School climate key to curbing violence: US report

Schools can prevent shootings and other violent attacks by creating a climate in which students feel free to share information about potential threats, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

School climate key to curbing violence: US report

Previous studies have found that in 81 percent of violent school attacks, student bystanders knew about the attacks before they occurred. But many chose not to tell.

A report issued by the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Department of Education and Harvard Medical School's McLean Hospital explores how schools can get students to come forward with information that could prevent such attacks.

"We found that school climate affected whether bystanders felt that there were trustworthy adults within the school community," William Pollack of Harvard Medical School, who led the study, said in a statement.

The researchers interviewed 15 student bystanders who had prior knowledge of an attack. Of those, six told an adult what they knew and an attack was averted, but nine did not, and shootings occurred at their schools.

"We've learned from the bystanders' own voices that having a trusting, emotional connection to an adult in the school they attend is the bottom line for safety in that school," Pollack said in a telephone interview.

He said if bystanders felt there were trustworthy adults within the school who would take them seriously, they were inclined to come forward. If not, students kept quiet, "and in every case, a school shooting occurred," Pollack said.

The report found that the top reason students failed to come forward is they expected a negative response from school officials.

"When you say something, you get in trouble or interrogated by teachers," according to one student in the report who knew of a gun on school property but failed to report it.

In many cases, students did not report threats because they did not believe they were credible. And often, bystanders misjudged the immediacy of the attack and felt they had more time to report what they had heard, the report found.

Adults' role

Adults can also influence the decision. One student who consulted a parent and was encouraged to go forward, did so. But another told a parent figure about a possible violent attack at school and was told he did not need to tell anyone.

The next day, several students at his school were shot. "People died and I could have done something about it," he told investigators.

The researchers are calling for schools across the country to develop policies that encourage students to share information about potential threats.

Teachers and school faculty should undergo training on how to respond to students who provide this information, they advise.

"Historically, teachers beyond the elementary level are taught how to teach content, and not how to relate to students. We need to change those templates," Pollack said.

The report suggests simple measures -- regularly greeting students, talking to students and addressing them by name -- as a way to make students feel more connected with their school.

Schools need to develop "meaningful connections with students" and "a climate of mutual respect, not fear," Pollack said.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 05 Haziran 2008, 13:55
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