Student and Teacher Perspectives on Safety and Inner-City Neighbourhood Change

What do students and teachers in a Canadian inner-city neighbourhood think about safety within the context of neighbourhood revitalization and school redesign? 

Method

This qualitative study investigated student and teacher perceptions of safety while living or working in a neighbourhood undergoing revitalization while a local school redesign initiative also took place. Focus groups took place at two school sites that were impacted by the recently completed school redesign initiative: (1) the newly redesigned school (RS), and (2) a neighbourhood feeder school (FS1).

Violence and Safety in Schools

At RS, both returning and new students generally felt that the school provided them with an enhanced sense of security, in comparison to their feelings of safety within the community at large. However, a large number of students reported that the level of safety decreased in RS, partly due to perceived greater permeability of the building and grounds, and partly due to the violent behavior of some individuals in the neighbourhood.

Bullying & Fights in the School Setting

Given the unique circumstances relating to the ongoing construction work and changing structure of the neighbourhood, including disruption of place based familiarity and social bonds, new relationships and situations evolved that may have fostered bullying and victimization, as bullying was seen to be a pervasive problem amongst students in all the neighbourhood schools. Fights in the school setting were also reported by a number of students. 

Gang Activity, Neighbourhood Crime & Community Safety 

A number of junior and intermediate students in both FS1 and RS spoke about gang activity in the community. Students’ perceptions of gang activity in the neighbourhood were mixed, where some felt the presence of gangs had diminished, and others felt gangs in the neighborhood were active. Some junior and intermediate students also remarked on issues of territory in the neighborhood and rivalry between schools, with the different groups of students coming together in RS and FS1 due to school redesign. A number of students at both schools believed that the rate of crime in the neighborhood had not been reduced as a result of revitalization and the ongoing construction work itself raised concerns about safety among students.

What are the takeaways from this study? Students’ feelings of safety are related both to their social environment and the built environment. Student and staff voices matter and should be included in both neighbourhood redevelopment and school redesign initiatives.

This report is based on focus groups with students (aged 4 to 13), divided into Primary, Junior, and Intermediate grade groupings, and focus groups with teachers in 2013 and 2014. 

Click here to read more about student and school staff perspectives on safety during the school redesign.

To read more about the School Redesign and Neighbourhood Redevelopment: A longitudinal study of education success and well-being study,click here.

Document citation: Patel, S., Ranjbar M., Cummins, T., & Cummins, N. (2021). Safety and inner city neighbourhood change: Student and teacher perspectives. Education and Urban Society, 1-22. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/00131245211004553.

How does school redesign affect student and school staff safety?

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This blog post is part of the School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A longitudinal study of educational success and well-being study. To learn more about the larger study, visit our projects

How does school redesign affect student and school staff safety?

Safety signs posted outside school doors in the redeveloping neighbourhood.

How do students, school staff, parents and school-based key informants view safety during school redesign?

School Safety During the Transitional Period

During the school redesign process when the Redesign School students were transferred to feeder schools (FS1 and FS2) while the school was under construction, many students reported bullying incidents between the two student groups. Some mentioned that the presence of teachers was helpful, but that more intervention was needed for a smoother, safer transition. Some students and school staff believe it was the issue of territory and school rivalry that caused the bullying and physical fights.

School Safety in the New Redesign School

Upon returning to the newly-redesigned school, many of the older students felt safe in the new building because of the new alarms, better security cameras, emergency lights, smoke detectors, sprinklers and places to hide during a lockdown. They also felt that less fights were occurring because of new play equipment and because the school yard was more easily monitored by staff.

Many school staff found that the reopening of the school resulted in fewer behavioural incidents and improved safety with new equipment and play areas. The newly redesigned school included large floor to ceiling windows. Both students and staff reported the large windows as a safety concern. Some staff and younger students felt less protected because of how exposed they felt to the outside neighbourhood.

Many students reported that their feelings of being unsafe in school were associated with losing friends as a result of the process of neighbourhood redevelopment and relocation ongoing in the community.

What are the takeaways from this study? Students’ feelings of safety are related both to the feeling of support they have from school staff and the built environment. Students and staff perspectives matter and should be included in both neighbourhood redevelopment and school redesign projects.

This report is based on focus groups with students (aged 4 to 13), divided into Primary, Junior, and Intermediate grade groupings, and focus groups with teachers in 2013 and 2014.

Click here to read more about student and school staff perspectives on safety during the school redesign.

To read more about the School Redesign and Neighbourhood Redevelopment: A longitudinal study of education success and well-being study,click here.

Document citation: Patel, S., Ranjbar M., Cummins, T., & Cummins, N.(in press). Safety and inner city neighbourhood redevelopment: Student and teacher perspectives. Education and Urban Society.

Student social dynamics, school-based transitions and school redesign

This blog post is part of the School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A longitudinal study of educational success and well-being study. To learn more about the larger study, visit our projects

When a school in a marginalized neighbourhood goes through a redesign, what social impacts does it have on students and school staff?

This timeline indicates the years when children were initially relocated to other schools and then later brought back to their newly redesigned school following completion.

From 2011 to 2012, we held focus groups and interviews with students (ages 4 to 13) and school staff (teachers and administrators).

The redesign of a school in a low socioeconomic neighbourhood in Toronto resulted in students and staff being moved to two other neighbourhood schools (feeder schools) while the focal school was under construction. Students shared their thoughts on the changing social dynamics amongst students and staff during this transitional period.

At the beginning of the transition, students spoke about an initial divide between the new students from the redesign school and those who were in the feeder schools. There were reports of bullying, spreading rumours, and physical fights. Another challenge mentioned was the lack of school space and changes to school activities and resources. RS students were blamed by some feeder school students for these challenges.

Some RS students felt more comfortable with school staff from their own school in comparison to the staff at the feeder schools. They said that they could trust the staff from the redesign school more, and also shared that they felt the school staff from the feeder school favoured the feeder school students more.

During the transition, many students said that they missed the redesign school, and wanted to return to graduate there. Others felt nervous that when they moved back, the original school would be completely different.

So just how does school redesign impact the social dynamics between students?  There was tension between students when bringing the redesign school and feeder schools groups together. This was reported by both students and staff. Staff also noted that feeling a sense of ownership or identifying with the school was particularly important for the older students. This research can help inform other schools undergoing redesigns and renovations. Additional staff to better support students during transitions, such as psychologists or social workers, at the school could help students to adapt to the changes easier. Having activities that encourage connections between students, such as a buddy system, could help to ease the transition as well. Teachers incorporated themes of neighbourhood and school change into the school curriculum during the transition to help students adjust which is a helpful practice. Allowing for more time for students and teachers to adjust to the changes, build relationships with one another and get settled in the redesigned school may be beneficial.

Click here to read more about student and school staff perspectives on social dynamics during the school redesign.

See also: Patel, S., & Cummins, N. (2019). Student and staff social dynamics and transitions during school redesign. Improving Schools, 22(2), 158-172. doi: 10.1177/1365480219832415

To read more about the School Redesign and Neighbourhood Redevelopment: A longitudinal study of education success and well-being study, click here.

To learn more about social dynamics and transitions during school redesign, read our manuscript here.

Document citation: Patel, S. (2016). School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University.

School staff social dynamics, school-based transitions and school redesign

This blog post is part of the School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A longitudinal study of educational success and well-being study. To learn more about the larger study, visit our projects

What are the impacts of school redesign on school staff social dynamics?

Construction underway at the redesign school.

From 2011 to 2012, we held focus groups and interviews with students (ages 4 to 13) and school staff (teachers and administrators).

The redesign of a school in a low-socioeconomic neighbourhood in Toronto resulted in students and staff being moved to two other neighbourhood schools (feeder schools) while the school under construction (see timeline). School staff shared their thoughts on the changing social dynamics amongst staff and students during this transitional period.

This timeline indicates the years when children were initially relocated to other schools and then later brought back to the new redesigned school following completion.

Prior to transitioning to the feeder schools, some redesign school staff said that they felt rushed, explaining that they only had a short time to pack materials and move into the new school. Once in the feeder schools, redesign school staff said they found it challenging to adjust to new rules and routines in the feeder schools.

School staff highlighted that they had strong connections with their co-workers prior to moving, and some staff felt a division between the redesign school and the feeder school groups. However, other teachers felt that they had merged with the school staff quite well, and said that it was much easier for the teachers to get along than it was for students.

Many school staff noted that strong leadership was particularly important during this period of transition. School administrators can influence school climate and help model relationship building with new students and families.

School staff also wanted more opportunities for staff members to meet prior to the transitional period to establish a more cohesive teaching team and additional prep time to prepare for the move. Professional development focused on transitions that bring school staff together prior to school redesigns may provide an opportunity for teaching staff to build connections between schools and build educators’ capacity to support students during transitional periods.

Click here to read more about student and school staff perspectives on social dynamics during school redesign.

See also: Patel, S., & Cummins, N. (2019). Student and staff social dynamics and transitions during school redesign. Improving Schools, 22(2), 158-172. doi: 10.1177/1365480219832415

To read more about the School Redesign and Neighbourhood Redevelopment: A longitudinal study of education success and well-being study, click here.

To learn more about social dynamics and transitions during school redesign, read our manuscript here.

Document citation: Patel, S. (2016). School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University.

School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A longitudinal study of education success and well-being

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What is it?

How does school redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment in marginalized communities affect children’s academic success and well-being? What impacts does it have on families and the community? The School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A longitudinal study of educational success, families is a community-partnered project that investigates the role of the built environment in reducing inequities. The study looks at how innovative school redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment can affect children, families, and communities in marginalized neighbourhoods.

A student’s work displayed in the school.

How did we do it?

In 2011 and 2012, a school in a socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhood in downtown Toronto was closed down for school redesign. The school redesign was informed by an inclusive architectural design process, where students, teachers, parents, the community, and housing experts shared their design input for the new school.

As you can see in the timeline below, during the school redesign students and teachers were relocated to two ‘feeder schools (FS1, FS2)’ in the same neighbourhood:

After the process, the school was reopened in 2013 with many former and new students from the ‘feeder schools’ (FS1, FS2) moving into the ‘redesign school (RS).’ Throughout the school redesign process, neighbourhood redevelopment was also happening in the community, where old social housing units were being demolished and replaced with new buildings in phases. Some residents in the community were temporarily relocated during construction, depending on what phase of the redevelopment affected their home.

What we found

From our initial findings, various themes emerged from students, families, schools, and the community. These included thoughts on:

  • School and neighbourhood safety
  • Neighbourhood redevelopment
  • Built environment (before, during, and after school redesign)
  • School social dynamics and transition (during school redesign and related transitions)
  • School-based programs and services

What’s next?

With our data collection complete, we’re now focused on sharing our results with study participants, the community, key stakeholders, and the public.

To read more about the study and our findings, click here.

Document citation: Patel, S. (2016). School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University.