A Quick Word With: Patricia Campie on a Rare, Longitudinal Study of School Violence
Patricia Campie, a principal researcher at AIR, is a criminologist with more than 20 years of experience leading community-based research, evaluation, and implementation science initiatives. Campie is the principal investigator for the Research on Lowering Violence in Schools and Communities (ReSOLV) project, a five-year longitudinal study of the root causes of school violence in California and community, school, and individual capacities to address them. Funded by the National Institute of Justice Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, this project is a partnership with Virginia Tech, The Wandersman Group, and a group of nationally recognized school safety experts.
Q. School safety is a high-profile, often charged issue. How will the ReSOLV study help communities nationwide improve safety?
Campie: Our research will help people understand the connections between community and school and identify the factors that can allow a school to be ready to recognize what different individuals need, how individuals can be assets to the school, and how to create a safe and supportive environment. If a school is not prepared to retain teachers and students with complex needs, these people will either be pushed out, leave, or disrupt. This environment is not conducive to learning or teaching.
While our research is in California school districts, the factors we are examining are applicable nationwide. We will have the first round of results to share this fall. Toward the end of the project in 2021, we plan to share the study results in a series of webinars. Participants will be able to hear directly from the schools themselves. I hope then that we can say that rather than just picking a program off a shelf or putting a policy in place after an event happens, it pays off to get to know your students, teachers, parents, and community members more than just as consumers. They have to be really engaged as partners in creating a school safety plan that extends to the community. If you do that, you’re much more likely to have a plan that everyone buys into and that will produce results.
Q. The ReSOLV study has been described as “groundbreaking.” How does your approach to examining school safety differ from previous research?
Campie: Our definition of school safety is comprehensive, including community safety and readiness, in addition to individual and school-level safety and readiness. That’s one unique aspect. School safety is part of community safety, not just something that happens within a classroom or school. The school is part of the community, where there are strengths and assets and also problems and vulnerabilities. This study encompasses all of this. We’re examining four factors:
- At the individual level, we are looking at certain characteristics we know make a person more or less ready to engage in a healthy way with other human beings, such as the capacity to self-regulate behavior and emotions, executive function to make good decisions, and any past trauma that affects fight-or-flight responses.
- Next, we are looking at connections among individuals. We know that peer relationships between and among students, teachers, and parents matter. If students feel connected to their school through positive relationships, they are much more likely to do well. The same is true for teachers who feel connected with their colleagues and administrators, and parents who feel welcome and valued. They’re more likely to be involved and supportive of students—and ready to engage in comprehensive school safety initiatives.
- We’re also looking at the environment—the classroom, the school campus, the community around the school, and the home. If they’re not supportive of individuals, if there are conflicts, this can trigger individual or relationship issues. These issues might not cause problems on their own, but in combination they are much more likely to produce an unsafe place. A good example might be an unstable person who’s having difficulty, or a school where there’s a lot of conflict already, and there’s also very poor lighting in the hallways. Suddenly, there’s an opportunity for something bad to happen.
- Finally, we are looking at the social setting. Within the larger city or really the country, there could be factors impacting the way people feel about themselves, the school, the community. In our study, we’re looking at rural, suburban, and urban school contexts in California. In our rural district, there’s tremendous fear about immigration crackdowns. Students have come home to find their grandmothers gone, literally gone. We’re also looking at social determinants of health that can predict your health and well-being as an adult. That larger context of outside factors that the community might not be able to control can have an effect on school climate and safety.
Q. Why is a longitudinal study best suited to study school violence and safety?
Campie: Longitudinal studies are not typically done because they’re expensive. This is just one of two longitudinal studies the National Institute of Justice has funded under its school safety initiative.
School violence incidents happen very quickly, and we tend to make knee-jerk reactions because we’re upset and we care and we want to fix things. The truth of the matter is that it takes time for violence to evolve. It happens in different ways to the same people or different people over time. There’s a longevity to the healing and the process you have to go through if you witness violence to be able to move on with your life. A short-term study of something as complex as school or community violence, with its very long timeframe, can’t really capture the full texture of it. This study will allow us to see how readiness to address school safety issues changes over time, as school staff and community members engage in dialogue about identified risk factors. It’s a good opportunity to learn.