrounding schools. These results could inform initiatives to improve school landscapes.