Study: Strong relationships help students feel safer

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Even in poor neighborhoods rife with crime, students who have strong relationships with adults inside schools tend to feel safer than those that don’t, according to a new study to be officially released Tuesday by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Even in poor neighborhoods rife with crime, students who have strong relationships with adults inside schools tend to feel safer than those that don’t, according to a new study to be officially released Tuesday by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.
In fact, some students and staff in poor, violent areas actually feel safer than those in less difficult neighborhoods that lack strong teacher-student and teacher-parent bonds, according to the report.
Another finding: Suspending a lot of students does not lead to students feeling safer.
The study’s authors say the findings should help schools pinpoint where they should focus attention. 
“There are so many factors schools can’t control – neighborhood crime, violence in students’ homes – so it is exciting to pinpoint an area that schools really can influence,” said Matthew Steinberg, the study’s lead author, in a statement.
Edith Crigler, the associate director of the Chicago Area Project, said that she finds teachers want to build these types of relationships with students. But don’t feel as though they have the time. 
“There’s a lot more work to be done.  I don’t think it’s a lack of desire [on teachers’ parts],” she said.  “The way the system is set up, it doesn’t allow them to have the luxury of those ongoing relationships with parents.”
Building relationships might become more difficult in the coming year. As the school district grapples with a projected $800 million deficit, class sizes might increase and school support staff, already bare bones after last year’s budget cutting, might also suffer more slashing. 
The job of connecting with students sometimes falls to outside agencies who provide after-school activities and social-emotional help for students. But even these types of programs get more stretched in difficult financial times.
“I think my job consists of basically building relationships,” said Kenneth Orr, who mentors at-risk South Shore teens in connection with Culture of Calm.  “One of the biggest complains our students have is they don’t have an adult who will actually listen to them and hear their views.”
Several different programs bring social supports into schools from Community In Schools to After School Matters. Also, former CPS CEO Ron Huberman implemented an initiative called Culture of Calm, which pumped $40 million into schools whose students were experiencing violence, mostly outside of school in communities. 
A chunk of that money went to community patrols who look out for students as they go to and from school. About $15 million also went to giving students at-risk of being shot mentors and advocates.
Culture of Calm was paid for with the federal stimulus, which will run out in June. It is unclear what portions of the program, if any, will continue next year, considering the school district’s deficit. 
Should Culture of Calm disappear, it will not be the first anti-violence initiative in recent years to be phased out.  As Catalyst reported in November, a short-lived pilot of restorative justice programs like peace circles and peer juries has led to sustained programs at just two CPS chools.