Safe & Humane Schools
An Integral Part of Communities
Schools are an integral part of our communities. Serving as environments in which children and youth develop, learn, and connect, schools should be equipped to empower students to thrive. To do this, we believe that schools must demonstrate safety, positivity, and inclusivity for all students, and focus on the development of the whole child.
School systems, teachers, and school staff should collaborate to foster not only education, but also student development, including critical thinking and socioemotional skills, active participation, and meaningful engagement, all foundational to child and youth well-being. Further, schools should be responsive to students needs and experiences, using trauma-informed, culturally sensitive approaches to engage and support children and youth while building on community strengths.
The Global Alliance recognizes that significant inequities in schools exist, including in educational infrastructure, access and resources, disparities in educational opportunities (even within the same communities or districts), and excessive disciplinary procedures. We also acknowledge that many of these issues stem from current policies and practices in place and have only been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Safe & Humane Schools Task Force
Learn more about our work on this topic and find out how you can get involved.
As an organization, we aim to advance school-related policy, research, and practice in important areas such as school mental health and suicide prevention; the implications of school security measures; bullying and school violence prevention; disproportionate disciplinary practices; and trauma-sensitive strategies. Ultimately, the Global Alliance endeavors to make schools safer, more affirming environments for students to grow into well-adjusted, civic-minded adults who contribute meaningfully to their communities.
What can you do?
- Learn about the education gap in U.S. education and how this contributes to social inequality
- Read about and support the Safe Schools Improvement Act
- Watch “A Tale of Two Schools”, a documentary detailing how students’ differing social and environmental circumstances shape their experiences in education
Research on Safe and Humane Schools in AJO
To what extent are American schools places of community? We review evidence based on safety, peer relations, teacher support, academic engagement, sense of fairness, liking and belonging to the school, student voice, and extracurricular activities, which are closely related to students’ sense of community in schools. Underlying differences between students who do and do not feel part of their school community are considered. We also examine longitudinal studies that provide insight into how a sense of community shapes students long term, including educational academic outcomes, social and emotional competence, and physical and mental well-being. Finally, we highlight individual, classroom-level, and school-wide strategies that promote community by building positive relationships, providing engaging learning experiences, and maintaining social and emotional supports that allow students to thrive.
Grover, H. M., Boberiene, L. V., & Limber, S. P. (2021) Are U.S. schools places of community? Does it matter? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 91(3), 332-347.
The development of social-emotional competencies in early childhood is essential for long-term health and wellbeing, and these skills are particularly critical for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to set the foundation for success in school and in life. The present study examined the effects of an intervention to support prekindergarten (pre-k) teachers’ ability to address the specific social-emotional needs of their students. Teachers in a publicly funded pre-k program completed the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA; LeBuffe & Naglieri, 1999; LeBuffe & Shapiro, 2004) to measure social-emotional functioning. “Intervention” teachers received summaries of their students’ social-emotional strengths and needs based on the DECA and packets providing teaching strategies they could use to target the social-emotional domains assessed by the DECA. Teachers were encouraged to work with their coaches to interpret their classroom summaries and implement strategies to address their students’ needs. Multilevel modeling revealed that students whose teachers received social-emotional feedback (classroom summaries and strategy packets) showed significantly greater social-emotional gains (across multiple domains) over the school year compared to students whose teachers did not receive feedback. Our findings suggest that having teachers complete social-emotional assessments of their students at the beginning of the school year and providing teachers with data-based feedback may build teachers’ capacity to promote social-emotional development for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We discuss the potential to build on this data-guided approach to better prepare children to succeed in elementary school and beyond.
Gadaire, A. P., Armstrong, L. M., Cook, J. R., Kilmer, R. P., Larson, J. C., Simmons, C. J., Messinger, L. G., Thiery, T. L., & Babb, M. J. (2021). A data-guided approach to supporting students’ social-emotional development in pre-k. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 91(2), 193–207.
Discusses whether or not it matters if students experience school as a place of community. Although the word community often elicits thoughts of a geographic area, it also denotes relationships among people. Undeniably, family is the first community to which most children belong. However, a growing body of research points to the importance of multiple positive relationships in the lives of children. As children grow and begin to interact more with others, the positive effects that strong families have on children’s development are magnified when children also have strong relationships where they live, learn, worship, and play. In the United States, once children reach school age, they spend more time at school than anywhere else outside the home. As a result, there has been a good deal of interest in understanding the nature of relationships among students, families, and school staff and the importance of these relationships for children and youth. Researchers have used somewhat different terms and constructs to describe these relationships, including school bonding, school connectedness, school engagement, and school climate. We believe that school community captures the essence of these relationships and constructs because members of a community feel that they belong, that they matter to each other, and that their needs will be met through their interactions. Although many schools have environments where the majority of their students feel a sense of school community, a significant proportion of students do not feel that they belong, that they are safe, that they matter to others, and that their needs will be met at school. As schools evaluate current practices, they can improve school-wide and classroom practices to help every child experience a true sense of community that enhances their academic, behavioral, social, and emotional well-being.
Grover, H. M., Limber, S. P., & Boberiene, L. V. (2015). Does it matter if students experience school as a place of community? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 85(6, Suppl), S79–S85.
This paper explores the critical role of student and family engagement in schools. Low levels of labor force participation constitute a tremendous waste of human potential, which may have profound effects over the life span. Long-term unemployment remains at historically high levels in the United States. Unemployment for young workers under 25 has been twice as high as the overall unemployment rate. As a result, college graduates are more likely to work as waiters, bartenders, and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists, and mathematicians combined. Young adults without college degrees or high school diplomas are faring even worse. The labor force system is too narrowly focused on providing short-term crisis intervention to the unemployed, without effectively boosting individuals’ skills and networking capabilities or systemically creating environments for economic opportunity that may facilitate employment long term, according to a recent report from the Center for American Progress. Policy should focus on facilitation of participation in the labor force and development of human capital, especially among development, and what can be done to engage young people in the process? Positive school climates that are inclusive of all students have important implications for reaching out to vulnerable populations and connecting learning to students’ experiences, cultures, and long-term goals. International research shows that school climate has been found to mitigate the negative impact of poverty and socioeconomic status on academic success. The success of innovative schools suggests that children can make tremendous strides when given the opportunity.
Boberiene, L. V. (2013). Can policy facilitate human capital development? The critical role of student and family engagement in schools. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 83(2-3), 346–351.