Skip to main content

School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT)

A group of students work together on a class project.


The School-SPIRIT is a one-day, student-focused program which engages students, school administrators, teachers, school resource officers, and other school and community members in identifying issues impacting their school and developing and implementing solutions to resolve those issues.

SPIRIT Program Benefits

  • Develops student leadership skills by empowering students to identify and address conflicts in their school
  • Empowers students to solve issues in their school
  • Improves collaboration between students and other members of the school community
  • Brings diverse student groups together to discover commonalities and build mutual respect

SPIRIT Program Outcomes

  • Enhances student problem-solving skills by applying a structured process to identify issues and develop solutions
  • Assists student and school leaders to develop a customized action plan that aims to improve the school community and serves as a roadmap to implement tangible solutions
  • Creates a student-led SPIRIT Council, which works closely with school leaders to implement solutions developed during the program and increases the school’s capacity to address future conflict

Case Highlights

The Dover School District in Dover, New Hampshire, requested CRS services in December 2019 in response to increased community racial tension caused by a racially offensive video that was posted on social media. The video depicted two white students in a Dover High School classroom singing a Ku Klux Klan-themed Christmas carol as part of a November 2018 class project about the Civil War Reconstruction era. Following the incident, CRS met with the Dover School District superintendent and Dover High School principal, at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Hampshire, to assist the school in addressing the underlying racial tensions.

To help de-escalate tensions in the school community, Dover High School administration officials asked CRS to plan a CRS School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program. CRS worked with school administrators, teachers, staff, and students to explore ways to help increase participation in the upcoming SPIRIT program from a diverse group of students.

School leaders presented an overview of the SPIRIT program at four assemblies, one for each grade level, and requested student volunteers to participate in the program. The school also invited all students to respond to a survey to identify the issues they considered most important to be discussed during the SPIRIT program. Approximately 95 student leaders participated in the one-day program, which was held in February 2020 and facilitated by 24 CRS-trained volunteers. In small groups, the students identified their top concerns as perceived racism, a lack of cultural diversity, and the need for diverse and inclusive classroom services and a more welcoming environment for students of color. The students then met in new breakout groups to develop solutions to the identified concerns and propose a plan of action. These working groups identified solutions such as encouraging safe environments for students and teachers to respectfully share and address sensitive subjects for students; providing training on cultural awareness and diversity; and conducting teacher workshops related to the use of social media, mental health, and other current topics to provide teachers with tools to address issues that their students faced.

At the end of the program, student volunteers formed a SPIRIT council, and the principal expressed support for the work the council will do to implement some of the solutions developed during the day’s program. The council is expected to begin its work as soon as COVID-19 social distancing protocols allow.

In January 2020, CRS facilitated a School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program at a high school in in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, to address concerns of bias-based incidents related to race at the school.

The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General and an additional government official requested CRS services after an incident at the high school in February 2019, when a video circulated on social media of a white school police officer punching and pulling the hair of a Black female student. Two students were allegedly involved in a fight when the school police officer intervened. At least four students were expelled following the incident. Community members held a protest at the school during a school board meeting, calling for the officer to be fired for the way he restrained the student. District officials and parents in the area also reported concerns about racial slurs used by white students and racial tensions between Black and white students in the school. In November 2019, CRS convened school and government officials to plan a School-SPIRIT program. On the morning of the program, CRS trained 10 individuals from state and federal agencies as facilitators. The two-hour facilitation training provided volunteer facilitators with an overview of the program and relevant facilitation training topics, including the program logistics and goals, facilitator roles, and active listening techniques.

A diverse group of approximately 80 student leaders from grades nine through 12 participated in the SPIRIT program. In small breakout groups, student leaders identified inequitable security procedure enforcement as their top concern, including a lack of training for security staff. In addition, many students felt that school policies and procedures were disparately enforced against Black and Latino students. Working together, reorganized into small groups, the students developed potential solutions to address the issues, such as cultural and diversity training for security staff and updates to school policies to address procedures considered to be unfair.

At the conclusion of the program, participants created a SPIRIT council composed of a diverse group of student volunteers to implement some of the solutions developed during the program. The school principal and SPIRIT council members agreed to create an action plan to address the student-raised concerns.

In January 2020, CRS facilitated a School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program at a high school in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania to address tensions from alleged racially motivated bullying and subsequent racial conflict at the school. CRS previously facilitated a School-SPIRIT at the high school in 2017 to address similar concerns of alleged harassment and discrimination due to race.

In October 2019, CRS responded to a request from the high school principal after the parents of several Black students filed a complaint with a state agency about the reported use of racial slurs against Black and South Asian students and subsequent racial tension at the school. Members of the Mechanicsburg Black community perceived the slurs as bias-based incidents. Additionally, Black parents raised concerns during several school board meetings regarding bullying of Black students at the high school. CVHS officials also cited numerous incidents of white students using racial slurs against Black students.

Earlier, in the spring of 2019, the school district had formed an inclusion committee that identified the School-SPIRIT program as a critical step to help address the racial tensions in the district’s schools.

CRS convened school district and government officials from the school district and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General to form a group to develop the program. The planning group consisted of SPIRIT council members from the 2017 School-SPIRIT, as well as vice principals and school counselors.

In January 2020, more than 60 students participated in the CRS-facilitated program. Students who had participated in the 2017 School-SPIRIT not only co-facilitated the sessions with adult volunteers, but also added their own perspectives and experiences to the conversations. Hearing the student leaders’ concerns helped their peers feel more at ease raising issues. The students identified their top concerns as the use of stereotypes and slurs on the basis of race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity; a lack of response from the staff and administrators to the use of stereotypes and slurs; a lack of diversity among staff; and a lack of cultural understanding among the school’s staff.

In the program’s afternoon session, students identified possible solutions to the concerns they had raised, including changes to school procedures to better address bias incidents and encouraging all members of the school community to become active observers and report incidents to the school. At the end of the discussion, participants selected representatives to a SPIRIT council committed to implementing some of the proposed solutions. The council met several times before the COVID-19 pandemic began and plans to resume its work when it is safe to do so.

In March 2019, CRS met with local leaders after receiving a request from Zionsville Community Schools for assistance responding to concerns resulting from bias incidents based on religion and race. At the time, Zionsville Community High School (ZCHS) officials were investigating a photograph posted on social media in February 2019, which showed several students using a Nazi salute. After becoming aware of the post, the Zionsville Community Schools superintendent condemned the photo in an email to parents, staff, and faculty.

Several bias incidents had occurred at Indianapolis area schools during the last several years, including alleged incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti and social media posts that included racial slurs at local schools, heightening tensions in Zionsville. In 2016, high school students were photographed holding a German flag and using the Nazi salute. In 2018, a high school student allegedly yelled profanities and racial slurs while wearing a Nazi flag, and there was a separate incident related to a viral social media post depicting a white student wearing blackface to bully a Black student.

Following these incidents, CRS met with Zionsville city officials, law enforcement, and ZCHS leadership. After discussing CRS’s services that could help ease racial tensions at ZCHS, the leaders decided to hold a CRS School-Student Problem Identification of Resolutions of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program. CRS met with a newly formed SPIRIT planning group in September 2019, composed of the Zionsville Community Schools superintendent, ZCHS principal, and other school administrators, to develop a successful SPIRIT process for the school.

In November 2019, CRS conducted a two-day School-SPIRIT program with eight ZCHS administrators and staff trained by CRS to help facilitate the program and approximately 40 student leaders from grades nine through 12. The program aimed to help address racial and religious tensions; serve as a resource for the district’s “Strong in Every Way” ongoing initiative, which focuses on developing connections and cultural understandings; and support the district’s academic priority of student voice and empowerment. During the program, students identified the key issues of a lack of racial sensitivity and cultural awareness displayed through the use of racial slurs and stereotypes. Students voted on potential solutions, including a campaign to teach students about diversity, an after-school social group to discuss diversity issues, a curriculum that focuses on raising cultural awareness, schoolwide student-led information sharing, and safe spaces for students to share personal experiences.

After the process, ZCHS leadership invited student program participants to apply to serve on a SPIRIT advisory team. The team of 18 student advisors meets monthly with two ZCHS assistant principals to implement the solutions identified during the SPIRIT program.

The Kansas City Branch of the NAACP and the superintendent of the Kearney School District in Kearney, Missouri, separately contacted CRS in June 2019 after several allegations of racist bullying at Kearney High School. Students and parents alleged a pattern of racially motivated harassment and bullying dating back to 2017, including anti-Black targeting and the use of racial slurs on school property, school buses, and social media. Concerned about their children’s safety, the parents expressed an interest in raising awareness and educating members of the school district and community. Prior to reaching out to CRS, the school district had established a diversity, equity and inclusion task force and hired a diversity consultant to work with students, staff, and community in the past. However, school district leaders felt additional work was needed to address school and community concerns. CRS met with school leaders to discuss planning a joint School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program for students later that year. In September 2019, a video also spread on social media allegedly showing a white student repeatedly using racial slurs targeting a Black sophomore, leading to heightened racial tensions in the community.

CRS conducted the School-SPIRIT in December 2019 for more than 130 student leaders from Kearney High School and Kearney Junior High School. During the daylong session, students identified racism, bullying, lack of staff diversity, and mental health issues as areas of concern and discussed possible solutions to these issues. Session facilitators included the mayor of Kearney, faith leaders, and local business and community leaders.

Following the program, 28 students volunteered to form a SPIRIT council to implement some of the identified solutions. School leaders and SPIRIT council members committed to identifying the most effective solutions, developing an implementation plan, and following up on the plan’s success. CRS supported the SPIRIT council as it worked to implement solutions, including the planning of a mural to support mental health at the junior high and a school event to promote diversity and mental health. The SPIRIT council also worked with the Kearney Inclusion and Diversity (KIND) committee, formed by the school district to support education and discussion of diversity issues. Additionally, the Kearney mayor and board of aldermen passed a resolution in December 2019 pledging to support the SPIRIT council’s goals and initiatives and commending the Kearney School District for its participation in the SPIRIT program.

In October 2019, CRS conducted an outreach presentation at a “gathering of principals” meeting at Anchorage School District headquarters. Following the presentation, South Anchorage High School administrators expressed interest in implementing the School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program to teach students about conflict resolution and help prevent bias incidents and hate crimes at the school.

CRS received reports of widespread alleged bias incidents and racial conflict, including the use of racial slurs and student-on-student assaults, particularly against Latino, Black, and multiracial students in several Anchorage schools. Community members alleged that the racial conflict was a reaction to a recent influx of immigrants and refugees. The Greater Anchorage area is one of the most diverse in the country, with more than 100 languages spoken within its student population.3 This demographic shift heightened the ongoing and growing tensions that were negatively impacting the Anchorage School District.

CRS convened local school stakeholders to plan the School-SPIRIT program for South Anchorage High School, the first school in the state’s history to implement the program. CRS provided training to eight volunteer facilitators from the Alaska Native Justice Center, Bridge Builders of Anchorage, Polynesian Association of Alaska, Victims for Justice, and a local faith community and local non-governmental organization.

In February 2020, CRS facilitated the program over two days for approximately 90 Black, Asian American and Pacific Islander, white, Latino, and multiracial student leaders in grades nine through 12. A representative from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska attended the program to observe and assist, as necessary. For the first session, participants divided into five groups to identify the school’s strengths and areas of concern, which included the widespread use of racial and ethnic slurs and bullying, reportedly without consequence, and a lack of focus on mental health.

On the second day of the program, South Anchorage High School leadership introduced a newly created SPIRIT council of students who committed to support implementing several of the solutions developed by student leaders in the small group sessions that day. Proposed solutions included raising awareness about resources for bullying prevention, conflict resolution and diversity training for teachers, and more opportunities for open dialogue in a safe and welcome environment.

After the program, student leaders expressed their gratitude toward the school administrators for bringing the program to their school to undertake difficult conversations as a unified school community. The SPIRIT council found the process valuable in addressing racial conflict and recommended that other schools in the district consider conducting the program.

A few days after the program, the SPIRIT council received an invitation to present their experience and involvement in the process to Anchorage School District leadership. Participation in CRS’s School-SPIRIT program helped South Anchorage High and other schools in Anchorage build the capacity to address similar conflicts and prevent the possible spread of bias incidents on their campuses.

More Information

School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) (PDF)

Additional Resources and Informational Videos

Updated August 14, 2023