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Disparities in Anxiety, Depression, and Perceptions of School Climate Between Latino English Language Learners (ELL) and Latino non-ELL Students

In April 2024, my students Abby Miller and Kelly Lojinger delivered a poster presentation at the Research and Creative Activities Week at ECU and the Southeastern School Behavioral Health Conference in Myrtle Beach, SC. The data used for that presentation were from a study of the Interconnected System Framework (ESSS Study) funded by research grants to East Carolina University and the University of South Carolina (co-PI, Mark Weist) from the Institute of Education Sciences (R324A210179).


•English Language Learners (ELL) have higher levels of anxiety and depression and poorer perceptions of school climate when compared to their non-ELL peers (White et al., 2023; Yough et al., 2023).

•But few studies acknowledge the language heterogeneity among Latino students, comparing Latino and non-Latino students rather than ELL and non-ELL Latino students.


This study investigated the following:

1.The degree to which ELL status predicts perception of school climate among Latino students.

2.The degree to which ELL status predicts anxiety and depression among Latino students over and above perception of school climate.

3.The degree to which perception of school climate moderates the relationship between EL status and depression and anxiety.


Participants were 147 third and fourth grade Latino students in 16 public elementary schools in North and South Carolina. Each student was identified as either ELL or non-ELL using school data.

All participants completed three surveys assessing anxiety, depression, and school climate. The anxiety and depression measures were part of the NIH PROMIS Measures. Our anxiety measure was the PROMIS Pediatric short-form - Anxiety, and our depression measure was the PROMIS Pediatric short-form - Depression. These measures are available for free from the HealthMeasures website. The school climate measure was the PBIS School Climate Survey, available on the PBIS website.


An initial comparison of school climate between ELL and non-ELL Latino students was inconclusive, F(1, 145) = 0.71, p = .401 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Perceptions of School Climate by ELL Status

Our research questions were then tested using hierarchical linear regression, with separate models for anxiety and depression. In the full models (i.e., “Model 3”), school climate was a significant predictor of both anxiety (b = -0.43, p = .006) and depression (b = -0.70, p < .001), but neither ELL status nor the interaction between ELL status and school climate were significant.

The full models predicted a significant amount of the variance in Anxiety, R2 = 0.0935, F(3, 143) = 4.91, p = .003, and Depression, R2 = 0.1511, F(3, 143) = 8.48, p < .001. But only school climate proved statistically significant, and neither model was improved with the addition of ELL status or the interaction term (see Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2. ELL Status and School Climate Predicting Anxiety

Figure 3. ELL Status and School Climate Predicting Depression


Among Latino students, ELL status did not appear to predict perceptions of school climate. Similarly, ELL status did not appear to predict anxiety or depression over and above perceptions of school climate, and perception of school climate did not moderate the relationship between ELL status and anxiety or depression. In short, school climate appears to be much more associated with anxiety and depression than ELL status among Latino students.

Specifically, poor ratings of school climate were associated with higher self-reported anxiety and depressive symptoms. This finding suggests that Latino students who rate their school climate negatively are at risk for internalizing disorders, regardless of language status. This relationship is unsurprising, as similar findings are reported for non-Latino students (e.g., Hurd et al., 2015), but rarely is it demonstrated at the elementary school level.

An implication of our finding is that improvements in school climate, like efforts to make students feel welcomed, could prevent the onset or worsening of anxiety and depression. But research is needed to determine whether culturally sensitive approaches to improved school climate are necessary for Latino students, and whether other moderators (e.g., age, gender) play an important role.


Hurd, N.M., Hussain, S., & Bradshaw, C.P. (2015). School disorder, school connectedness, and psychosocial outcomes: Moderation by a supportive figure in the school. Youth and Society, 50(3), 328-350.

Parra, E. B., Evans, C. A., Fletcher, T., & Combs, M. C. (2014). The psychological impact of English language immersion on elementary age English language learners. Journal of Multilingual Education Research, 5, 33.  

White, R. S., Schneider, J., & Mavrogordato, M. (2023). Belonging: Do students classified as English learners feel included? AERA Open, 9.  

Yough, M., Slaten, C. D., Sankofa, N., Li, J., & Anderman, E. M. (2023). English language learner perceptions of school climate and teacher–student relationships: Role of acculturation and implications for achievement. Learning Environments Research. 

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