Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $4,430,775)
School safety is fundamental to fostering positive outcomes for children and youth, such as academic achievement, well-being, and prosocial behavior. Here, we define a safe school as one that minimizes violence, promotes student mental health, and fosters a positive climate. Violence remains a pressing concern in American schools: in 2013, nearly 20% of high school students were bullied at school, while 8% had been in a physical fight on school property. Even by ages 10-11, more than half of boys and one-third of girls are either victims of or engage in delinquent behaviors. Among girls, victimization and delinquency increase significantly between ages 11 and 12; among boys, a corresponding jump occurs between ages 13 and 14. Similarly, over half of lifetime mental health concerns become evident before age 14. Thus, interventions to promote safety likely need to focus as early as elementary school (Cuevas et al., 2013).
Such interventions should emphasize a positive school climate, which includes the appropriate connections, support, and commitment to promote positive outcomes. This study will examine a comprehensive multi-component intervention targeted to fourth through sixth graders (i.e. 9-12 year olds), using primary and secondary prevention approaches. It includes three main components: a restorative justice framework for managing violence and conflicts between students; timely assistance via Mental Health First Aid; and promotion of a positive school environment(e.g., by improving the physical surroundings). At each school, the intervention will be headed by a three-person leadership team consisting of one mental health professional, one police officer, and one school staff member, with support from parental leadership.
To evaluate intervention outcomes, we will conduct a cluster randomized controlled trial with staged entry over two school years in Genesee County, Michigan (n=20 elementary schools, with 10 participating per school year). We will make use of data currently collected by Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD) schools, including the School Wide Information System (SWIS) database, to record behavioral referrals and truancy, and the annual MiPHY student survey (with standardized measures of school safety, violence, climate, mental health). Students will receive a truncated follow-up survey at the end of the school year. We will also survey teachers regarding their perceptions of school climate and safety. Complementing the quantitative assessment, we will examine intervention management, implementation and sustainability, through focus groups with key stakeholders, teachers, and students. Finally, we will conduct a cost-benefit analysis with regard to violence outcomes.
This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law.