On the Minds of Middle-Schoolers.....

Sep 30, 2013

With regular reports these days about school shootings, you might expect kids to be somewhat nervous, but a new survey shows students in 453 middle schools around the state feel safe - and most like school.

University of Virginia Professor Dewey Cornell polled about 40,000 kids in 7th and 8th grades.  He found more than two thirds like school, feel comfortable asking teachers for help with school work, and feel safe.  Cornell says two elements were key to those positive findings - structure and support.

Dewey Cornell, University of Virginia
Credit Dan Addison

“We want schools to have high expectations to enforce rules in a strict but fair manner.  We want students to feel supported, to feel that they’re treated with respect, to feel that they can turn to teachers and other school officials for help.”

But half of students felt bullying was a problem, one-third reported being physically attacked, pushed or hit at school, and 13% were picked on at least weekly.  Most did not report their problems.

“Many students aren’t willing to go to a teacher about bullying.  They won’t tell their parents about being bullied.  There’s some element of shame and some code of silence involved there.”

Survey results have been sent to individual schools, and Cornell hopes they’ll be the basis for future improvements.

“We know that schools that have more teasing and bullying going on tend to have lower academic performance, so one of our messages to school administrators is that it really is worth the time and effort to focus on the school climate.”

UVA also surveyed more than 9,000 teachers at middle schools.  More than 90% said they felt safe and 80% said they were treated with respect by students, but 4 out of ten said disciplinary practices, counseling services and classroom management training were not effective.