School Climate Project

Child Trends and the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) have partnered with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) for a project titled Understanding School Climate for American Indian Youth: A Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) Case Study Approach. The project has been approved by the Salt River Schools Education Board and is intended to help us learn how American Indian students in the Phoenix area feel about the schools they attend.
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School Climate Survey
Child Trends and the Center for Native American Youth are conducting a study to learn about American Indian and Alaska Native perspectives of school climate and safety. Middle and high school students (11 years or older) in the Salt River area are invited to complete an anonymous online survey and interview about their experiences at school and participate in a photovoice project that will take place in July. Parents/Caregivers of Native students are also invited to participate in an interview.

Information about the student survey is also being shared on social media using #UnderstandingSchoolClimate, so you can search for that hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to reshare posts and encourage others to participate. Sharing your voice is important – even Jana Schmieding, Native writer and co-star of Rutherford Falls, wants you to share your story! Data collection is expected to continue through the end of October 2022, so don’t wait to add your perspective!

Click here to download a PDF with a clickable links.

The study is funded by the National Institute of Justice and has been approved by Child Trends’ Institutional Review Board, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community' s Salt River Schools Education Board, and Mesa Public Schools. If you have questions about the study, you can email the study team at [email protected].

Understanding School Climate for American Indian Youth: A CBPR Case Study Approach
Schools must be safe places where youth can grow, connect, and thrive to learn the lessons that will help them transition into successful adults. However, there is evidence that some groups of students—including American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students—are less likely to experience schools as safe and supportive learning environments and are more likely to have negative academic, social, and health outcomes. AI/AN youth have lower high school graduation rates, are more likely to report feeling unsafe at school, and experience higher rates of exclusionary discipline than their White peers. There is limited information available on how schools can address these disparities. This project seeks to address this issue through an in-depth comparative case-study. Given that these disparities also exist for other youth of color, a critical aspect of this project will include examining how American Indian youth’s experiences compare to those of other youth of color.

Child Trends and the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) have partnered to conduct this three-year, rigorous community-based participatory research (CBPR) project in the greater Phoenix area. This region presents an opportunity to gather information on school climate disparities faced by American Indian youth attending both on and off reservation schools. To conduct the study, we seek to partner with several Phoenix metro-area schools that have large American Indian student populations.

For data collection, we propose to work with six schools that serve a large proportion of American Indian youth. In addition to providing data on school climate for each participating school, the project aims to address two critical gaps in the field:

  1. understanding how American Indian students perceive the climates and safety of their schools and the factors that contribute to such perceptions, and
  2. examining how such perceptions compare with other youth of color’s experiences.

Study activities will involve qualitative components (e.g., interviews and focus groups) and quantitative components (e.g., analysis of administrative data) to achieve the following objectives:

  1. engage American Indian youth, their peers, their families, and community and school stakeholders to understand perceptions of school climate,
  2. identify factors related to variations in perceptions of school climate, 
  3. compare the experiences of American Indian youth with those of their peers,
  4. develop promising and culturally relevant recommendations to promote a positive school climate, and 
  5. share findings with local stakeholders as well as the broader research, practitioner, and policy fields.

Child Trends and CNAY are committed to a CBPR approach to ensure that the research process and ultimate recommendations are culturally relevant and meaningful to the participating tribal communities and schools.

About Our Organizations
Child Trends is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization that conducts research to improve the lives and prospects of children and youth. To do so, we work closely with communities, schools, programs, and funders to conduct research and evaluation that will help them deliver services to youth and their families in a more effective manner.

The Center for Native American Youth is a national organization dedicated to improving the health, safety, and overall well-being of Native American youth. Founded by former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan and overseen by a board of tribal and Native youth advisors, it does this through direct engagement, leadership development, resource sharing, policy research, and advocacy.

Contact Information
The principal investigators on this project are Dr. Kelly Murphy and Dr. Brandon Stratford. Dr. Deana Around Him (Cherokee Nation) will also support community engagement and implementation of the study. Child Trends staff are happy to respond to any questions and can be reached at:

Kelly Murphy
[email protected]
(240) 223-9257 
  Brandon Stratford
[email protected]
(240) 223-9332  
  Deana Around Him
[email protected]
(240) 223-9213  

The project lead for CNAY is Billie Jo Kipp (Blackfeet). CNAY staff are happy to answer your questions and can be reached at [email protected] or (206) 488-5051.

Join the School Climate Project Local Advisory Board
The LAB is a group of youth, parents, school staff, and Tribal leaders who help make sure the project is carried out in a way that benefits American Indian youth and SRPMIC. LAB members are asked to attend two to three meetings each year, share knowledge about student experiences within SRPMIC and the surrounding area, and guide study decisions. Meetings will be virtual or by phone for the time being, and LAB members will be compensated for time spent preparing for and attending meetings.

To learn more or ask questions, contact Deana Around Him by email ([email protected]) or phone (240-223-9213).
Local Advisory Board recruitment flyer
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