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Reconceptualizing school safety in order to create a safer learning environment.

Reconceptualizing school safety in order to create a safer learning environment.

According to a University at Buffalo-led research, schools should adopt Afrocentric policies and practices that are culturally relevant and more inclusive of Black students to create a safer learning environment.

The research was published earlier in the year.School Psychology InternationalSome suggestions included allowing Black students and their parents to co-create school rules, removing all discipline policies, creating mentorship programs that match Black students with Black adults, and encouraging the use of mindfulness among students.

Exclusionary discipline, such as suspensions or expulsions, is more common for Black students than any other racial group. According to the United States Department of Education, Black preschoolers are almost four times more likely than white preschoolers to be suspended.

Black students also report feeling less safe at school than White and Asian students, even when controlling for neighborhood factors, says lead author Kamontá Heidelburg, PhD, assistant professor of counseling, school and educational psychology in the UB Graduate School of Education.

It is crucial that students feel safe in school, especially for those who are marginalized by systemic barriers. Black students will experience a schooling experience that is characterized by culturally incongruent curricula and discipline disparities. To promote safety, security, and welcoming environments for Black students, school safety must be reexamined.

Kamontá Heidelburg, PhD, assistant professor of counseling, school and educational psychology, UB Graduate School of Education

Heidelburg and his co-authors – Chavez Phelps, PhD, assistant professor at Georgia State University; and Tai A. Collins, PhD, associate professor at University of Cincinnati – suggest numerous interventions to help foster a safe learning environment for Black students.

Their top recommendations include:

Schools should highlight the achievements of Black people throughout history to better teach Black children about their history and encourage pride in their racial identities. Black students and their families should have the opportunity to co-create school regulations to better fit their norms. School staff should also receive anti-bias training and racial literacy training so that they can better understand the intricacies associated with Black life in the U.S.A. and be able to discuss race and racism with their students.

Schools should also use discipline data in order to identify teachers who are most likely and students who are most often subject to discipline. Additionally, schools should replace zero-tolerance discipline policies and the use of school security measures – which push Black students out of school into the criminal justice system – with compassionate conflict resolution interventions such as classroom agreements and amend-making meetings.

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Researchers also recommend mindfulness as a powerful tool for helping Black youth manage stress and emotions. They also suggest that mentorships with Black adults at schools can help Black students overcome institutional barriers. It helps them make better choices in life, build self-esteem, and pride in themselves.

Heidelburg says that every Black student deserves to feel safe in a world where they are rarely allowed to. “Schools have a choice: To be part of the solution and support Black students’ experiences or to continue to oppress Black students, they must make a decision.


Journal reference:

Heidelburg, K., et.(2022) Reconceptualizing school security for Black students International School Psychology.

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