Abstract: Creating and Sustaining Safe Public Spaces in Schools (Society for Prevention Research 27th Annual Meeting)

625 Creating and Sustaining Safe Public Spaces in Schools

Friday, May 31, 2019
Grand Ballroom B (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Michele Tissiere, MA, Director of Program, Engaging Schools, Cambridge, MA
Larry Dieringer, EdM, Executive Director, Engaging Schools, Cambridge, MA
Schools across the nation have reported that public spaces (such as hallways, cafeterias, bathrooms, stairwells, school entry and exit areas) feel chaotic, unsafe and/or dangerous, significantly affecting the culture and climate in school. Schools and local education agencies need scientific evidence about alternatives to zero tolerance policies to create public spaces that feel welcoming, safe, and orderly, and promote good character and conduct.

Safe Public Spaces (SPS) is a schoolwide program to promote supportive relationships among students and adults and a feeling of safety in all out-of-classroom spaces. SPS requires the collective responsibility, collaboration, and involvement of specific staff members, including administrators, school safety agents, school aides, teachers, and student support staff (social workers, psychologists, counselors, youth development specialists, restorative justice staff). SPS aims to equip these staff with the mindsets and skills they need to promote good behavior, prevent potential misbehaviors, and productively respond to a range of disciplinary infractions that show up in public spaces. SPS combines consistent, respectful, and fair responses to discipline with strategies that aim to help students navigate public spaces in an orderly and safe manner. As a result, SPS is directly aligned with whole-school redesign frameworks to create positive conditions for learning in schools.

The specific strategies that compose SPS operate across multiple tiers of schoolwide activity, including promotion (deliberate placement of staff at transition “hot spots,” meet & greet), prevention, (effective reminders and directives, hall scans, and defusing students who are emotionally charged) and intervention (protocols and interventions for high-impact incidents and persistent hall walking). To test the effects of SPS, we have partnered in a randomized trial of SPS with 24 public middle schools in a large urban district. We anticipate seeing a reduction in the number and severity of public space discipline incidents and a reduction in the number of suspensions as a result of public space incidents, as well as improvements in student-reported safety and student-reported adult support.

In addition, we seek to learn to what extent SPS affects other student outcomes that are linked to problem behavior and a sense of safety at school, such as absenteeism; as well as how the program effects vary by student characteristics (e.g., by race, ethnicity, gender, special needs, and history of problem behavior); and to what extent the changes in school safety lead to changes in community safety.