Want Safer Schools? Listen to the Wave of Student Voices.

May 18, 2018 12:00:00 AM


In recent months, hundreds of thousands of students from across the United States made it clear that they are a force to be reckoned with. They didn’t just throw a pebble into a pond and hope that the small ripples would create the change they wanted. Instead, they threw a boulder to make sure their moment of impact would not go unnoticed. The March for Our Lives rallies and school walkouts demonstrated that this is a moment for students to no longer ask the adults in their families, schools and government to listen to them, but to demand that they listen. The student survivors of the Parkland school shooting have propelled school safety into the spotlight. These students—and thousands of other students across the country—are at the forefront of a movement to make schools safer. Students want to be a part of the solution to make schools safe places that drive learning. It is important that educators empower and support every student to do so. [pullquote position="right"]It should not take a tragedy for adults to listen to students’ voices.[/pullquote] We need to be asking questions and actively listening to all students consistently—about how safe they feel in school, about the prevalence of bullying and about overall school climate. Students are in classrooms every day and have a unique perspective on what is working and what’s not. With these issues in mind, YouthTruth analyzed survey data from nearly 35,000 students in grades five through 12, collected between the fall of 2012 and fall of 2017, to more deeply understand how students feel about school safety. The data revealed some interesting insights. Just over half of students feel safe from harm at school. When asked about how safe they feel at various locations around their school, just over half of students report feeling safe from harm. While 66 percent of students feel safe in their classes, only 59 percent say they feel safe at school in general, and just 54 percent say they feel safe in the hallways, bathrooms and locker rooms of their schools. Less than two thirds of students report that adults at their schools try to stop bullying and harassment. Only 60 percent of students report that adults at their school try to stop bullying and harassment. Adults are the role models in the school community, and the perception that adults are not addressing bullying and harassment can make students feel less safe and negatively affect overall school culture. About a third of students report that students get into fights at least somewhat often, and that they feel they must be ready to defend themselves at least somewhat often. When asked about the prevalence of fights, 37 percent of students report that fights occur at least somewhat often. Additionally, 31 percent of students report that they feel they must be ready to defend themselves at least somewhat often. Schools where physical fights are common are likely less able to maintain a focused learning environment. Thanks to this recent wave of student activism, a flurry of solutions for how to improve school safety are being suggested. In this time, [pullquote position="right"]we need to remember to keep student voices at the center of this decision-making.[/pullquote] After all, they are the ones we are working to protect. Asking for students’ feedback—and truly engaging them as partners—is an important step towards creating safer schools. Creating regular spaces for feedback can provide an avenue for students to give consistent and honest reflections on their experiences at their school sites. This feedback can better equip school and district leaders to identify concerns and better target resources and interventions. The end result of this movement is still to be seen. This new generation of students fighting for their voices to be heard stand on the shoulders of the survivors and activists that came before them. And this year, the ripples in the pond started as tsunami-sized waves. This is the moment for educators to ride this wave and actively listen to and engage with students as valid and important voices in the movement for safer schools.

Jimmy Simpson Jr.

Jimmy Simpson Jr. is the Partnerships Lead at YouthTruth Student Survey, where he works to show that student and stakeholder voice matters.

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