High school climate: Perceived safety and belonging of students, faculty, and parents

Marilyn Louise Turcotte (2006)

Schools are experiencing increasing incidences of violence (Bower, 2001; Mayer, 2001; Mayer & Leone, 1999; Owen, 1999; Skiba & Peterson, 2000). This national problem prompted the author to study public high school students' perception of school safety. School safety was defined as protection from violence, threats, unfair treatment, and alienation. The author investigated what constitutes school safety through quantitative and qualitative procedures. She examined how students' perceptions of school climate features, such as fairness, positive relationships, belonging, and disruptive behaviors, were related to their understanding of safety/security. The study was a secondary analysis of archived survey data on school climate (Roysircar, 2001) completed in 2001-2002 by students, teachers, and parents of a regional New England high school. The variables Safety/Security, Positive Relationships, and Fairness correlated positively with each other and negatively with Disruptive Behaviors (all correlations at p < .01). Student data ( n = 399) were examined for differences by sex, grade, and sending school. Ninth grade girls perceived the highest degree of safety ( p < .05), and girls overall experienced less physical aggression than boys ( p < .05). No significant differences were found by sending school (i.e., rural versus town). Qualitative data from 3 open-ended questions from students ( n = 20), teachers ( n = 20), and parents ( n = 20) elicited various meanings about school climate, as construed by the 3 school constituencies. The short answers, analyzed with the Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR) method (Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997), fell in 9 broad domains: Safety/Security, Morale, Communication, Physical Environment, Well-Being, Belonging/Not Belonging, Curriculum, Organizational Policies, and Diversity/Sensitivity. The majority preferred tougher enforcement of rules and more security personnel to increase safety. More than half of the participants thought morale, communication, and physical environment were important to school climate. Administrative concerns, well-being, belonging/not belonging, and diversity were endorsed by fewer than half of the participants as important. Using the study's findings, the archived survey, and the current literature, a revised School Climate Questionnaire for Middle/High School Students, Sections I and II was developed by the author and is included in the dissertation. Recommendations are proposed for improving school climate, i.e., adding communication and social skills courses to the curriculum, enforcing school rules consistently, embracing diversity, and increasing parent involvement. Implications for future research are suggested.