California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II
Providing students a healthy and inviting learning environment where they are protected from physical and emotional harm is central to the mission of all schools. Safe schools are not just places with advanced security procedures. They are also places that help students develop assets that allow them to succeed even in difficult circumstances. Safe schools encourage healthy behaviors that help students learn about fitness, nutrition, and healthy choices.
This Recommendation is based on the premise that prevention is the key to healthy students and safe schools. Results from the California Healthy Kids Survey join a mounting body of evidence that students’ safety, resilience, and health is central to improving their academic performance.
According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and National Center for Education Statistics, schools are relatively safe havens from violent crime in spite of high-profile tragedies. For example, national statistics show that students are twice as likely to be victims of serious violence away from school, and more murders occur at home each year than at school. In addition, the violent crime victimization rate at school declined from 1992 to 2003. However, violence, theft, bullying, drugs, and weapons still pose a threat to students’ perceptions about their safety at school.1
There are many factors involved in school safety, health, and resilience for students. A safe, respectful, and positive school environment communicates caring and minimizes fears that might interfere with learning. To emphasize the importance of school climate, the No Child Left Behind Act, Title IV, Part A calls for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act.
A safe school climate includes a safe and clean school facility, caring teachers, and caring, respectful relationships with peers. Researchers and educators agree that school climate affects student achievement.2 A report by the National School Boards Association found that a positive school climate was the critical variable differentiating between schools with high and low rates of delinquency, behavioral disturbance, attendance, and academic attainment.3
The California School Climate Survey (Outside Source) is administered simultaneously with the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) to school staff. The survey gathers information from school staff that, in conjunction with CHKS student data, will enrich a school district’s ability to (1) understand the health risk and protective factors that students encounter; and (2) address the impact of substance use and violence on the students and the school. It covers some of the same content areas regarding substance use, school safety, health, and youth development that are in the CHKS student survey. This enables districts to determine whether staff perceptions are consistent with self-reported student behaviors.
Researchers on youth development use the terms resilience and assets when talking about individual student strengths. When speaking of the collective student body, researchers look at prosocial behaviors, meaning “positive actions that benefit others, prompted by empathy, moral values, and a sense of personal responsibility rather than a desire for personal gain . . . Educators can have a tremendous influence on students’ social growth by creating a schoolwide culture in which each student has opportunities to see prosocial behaviors modeled by other students and by adults."4
Emotionally and physically safe schools are those where prosocial behaviors are the norm. Schoolwide cultures that foster resilience also set high expectations for academics and behavior, promote caring relationships between students and adults at the school, and provide students with opportunities to participate in decisions about their education and to be involved in the community. Prosocial school communities take note of students who are skipping classes and work closely with them to identify and solve problems.5 A positive school climate comprises the following characteristics:
Use of annual parent and student safety surveys is one way for faculty members to stay abreast of real and perceived threats to safety. Information on safety may be obtained through annual surveys or through informal means such as “bullying boxes” or “safety suggestions” boxes. Students can give anonymous tips about safety issues.
Serrano Intermediate School, Saddleback Valley Unified School District
Teachers at Serrano developed an annual satisfaction survey for parents. Results from the surveys have alerted the school staff members to many safety concerns. For example, parents alerted the staff to safety concerns in the parking lot and on surrounding streets. Additionally, a student survey gives the faculty regular feedback that helps teachers to monitor the school climate.
To help students bond with school and be receptive to learning, school faculties need to take time to understand the disconnections students experience during the school day. By talking with students about how they experience less structured environments such as lunchrooms, hallways, bus stops, and buses, teachers can work to address problems that might interfere with students’ willingness to come to school. In addition, teacher teams need to discuss how school and classroom practices limit students' social integration. For example, two common school practices that can hinder bonding are selective extra-curricular activities (where some students are excluded) and ability grouping.7 As noted in other Recommendations, middle schools take care to provide accelerated intervention classes in certain subjects where students are falling below grade level. However, those schools ensure that a flexible schedule allows students to move into grade-level classes when they are academically prepared for grade-level work.
A middle grades program cannot address the school’s culture without also analyzing the student and neighborhood culture or climate. For example, issues such as gangs and gang wannabes often affect students’ emotional safety and ability to bond with the larger school community. In addition, when considering subgroups, school staff members need to consider how gangs single out groups such as English learners and further isolate them from the school culture. By involving students in leadership and in discussions of school climate issues, the school community, including all adults and students, can better deal with issues that affect relationships and learning. For example, in some cases, partnerships with community agencies can help to pair students with former gang members who serve as role models for avoiding negative behavior.
Recommendation 8 - Safety, Resilience, and Health
Safety planning and safe school review teams
1J. F. DeVoe and others, Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2005 (PDF; Outside Source), (NCES 2006–001/NCJ 210697). U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, November 2005, iv.
2Brian K. Perkins, Where We Learn: The CUBE Survey of Urban School Climate Report (PDF; Outside Source) New Haven, Conn.: National School Board Association’s Council of Urban Boards of Education, 2006, ii.
3Resilience & Youth Development Module. Prepared by the Safe and Healthy Kids Program Office and WestEd. Sacramento: California Department of Education, 2003, 12.
4Yael Kidron and Steve Fleishman, "Promoting Adolescents’ Prosocial Behavior" (Outside Source), Educational Leadership, Vol. 63, No. 7 (April 2006), 90-91.
5Kristi Garrett, "Prepped for life—Part 4: A Day of Reckoning Arrives for Dropouts and Their Schools" (DOC; 47KB; 7pp.) (California School Boards magazine, Summer 2006, x, xi).
6Adapted from Taking Center Stage. Sacramento: California Department of Education, 2001, 116-119.
7Donna Marie San Antonio, "Broadening the World of Early Adolescents," Educational Leadership, Vol. 63 No. 7 (April 2006), 8-13.
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California Department of Education
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Sacramento, CA 95814