The Importance of Belonging In Education.

At Pepin Academies, our motto, “Where Belonging Leads to Learning,” encapsulates our core special educational philosophy. We firmly believe that students must feel a sense of belonging before they can fully engage in the learning process. This belief is backed by educational research.

Goodenow and Grady (1993) defined school belonging as “the extent to which children feel individually welcomed, respected, included, and supported by others within the school social environment.” This concept is central to our approach at the Pepin Academies.

Brain-Targeted Teaching Model

Our teaching framework includes the Brain Targeted Teaching Model (Hardiman, 2012), with Brain Target One focusing on creating a positive learning climate. It’s challenging for students to feel optimistic about their education if they don’t feel they belong. According to a global survey, one in three students lacks a sense of belonging in their school (Psychology Today, 2022).

Dr. DeLeon Grey, an educational psychologist, highlights the cyclical negative impacts of not feeling a sense of belonging. He states, “The negative impacts of not belonging can be cyclical in the sense that you can have a negative or disconfirming experience about your identity or your place within the school, and that might lead you to try to make up for that in some way, which could also lead you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do if your belonging needs were met within that educational context” (2021).

The Benefits of Positive Emotions in the Special Education Classroom

Research shows a strong correlation between positive emotions in the classroom and a student’s motivation to learn. Students who feel good about their school environment are more likely to attend regularly, participate actively in class, and maintain a positive outlook on their academic abilities (Williams et al., 2013). These students exhibit higher motivation, self-esteem, confidence, and mental health.

Fostering Belonging at Pepin Academies

At Pepin Academies, we prioritize nurturing a sense of belonging through both peer-to-peer and teacher-to-student relationships. We ensure that each student has at least one trusted adult within the school. Recognizing that some students may lack the social skills to form positive relationships, our staff facilitates natural, unforced interactions among peers. These efforts help cultivate prosocial behaviors that can benefit students throughout their lives.

Our graduates often reflect on and appreciate the lasting relationships they formed at Pepin Academies. As Italian educator Loris Malaguzzi wisely stated, “Ensuring that every child feels a sense of security and belonging within a school enables each child to accept and participate actively in transforming situations into learning experiences.”


Pepin Academies is dedicated to creating an inclusive environment where every student feels they belong. By fostering this sense of belonging, we pave the way for academic success and personal growth for students with learning disabilities. Join us in our mission to provide a supportive and welcoming educational experience for all students.

To learn more about how we serve students with learning disabilities and create an environment “Where belonging leads to learning,” you may want to read the Executive Director’s Message from Pepin Academies Executive Director Jeff Skowronek.