Creating a More Welcoming and Supportive School Environment for All
During a School-SPIRIT, students discuss ways to address racial tension at their high school.
Across the country, schools are opening their doors, welcoming students for a new year filled with learning and growth. Central to this educational journey? Creating a safe and respectful environment for all.
Enter School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT), a program developed by the Department of Justice's Community Relations Service (CRS).
School-SPIRIT engages student leaders, school administrators and other school community members in identifying issues impacting their school — and developing solutions to resolve them. By challenging prejudices and fostering a culture of respect, these student-led initiatives can also serve as an essential tool to prevent potential hate crimes.
How does School-SPIRIT make a difference?
In Dover, New Hampshire, an offensive social media post sparked serious racial tension at a local high school. Through School-SPIRIT, students, school staff and community members convened to voice their concerns and brainstorm solutions. The result? Participants identified key issues, including perceived racism and a lack of cultural diversity. Then, they laid out a plan to address these concerns — through cultural awareness training and the creation of a safer, more inclusive environment. To ensure these solutions were put into practice, student volunteers formed a SPIRIT council.
In Hazleton, Pennsylvania, School-SPIRIT was instrumental in helping a high school address bias-based incidents related to race. An engaged group of around 80 students proposed diversity training for security staff and changes to school policies for more equitable enforcement.
Meanwhile, in Anchorage, Alaska, about 90 multicultural student leaders used School-SPIRIT to identify key issues in their school community — such as the use of racial slurs and a lack of focus on mental health. Their action plans included forming a SPIRIT council dedicated to carrying forward solutions that included bullying prevention resources, diversity training and increased opportunities for open dialogue.
School-SPIRIT participants show us that by actively listening to one another, acknowledging issues and taking collective action, communities can build not just better schools — but a better future for all students.
A similar program, called Campus-Site Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (Campus-SPIRIT), is available for college or university settings. Interested in bringing School-SPIRIT or Campus-SPIRIT to your school? Learn more: https://www.justice.gov/crs/our-work/facilitation/school-spirit.