Recent data on school crime and safety indicate that while the incidence of theft and violence victimization in schools across the nation decreased from 1992 to 2010, the victimization rate increased between 2010 and 2012 (Robers et al., Kemp, Rathbun, & Morgan, 2014).

The rate of violent incidents is almost twice as high in middle schools than in high schools (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011).

Research further indicates that disruptive aggressive behaviors such as bullying and violence create a hostile school environment that interferes with the academic performance and mental health of students who are victims or witnesses. South Carolina public schools are hoping to prevent such aggressive behavior through Capturing Kids’ Hearts (CKH).

CKH is a promising, widely used, school-level intervention program designed to impact student behavior by enhancing a positive school climate through improved relational and conflict management skills. CKH trains school staff to model and teach relational and problem-solving skills, communicative competencies, and teach consequential thinking.

But is CKH having a positive impact? Although preliminary evidence or program effectiveness is promising, a rigorous evaluation is needed to understand CKH’s impact on school safety.

WestEd, through a recently awarded National Institute of Justice (NIJ)-funded contract, will investigate the impacts of the program on school safety, students’ connectedness to school, bonds with teachers and peers, and social competencies. WestEd is partnering with the South Carolina Department of Education; the Flippen Group, developer of CKH; and the school districts of Georgetown, Greenville, Richland 01, and Richland 02 to conduct the study.

WestEd’s Thomas Hanson and Anthony Petrosino are Co-Principal Investigators of the three-year study, which will be conducted in 24 middle schools served by four school districts in South Carolina. Approximately 18,000 grade 6–8 students will participate in the study.

Evaluators will employ a cluster randomized experimental design, with 24 middle schools randomly assigned to an experimental group and a wait-listed control group.

Key student outcomes will include measures of violence perpetration and victimization, relationship bonds between and among students and teachers, and social competencies. Evaluators will collect self-report survey data in the spring of 2016 (staff data) and fall (student data) prior to implementing CKH.

“We are pleased to receive this funding from NIJ to have the opportunity to partner with the South Carolina Department of Education, the Flippen Group, and local school districts to contribute to the knowledge base on what works to make schools safer,” says Petrosino.

Study findings will be disseminated to the public via research journal articles and conference presentations.