School Climate Impacts Learning

Students participating in class.School climate refers to the school community’s perceptions and experiences of the school environment, culture, teaching, and the quality of school life overall. The school community includes school administrators, school staff, parents, students, and community members.

Nationwide, 20 percent of students had been bullied on school property in the last year.1 Seven percent of students missed school in the last month because they felt they would be unsafe at school or on their way to or from school.2 A growing body of research shows that school climate has a significant impact on students’ mental and physical health.3

Furthermore, a strong school climate is associated with positive youth development, effective risk prevention and health promotion efforts, student learning and academic achievement, increased graduation rates, and teacher retention.

School-Based Health Centers Can Play a Role in Improving School Climate

School-based health centers (SBHCs) and other school health professionals can play an important role in enhancing school climate, particularly in improving student behavior and rethinking disciplinary approaches. Mental health specialists and other school health staff can be integral to the process of identifying and assessing students in need of support services. SBHCs can also lead the implementation of alternative behavioral interventions for students with mental health or disciplinary concerns, such as anger management sessions, leadership development programming, individual and group counseling sessions, and peer support groups. Furthermore, SBHC providers can train and support school staff and parents to recognize when students are in need of intervention.

According to the Center for School, Health and Education at the American Public Health Association, SBHCs have a “natural role” and are a “powerful ally” in efforts to improve school climate.4 Research has found positive associations between SBHCs and their school’s learning environments, which is one component of school climate. In a study of public schools in a large northeastern city, students and parents from schools with SBHCs reported more positive perceptions of the school learning environment, including academic expectations, communication, and school engagement, as compared to those from schools without SBHCs.5 Later analyses found middle and elementary students with SBHC access reported greater levels of school engagement and satisfaction with the learning environment than those in high schools. The authors suggest that elementary and middle school families might feel more connected to their schools than high school families.6

A study of students in San Francisco high schools found that SBHC use was positively related to student-reported caring relationships with SBHC staff and school assets. The authors noted that the strongest effects were observed for students reporting more than ten visits to the SBHC.7

Learn More

National School Climate Center

The National School Climate Center (NSCC) provides educators, mental health professionals, after-school workers, and parents with tangible strategies for improving school climate. NSCC’s website has information on school climate and a variety of free resources, as well as other resources and services available for a fee.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has addressed bullying prevention since 2001, including participating in the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention, a work group of 26 offices across eight federal agencies that work together on bullying prevention. is a capstone of this partnership, and is the only federal source of information on bullying.


WestEd promotes excellence, equity, and improved learning for children, youth, and adults. WestEd offers resources and professional development on improving school climate, including a workbook on school climate. WestEd also administers and analyzes California’s SCHL-S surveys, which include the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) (completed by students) and the California School Climate Survey (CSCS) (completed by teachers). These surveys provide essential insights into school climate on California’s school campuses.

Alliance for the Study of School Climate

The Alliance for the Study of School Climate, at Cal State Los Angeles, presents research on school climate, as well as resources and services for schools and organizations working to improve school climate.

Center for School, Health and Education

The Center for School, Health and Education, at the American Public Health Association, offers resources on school climate, including an article on the role of school-based health care in improving school climate.

Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

This center, established by the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education, provides information for schools and families to help them start, run, and support PBIS programs. The website includes a comprehensive section outlining the current research on PBIS implementation in schools.


(1) Kahn L, Kinchen S, Shanklin SL, et al. (2014). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2013. MMWR 2014;63(4):1-172.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Thapa A, Cohen J, Guffey S, Higgins-D’Alessandro A. A Review of School Climate Research. Review of Educational Research. September 1, 2013 2013;83(3):357-385.
(4) Center for School, Health and Education, at the American Public Health Association. (2011). School Climate, School Success and the Role of School-Based Health Care.
(5) Strolin-Goltzman J. The relationship between school-based health centers and the learning environment. Journal of School Health. Mar 2010;80(3):153-159.
(6) Strolin-Goltzman J, Sisselman A, Auerbach C, Sharon L, Spolter S, Corn TB. The moderating effect of school type on the relationship between school-based health centers and the learning environment. Social Work in Public Health. 2012;27(7):699-709.
(7) Stone S, Whitaker K, Anyon Y, Shields JP. The relationship between use of school-based health centers and student-reported school assets. The Journal of Adolescent Health. Oct 2013;53(4):526-532.