Caring School Community (CSC), formerly known as the Child Development Project, is an elementary school program that seeks to strengthen students’ connectedness to school by creating a classroom and school community that fosters academic motivation, achievement, and character formation and reduces drug abuse, violence, and mental health problems. CSC incorporates elements important in children’s social development, including supportive teacher–student relationships and opportunities for students to interact and collaborate in cooperative groups. The program was designed to be delivered by elementary school teachers, to enhance children’s prosocial behavior without impeding academic accomplishments, and to promote students’ commitment to being fair, empathic, respectful, and responsible.
CSC is currently offered nationally as a multiyear school improvement program for students in kindergarten through sixth grade classrooms. Classroom lessons and materials are offered for students, teachers, and school administrators. The CSC program component "Homeside Activities" also involves parents and caregivers.
CSC offers the following four main classroom components to promote developmental discipline, social understanding, cooperation, prosocial values, and helping activities:
1. Class meetings. Teachers learn how to build unity and social skills, while students learn how to set class norms and goals, make decisions, and identify and solve problems that affect classroom climate.
2. Cross-Age Buddies program. Pairs classes of older and younger students for academic and recreational activities to help build caring, cross-age relationships. For each activity, buddy teachers plan together, prepare their own classes, support the buddy pairs during the activity, and reflect on the experience with their students afterward.
3. Homeside activities. Teachers learn how to create a cycle of learning that starts in the classroom, develops at home, and concludes in the classroom, while students obtain short conversational activities (in both English and Spanish versions) to do at home with their caregiver, and then debrief back in their classroom. These are intended to validate the families’ perspectives, cultures, and traditions and to promote interpersonal understanding and appreciation.
4. Schoolwide activities. Teachers learn collaborative schoolwide activities and ways to link students, parents, school staff, and the community at large in building a caring school environment. The all-inclusive activities are meant to foster new school traditions and promote cultural understanding.
The CSC program has its theoretical foundations in the literature on children’s behavior and development, including research on socialization, learning and motivation, and prosocial characteristics (Staub 1979). Its basic premise is that children’s prosocial characteristics can best be enhanced in a setting that emphasizes and exemplifies commitment to shared values, mutual responsibility and concern, and a sense of community. Actively participating in a caring school community is posited to facilitate children’s intellectual, social, and moral development and help meet their needs for autonomy, competence, and belonging (Baumeister and Leary 1995).
Program components are also grounded in the following four interrelated principles:
1. Build stable, warm, and supportive relationships.
2. Attend to the moral dimensions of learning by explicitly addressing students’ needs for social and ethical understanding.
3. Teach to the active mind by promoting construction of meaning, student exploration, and problem solving.
4. Tap into students’ intrinsic motivation by promoting cooperation and collaboration instead of competition.
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The overall evidence of effectiveness of the Caring School Community (CSC) program is mixed. The 1988 study of CSC by Solomon and colleagues found significant differences between the intervention and comparison classrooms on some measures of behavior. The 2000 study by Battistich and colleagues found few significant differences when examining the high-change schools (schools that implemented the program properly) and no significant differences between the intervention and comparison groups when examining all the schools included in the study.
Supportive and Friendly Behavior
Solomon and colleagues (1988) found that children in the intervention classrooms scored significantly higher (p<.05) on supportive and friendly behavior tallies compared with the control group students.
There were no significant differences in negative behavior between the intervention and comparison groups when results from all years were combined.
Spontaneous Prosocial Behavior
Students in the intervention classrooms scored significantly higher (p<.001) on spontaneous prosocial behavior ratings compared with the control group students when results from all years were combined.
There were no significant differences in harmoniousness between the intervention and comparison groups when results from all years were combined. Harmoniousness was also shown to be strongly correlated with teacher competence in the intervention group.
Researchers examined data from the California Achievement Test at the end of the fourth grade for all children in the first cohort. There were no significant differences between the intervention and comparison groups; as such, the authors concluded that participation in CSC did not undermine students’ academic achievement.
Battistich and colleagues’ 2000 study of CSC did not demonstrate any significant effects. Analyses of the data on implementation and sense of community revealed considerable variability between high- and low-change schools; only the analysis using the high-change schools with high levels of implementation revealed any significant differences.
The analysis of the high-change schools indicated that both student use of alcohol (p<.05) and student use of marijuana (p<.01) declined, compared with their matched comparison schools. However, there was no statistically significant difference between the groups when all schools were used in the analysis.
Delinquency and Conduct Problems
There were no significant differences between the intervention and comparison groups in either the total group analysis or the high-change group analysis for student reports of 1) damaging property on purpose; 2) stealing money or property (or attempting to); or 3) hurting someone on purpose.
There were no significant differences between the intervention and comparison groups for student reports of 1) being made fun of, called names, or insulted; 2) having money or property taken by force or threat of harm; 3) having property damaged on purpose; 4) being threatened with harm; or 5) being physically attacked.
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