Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

School Psychology

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Jacqueline Brown

Commitee Members

Greg Machek, Ph.D., Emily Sallee, PhD.


school violence, intervention, prevention, rurality, school climate


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


In the United States, incidents of school violence increased 113 percent during the 2017-2018 school year from the 2016-2017 school year (Klinger, 2019). This increase in violence in schools makes the current movement for safer schools all the more critical. Although high-profile school shootings often obtain media attention, school violence remains a significant problem in the United States. Further, aside from the tragic but statistically rare school shootings, school violence encompasses several forms of physical violence, such as assaults; sexual violence, such as rape and sexual harassment; varying forms of bullying, including cyberbullying, and bringing weapons to school. The increase in threats and violence on school grounds, along with the growing movement for safer schools, highlights the need for action and further investigation pertaining to what improves school safety and provides a safe and enriching environment for students.

Not surprisingly, forms of aggression have been shown to negatively affect students and school climate. Specifically, rates of violence are known to cause both student mental health and school climate to suffer (Kutsyuruba et al., 2015). According to school climate theories, the presence of school violence is a significant indicator of a negative school climate (Peterson & Skiba, 2000). Several of these theories build upon the framework of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory (Wang & Degol, 2016), which posits that the environments in which human development occur are interactive and influential, ranging from proximal to distal (Bronfenbrenner, 1992). With an average school day lasting about 6 hours, it is estimated that students spend over 1,000 hours a year on school grounds (Snyder et al., 2019), indicating that they spend approximately one eighth of the year in school. Considering this significant amount of time spent in school, it is critical to identify the influence that the school environment can have on a student’s well-being, as well as recognize the theories that address how school violence negatively affects school climate.

Despite media portrayals of violence within inner-city schools, such behavior is not exclusive to urban schools. Schools where there are fewer resources, and subsequently fewer preventative measures, are at the greatest risk of school violence, as seen in a longitudinal study by the Rural Adaption Project. The results of this study suggested that rural schools tend to lack the resources for violence prevention programs compared to suburban and urban schools (Cotter et al., 2015). In spite of this knowledge, there has been little research conducted on how the lack of school violence prevention programs affects school climate. Specifically, there is little information on how school mental health professionals believe the presence or lack of school violence intervention programs affects their school’s climate. Because school mental health professionals are on the front line of support when incidents of school violence occur, it is vital to hear their perspectives, assess the perceived efficacy of programs, and determine whether these programs improve school climate.

To identify the effectiveness of school violence prevention programs and how it affects school climate in rural schools, we developed a survey that was distributed to school psychologists and school counselors. Because research has indicated that the implementation of school violence prevention programs has improved school climate in urban and suburban schools, it is hypothesized that this will also stand true for rural schools. Further information on the effect of school violence prevention programs in rural schools can also provide insight on whether rurality affects the efficacy of programs or practices. One of the greatest threats to school safety is the lack of safety practices or programs; therefore, it is imperative to understand the relationship between such programs and school climate.



© Copyright 2021 Jennifer Rotzal