The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Contextual Predictors of Perception of School Danger for Rural Youth: Baseline Results From the Rural Adaptation Project

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 2:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 102A Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Katie Cotter, MSW, Pre-Doctoral Fellow, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Title: Contextual Predictors of Perception of School Danger for Rural Youth:

Baseline Results from the Rural Adaptation Project

Authors: Katie L. Cotter, Paul R. Smokowski, Caroline I.B. Robertson, & Shenyang Guo

Background/Purpose: Assessing perceived school danger is more informative than rates of school crime and violence because students may be impacted by the potential for harm regardless of actual incidents. Witnessing violence at school is more common than being victimized at school; previous research suggests that 73% of students reported witnessing someone being threatened at school and 69% reported witnessing someone being “beaten up” at school in the previous year. Students’ perceptions of school danger have been linked to weapon carrying, poor academic achievement, decreased school attendance, and behavior problems. However, a review of the literature revealed a lack of studies focused on the perception of school danger for rural youth exclusively. Therefore, the purpose of the current study is to test the following hypotheses: 1) Perceptions of school danger will vary by race, with ethnic minority youth perceiving more danger; 2) Perceptions of school danger will vary by gender; 3) Negative peer relationships will be associated with increased perceptions of school danger; 4) Supportive parent-child relationships will be associated with decreased perceptions of school danger; and 5) Students’ perceptions of danger at school will be influenced by school and neighborhood factors.


Methods: A sample of 3,642 youth participated in the current study. School danger was measured with an 11-item scale. Demographic variables along with parent support, parent child conflict, negative friend behavior, friend support, teacher support, perceived discrimination, school hassles, neighbor support, neighborhood criminality and school characteristics were the independent variables in this study. Data were analyzed using hierarchical multiple regression. Each set of variables was included in the model hierarchically, resulting in a total of five models: (1) Demographics, (2) Parent Predictors, (3) Peer Predictors, (4) School Experiences and Characteristics, and (5) Neighborhood Predictors.

Results: Results indicated that 38% of the variance in perceived school danger was explained when all variables were included in the model. In line with hypothesis 1, race was associated with perceived danger and ethnic minority youth perceived significantly higher levels of danger. There was a gender difference in terms of perceived school danger, which confirms hypothesis 2; females reported higher levels of school danger compared to males. In line with hypothesis 3, negative friend behavior was associated with increased perceptions of danger. Hypothesis 4 was not confirmed and both parent support and parent-child conflict were positively associated with perceptions of school danger. Hypothesis 5 was confirmed and school characteristics (e.g., large size, low student academic ability) and neighborhood characteristics (e.g., crime) were associated with higher levels of perceived danger.


Conclusions/Implications: This study adds to the scant literature on factors associated with rural students’ perceptions of school danger. Peer, parent, neighborhood, and school environment factors influence students’ perception of school. However, interventions should focus on peer and school environment factors as these were the most robust predictors of students’ perceptions of school danger.