Student Assistance Programs: Helping to Close the Achievement Gap
Students must feel safe and secure in order to achieve academic success. A student who feels unsafe at school is not open to learning. Instead, he/she is preoccupied with the need to feel safe, the need to belong, and the need to connect with others. Only once these needs are met, can a student begin to address the gaps in their academic achievement. Schools must attend to the safety of each student by creating a learning environment that is safe and free from violence.
In examining the factors that inhibit successful learning for all students, the California P-16 (Pre-kindergarten through Higher Education) Council, convened by former State Superintendent of Public Education Jack O’Connell, identified school culture and climate as factors that may inhibit successful learning. A school’s ability to close the achievement gap will be sidelined if students do not feel safe at school.
"Too often reform efforts fall short because they fail to address the context in which the curriculum and instruction are implemented. Not all students may be ready or able to learn, to benefit from improvements in instruction, because:
- They don’t feel emotionally or physically safe at school
- They are hungry, worried, depressed, under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or suffering from other nonacademic barriers that undermine the process of learning."1
How Student Assistance Programs (SAPs) Can Help
- SAPs can assess the school environment and help schools understand whether students, parents/guardians, and staff feel safe at school.
- SAPs can improve school attendance and academic performance.
- SAPs can develop effective school-family-community partnerships to address the issues of bullying, internet safety, gangs, behavioral incidents, substance abuse, and school violence.
- SAPs can provide increased access to family services and support by creating and implementing a referral system. School violence is often a strong indicator of violence in the home and neighborhood; families need resources to assist them with addressing these issues.
- SAPs can provide parent education on topics such as gang prevention and intervention, teen dating violence, bullying, and internet safety.
- SAPs can also provide training for students and staff in the areas of school safety and crisis management (prevention, intervention, response, and recovery).
The California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) is one tool that may be used to assess school climate. The CHKS is administered to students in grades five, seven, nine, and eleven, asking questions regarding violence and safety (harassment, weapon possession, gang involvement), alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, physical health, and external and internal assets.
Statewide CHKS statistics show that:
- Twenty percent of fifth graders feel safe at school some or none of the time;
- Thirty-five percent of fifth graders feel safe outside of school some or none of the time;
- Fourteen percent of fifth graders report they have been hit or pushed at school most or all of the time;
- Three percent of fifth graders report that they have brought a weapon to school.
1 Closing the Achievement Gap, Report of Superintendent Jack O’Connell’s California P-16 Council, page 30.