Afterschool Focus: School Climate

What Is School Climate?

Research confirms what our experience and intuition tell us, that students have better academic and social and emotional outcomes if they feel safe, supported, challenged, and accepted. Known as school climate, this collection of feelings and experiences consists of school safety; a school’s norms and values; relationships among students, staff, administrators, families, and community members; teaching and learning practices; and organizational structure.1

When students are educated in a positive school climate, they are more likely to engage with the curriculum, achieve academically, and form positive relationships. School climate also plays a role in social and emotional learning, the prevalence of mental health issues, and school violence and bullying. The impact is not limited to students, as positive school climate is associated with higher teacher satisfaction and lower teacher turnover. Finally, school climate can influence how a school or district adopts new practices or handles large, transformational changes.2

The importance of school climate is reflected in Illinois education priorities. The 5Essentials survey, which Illinois teachers, students, and parents complete about schools every other year, lists supportive environments as one of the five indicators that lead to important student outcomes. The supportive environments indicator includes school safety, high teacher expectations for students, and teacher and peer support for students, which are all components of a positive school climate. School climate is also a priority in the Illinois State Plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In the state plan, school climate surveys, such as the 5Essentials Survey or another state-approved climate assessment, now compose 5 percent of accountability indicators for both elementary and high school.3

Afterschool and School Climate

A positive afterschool climate is a crucial part of a high-quality program that supports student gains.4 The following strategies can help your 21st CCLC team foster a supportive environment:  

  • Use clear, consistent rules and consequences.
  • Minimize exclusionary disciplinary policies (suspensions, detention).
  • Provide opportunities for students and staff to hold leadership roles.
  • Foster positive relationships among students and adults; make sure students have at least one adult with whom they connect.
  • Provide opportunities for students to feel successful.
  • Have high expectations and use multi-tiered systems of support to help students meet those expectations.
  • Provide support through mental health services, clear guidance, and encouragement.5

Fostering a positive climate is an ongoing process that should be part of your program’s continuous improvement plan. There are a number of resources you can use to measure and improve the climate of your afterschool program.

Program Quality Assessment. The Center for Youth Program Quality offers the Youth Program Quality Assessment (PQA) and the School-Age PQA. These instruments are designed to evaluate the quality of youth programs and identify staff training needs in seven areas: safe environment, supportive environment, interaction, engagement, youth-centered policies and practices, high expectations, and access.6   

National Center for Safe and Supportive Schools. The National Center for Safe and Supportive Schools has several resources to support school climate, including a Quick Guide on Making School Climate Improvements. The guide provides activities for planning for school climate improvements, engaging stakeholders, collecting and reporting data, choosing and implementing interventions, and monitoring and evaluating improvement efforts.7

National School Climate Center. The National School Climate Center provides in-depth information on school climate, the research behind its importance, and guidance on how different stakeholders can collaborate to foster a supportive environment for students. Resources include a school climate framework with 13 domains addressing safety, teaching and learning, interpersonal relationships, environment, social media, and staff.8

Building and Managing Quality Afterschool Programs. Afterschool grantees who are familiar with the resource A Practitioner’s Guide: Building and Managing Quality Afterschool Programs can use some of the information and self-assessment tools on the following topics: program leadership, student behavior, building and maintaining relationships, peer collaboration and cooperative learning, family engagement, and community connections.

Afterschool programs can also help schools develop positive climates. The National Center on School Climate recommends the following strategies for school partners and providers:

  • Learn about and support schoolwide improvement efforts related to school climate.
  • Support and build on existing efforts to promote student engagement and leadership and service learning.
  • Promote family engagement in afterschool and the school.
  • Model school climate practices through leadership, including collaboration, respectful relationships, consensus, and no-fault decision making.
  • If your school has a school climate improvement team, ask to join, and promote the efforts among your afterschool staff, volunteers, and partners.
  • Partner with the school in implementing evidence-based programs and practices that help students expand skills, develop resiliency, and address barriers to learning.
  • Leverage afterschool strengths, insights, and strategies to involve community partners in promoting a positive school climate.9

As is the case with many 21st CCLC best practices, alignment with school initiatives, clear communication, and strong partnerships are key elements of a program that fosters a positive school climate.


A growing body of research shows that for students to achieve academically, they must feel safe and supported in school and in their communities. Afterschool programs are well positioned to create these positive conditions for learning by creating a positive climate in their 21st CCLC programs and supporting school initiatives.  


1 National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, 2011; Osher, Kendziora, & Chinen, 2008.

2 Bryk, Anthony, Penny Bender Sebring, Allensworth, Easton, & Luppescu, 2010; Catalano, Oesterle, Fleming, & Hawkins, 2004. National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, 2011; Osher, Kendziora, & Chinen, 2008.

3 Illinois State Board of Education, 2017.

4Afterschool Alliance, 2014; Durlak, Weissberg, & Pachan, 2010; Jordan, C., Parker, J., Donnelly, D., Rudo, Z., Eds., 2009.

5 Berg, Osher, Moroney, Yoder, 2017.

6 David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, 2018.

7 U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students, 2016.

8 National School Climate Center, 2017.

9 National School Climate Center, 2010.


Afterschool Alliance. (2014). Taking a deeper dive into afterschool: Positive outcomes and promising practices. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Berg, J., Osher, D., Moroney, D., Yoder, N. (2017). The intersection of school climate and social and emotional development. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

Bryk, A.S., Sebring, P.B., Allensworth, E., Easton, J.Q. and Luppescu, S. Organizing schools for improvement: Lessons from Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Catalano, R. F., Oesterle, S., Fleming, C. B., & Hawkins, J. D. (2004). The importance of bonding to school for healthy development: Findings from the Social Development Research Group.  Journal of School Health,  74(7), 252-261.

David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality. (2018). Youth Program Quality Assessment ® and School-Age Program Quality Assessment. Retrieved from

Illinois State Board of Education. (2017). Illinois State Board of Education state template for the Consolidated State Plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Springfield, IL: 2017. Retrieved from

Jordan, C., Parker, J., Donnelly, D., Rudo, Z. (Eds.). (2009). A practitioner’s guide: Building and managing quality afterschool programs. Austin, TX: SEDL. Available from

National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. (2011). Making the case for the importance of school climate and its measurement [Webinar]. Washington, DC. Retrieved from

National School Climate Center. (2010). Roles and responsibilities: Building positive schools climate and providing learning supports for students. New York, NY: Author. Retrieved from

National School Climate Center. (2017). The 13 Dimensions of School Climate Measured by the CSCI. New York, NY: Author. Retrieved from

Osher, D., Kendziora, K., & Chinen, M. (2008). Student connection research: Final narrative report to the Spencer Foundation. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students. (2016). Quick guide on making school climate improvements. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from