More and more studies are showing that having a positive school environment can help promote school safety and wellness. We are starting to see data come out to back up the idea that having a positive school climate and students connected to the school can decrease violence in our schools. One researcher, Ron Astor, at the Summit on Student Safety and Wellbeing, spoke of starting out with a welcoming school climate in which programs to decrease violence can thrive. Do North Carolina Schools provide a positive welcoming school climate? My answer is that we have a lot of work ahead of us.
We need to first look at our physical space. We have billions of dollars of need for renovations in our public schools. I can’t imagine how we begin to provide a positive school climate, when we literally have trouble with climate. We have air conditioning and heating failures. We have mold. We have insect infestations. What we don’t have is a statewide school bond with dedicated money to address the problem. To have a safe environment for our students we need to begin by providing them a healthy space to learn. School bonds promote school safety.
Next, our teachers need care too. We need healthy teachers. We need them physically healthy and mentally healthy. Our teachers don’t always feel secure. I’m not just talking about rude or violent students. I’m saying they need to know that if they have a toothache, they can afford the dental bill. Teachers can hardly feel mentally safe when they are working multiple jobs and worry about bills. We need to take care of their mental health as well. I’m sure teachers don’t feel safe when leaders in the state call them thugs for simply advocating for a better living wage. This also applies to our principals and staff members. We need better teacher pay and benefits to begin our journey to safer schools. Better teacher pay, better staff pay, and better principal pay promote school safety.
Next, our students can hardly begin to embrace a social emotional programs with the testing burden perched forever on their shoulders. We tell them about kindness and empathy yet also tell them that the fate of their future rests on a scan-tron or computerized test. It is difficult to feel safe with constant anxiety. We need to decrease the testing burden to begin our journey to safer schools.
Our legislators need to take a hard look at policies they support that have little payoff and seem to cause chaos and anxiety in our schools. They need to take a look at the class size mandate and the problems it is causing our school boards and our principals. They need to look at principal pay as well and ISD school takeovers. We can’t have a positive school climate with legislation that is hindering our progress as a state. No one feels a positive connection to a school system in constant crisis.
Finally, we need more adults in our kids’ lives that can help them feel safe. We need our counselors, we need our nurses and we need our psychologists. They are professionals in school wellness. They do it best and we need more of them in our hallways. We need healthier ratios than what we have now. We don’t need limited grants where some counties miss out. We don’t need limited grants that only last for one or two years. We need permanent funding across the state for support staff to begin our journey to safer schools.
Creating a welcoming positive school climate is step one to a safer school We have work ahead of us. We need welcoming physical space. We need a staff that is healthy and connected to our students. The blueprint for a safe school is out there. We just need the public and political will to get started.