Methods: Four focus groups were conducted with adults and young people at one middle school. Specifically, one focus group was conducted with school staff (N=8) (administrators, teachers, instructional coaches, restorative justice coordinator), of which 50% self-identified as a Black and/or Indigenous Person of Color (BIPOC). Another focus group was conducted with community partner staff (N=3) from three different organizations who all identified as a BIPOC. Additionally, two focus groups were conducted with students of color (FG#1: N=6; FG#2: N=3) who identified as African American/Black (N=6), Latinx (N=1), multiracial (N=2) and cisgender males (N=4) and females (N=5). A semi-structured interview protocol that explored participants' perceptions of the school’s racial and ethnic equity-informed SEL strategies on school climate and student development was used to facilitate each group discussion. Each focus group lasted approximately one hour, was conducted in a private room at the school, and audio recorded with participants’ permission. Light refreshments were provided at each focus group session, and the students also received a $10 gift card for participating in the group discussion. A gift card was not provided to adult participants due to a district policy.
Results: The findings suggest that participants perceived school-based SEL strategies to embed racial and ethnic equity when they acknowledge and address the influence racism has on students of color schooling experiences and outcomes and center adult and young people’s racial identity, culture, and lived experiences. Incorporating this content and activities in the SEL strategies was perceived to broaden some of the adult’s understanding of the structural and systemic origins of racial inequity and inequality, which in turn shifted their practices. They also perceived this content and activities to facilitate positive student-teacher interactions and identity and social-emotional development among students of color.
Conclusion: Participant’s experiences in and perceptions of the impact these strategies have on school climate and youth development substantiate the need to understand racial and ethnic equity as a process-oriented approach that requires continuous improvement, rather than just an outcome-focused endeavor. Implications for research and practice focused on embedding racial equity in education are discussed.