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Dr. John Barnhardt published in NCEA Momentum Magazine: Student Perceptions Should Inform Fall Planning

Dr. John Barnhardt, President/CEO

Congratulations to our own President/CEO Dr. John Barnhardt for his recent published article in the National Catholic Educational Association's Momentum Magazine entitled Student Perception Should Inform Fall Planning.

Dr. Barnhardt argues that few of the nation's fall school plans "consider the impact that such practices will have on the students themselves."

"Using recent research on the effects of school security systems on students’ sense of safety, I recommend four priority lenses when reviewing fall policies and procedures for both in-school and virtual learning."

Read the full article below:

STUDENT PERCEPTIONS Should Inform Fall Planning
By Dr. John Barnhardt

As schools across the country scramble to plan for the fall, it seems the Twittersphere explodes daily with a different policy, procedure or best practice. Few of these plans, however, consider the impact that such practices will have on the students themselves. Using recent research on the effects of school security systems on students’ sense of safety, I recommend four priority lenses when reviewing fall policies and procedures for both in-school and virtual learning.

Innovative approaches are, by definition, untested. As a result, our creative approaches to running our schools in the fall (in person or virtually) will have serious implications for students and families, especially Black, brown and other families of color who’ve already experienced a lifetime of marginalization because of selective and unfair school policies and practices. Students have also experienced a global pandemic, and any fall planning must consider their social and emotional health.

Students in the Resource Center with masks and social distanced

I recently completed research on the effect of school safety systems on students’ perceived safety and am leaning on the findings to inform my own school opening plans this fall. Students who feel safe at school, both physically and emotionally, perform better in class and develop stronger relationships with peers and adults. My research investigated student experiences at a predominantly African American middle school to better understand which school safety practices made students feel or perceive safety. Some of the practices I explored include sign-in/sign-out procedures at the front desk, the use of security cameras, the use of door fobs / locked doors, the use of adult greeters at the door, the presence of staff-monitors during hall transitions, the use of detention, and the presence of security guards.

This research resulted in four important findings. I believe each of these findings has direct implications for our fall 2020 planning:
a. Systems, procedures and beliefs make some students feel “othered.”
b. Positive relationships with adults are linked to an increased perception of safety.
c. The “web of experience” is dense, but knowledge of it is necessary to develop affirming and supportive policies and procedures.
d. Students report feeling most safe in large spaces and common areas.

Most schools and districts are already insisting on temperature checks or health screenings before students are allowed to enter campus. While this is important to preventing the spread of COVID-19, school leaders must also consider how screenings are administered, so as not to incur additional trauma on students. Knowing what to do when a student has a high temperature or provides a risk-assuming answer on a health screening is crucial. In the land of school safety, this would be similar to a student setting off a metal detector, or being questioned by a security guard at the front desk. Students in my research said that because metal detectors aren’t in all schools, but only in their school (a predominantly Black institution), they feel their school is “different” from other schools, they feel less than other students. Students who feel othered struggle to build strong attachments and relationships with their schools and, as a result, have a harder hill to climb in their academic and social success. This experience is not unique among students of color, and is well researched and documented within the realms of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Othering. Students who’ve been othered much of their lives will be especially at risk this fall if schools do not support these necessary procedures with well-trained staff and thoroughly developed contingency plans.

Students in maker space masked and distanced for safe learning

According to students, the strength of their relationship with faculty members is the strongest influencer on their perceived safety. In the research, adult relationships were a stronger predictor of perceived safety than security cameras, locked doors or even the presence of security guards or police officers. Sticking with the health screening/temperature checks example, it is crucial that such screening/temperature checks are done by a trusted adult — one with whom students have a relationship. Consider giving priority attention to new students or students and families with whom the school has not yet developed a strong relationship when assigning staff duties. When a student is flagged for a high temperature or a concerning response on a health questionnaire, pay careful attention to which adult informs the student and what happens to the student thereafter.

When examining school safety systems, students were quick to show me that researching our practices and policies in isolation provided incomplete results. Students shared that it was the full-day experience in the school that ultimately determined their sense of safety. Instead of reviewing COVID-19 practices in isolation, consider writing a narrative of a student’s day at your school with the systems and policies you are proposing. Use this narrative to better understand the connectivity of experiences. After understanding the chronological experience of your students, recognize that each student’s experience is closely tied to the experience of the other students in your school. This connectivity influences individual experience. In other words, even if Jeremy (student 1) has a positive experience at your school, if Naomi (student 2) tells Jeremy that she was flagged for a false-positive by a health screening that morning, Naomi’s experience has a net negative effect on Jeremy’s overall experience. Our students’ web of experience is dense; and it takes committed investigation to understand how our new policies and procedures affect students.

Perhaps the most surprising finding of my study is that students report feeling safest in large spaces and common areas.

This finding speaks to the previous point on a complex web of experience. Students share that in the presence of more trusted adults and friends, they feel safest. This finding alone has made me consider how and where we stage health checkpoints for entrance to our schools.

While I stuck with health screenings and temperature checks, these four considerations should be applied to all policies and procedures you have on tap for this fall, no matter if your school operates in person or virtually. Students are experiencing trauma, and our policies and practices have a direct influence on the perpetuation or mitigation of that trauma while students are in our virtual or physical spaces. Consider working with your leadership teams to better understand the student experience and how the staff and faculty representing your school are influencing the individual and collective student experience.

Go to NCEA's Momentum Magazine published article at Student Perceptions Should Inform Fall Planning