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Caring School Community Program

Ages 5-12

Rating: Level 2


The Caring School Community (CSC) program, formerly the Child Development Project, is a research-based elementary school program that builds classroom and school community. It focuses on strengthening students’ connectedness to school—a pivotal element for promoting academic motivation and achievement, for fostering character formation, and for reducing drug abuse, violence, and mental health problems. The program includes four complementary components:

1. Class meetings—provide teachers and students with a forum to get to know one another, discuss issues, identify and solve problems, and make decisions that affect classroom climate.

2. Cross-age “buddies” activities—a “buddies” program that pairs whole classes of older and younger students for academic and recreational activities. Helps to build caring cross-age relationships and create a school-wide climate of trust.

3. Home/School connection activities—short conversational activities (in both English and Spanish versions) that students do at home with their parent or caregiver, and then debrief back in their classroom. Validates the families’ perspectives, cultures, and traditions, and promotes interpersonal understanding and appreciation.

4. Schoolwide community-building activities—innovative, inclusive, collaborative activities that link students, parents, and school staff in building a caring, school environment. Fosters new school traditions and promotes involvement of parents who typically do not participate at school.

CSC is designed to 1) create a caring, cooperative school environment, 2) build connections and foster trust and respect among students and teachers, 3) strengthen connections between school and home and promote parents’ involvement in their children’s learning, 4) build students’ academic motivation and support their academic learning, 5) foster students’ empathy and understanding of others, and 6) promote students’ commitment to being fair, helpful, respectful, and responsible.


CSC has been extensively and rigorously evaluated in several studies over the last 20 years. The largest and most recent used a quasi-experimental design. The sample included an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse sample of more than 14,000 students from 12 program and 12 comparison schools in six districts across the United States. Program schools and comparison schools were matched for ethnic composition, socioeconomic status, and educational achievement. Beginning baseline assessments were followed by annual assessments for 3 years, using a structured classroom observation system and student and teacher questionnaires. Assessments included standardized multiple-choice achievement tests, performance assessments, and review of school records. Classroom observations and teacher questionnaires were used to assess each teacher’s level of implementation. The study also involved a follow-up component of students from three of the high-change CSC elementary schools and their matched comparison schools while they were in middle school. The fourth and final wave of assessments in the follow-up study was completed in spring 2000, by which time the final cohort of program and comparison students who were assessed during the elementary school study had completed middle school.


After 3 years of the original CSC study, students in five high-implementing CSC schools, relative to their comparison school counterparts, showed 1) a greater sense of the school as a caring community (33 percent higher than would be expected if they had not experienced the program); 2) more fondness for school (12 percent higher than would be expected); 3) stronger academic motivation (24 percent higher); 4) more frequent reading of books outside of school (8 percent higher); 5) a higher sense of efficacy (6 percent higher); 6) stronger commitment to democratic values (12 percent higher); 7) better conflict-resolution skills (17 percent higher); 8) more concern for others (10 percent higher); 9) more frequent altruistic behavior (8 percent higher); and 10) less use of alcohol (13 percent lower than would be expected if they had not experienced the program).

The follow-up study from three of the high-implementing CSC elementary schools showed that when these students were in middle school they continued to show significantly better attitudes and behaviors than former comparison students. Specifically, during middle school, program students showed 1) higher grades in core academic classes (25 percent achieved an average of half a grade-point higher in English, mathematics, science, and social studies than would be expected if they had not experienced the program); 2) higher achievement test scores (25 percent higher than would be expected); 3) a greater sense of community (15 percent higher); 4) higher educational aspirations (18 percent higher); 5) more fondness for school (19 percent higher); 6) greater trust in and respect for teachers (18 percent higher); 7) greater involvement in positive activities such as sports, clubs, and youth groups (20 percent higher); 8) less misconduct at school (19 percent lower than would be expected if they had not experienced the program); and 9) less delinquent behavior (13 percent lower than would be expected).

Risk Factors


  • Cognitive and neurological deficits/Low intelligence quotient/Hyperactivity
  • Mental disorder/Mental health problem/Conduct disorder


  • Inadequate school climate/Poorly organized and functioning schools/Negative labeling by teachers
  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school

Protective Factors


  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Effective parenting
  • Opportunities for prosocial family involvement


  • High expectations of students
  • High quality schools / Clear standards and rules
  • Opportunities for prosocial school involvement
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)


  • Involvement with positive peer group activities


  • SAMHSA: Model Programs
  • NIJ: What Works
  • Department of Education


Battistich, Victor, Eric Schaps, Marilyn Watson, and Daniel Solomon. 1996. “Prevention Effects of the Child Development Project: Early Findings From an Ongoing Multisite Demonstration Trial.” Journal of Adolescent Research 11:12–35.

Battistich, Victor, Daniel Solomon, Marilyn Watson, and Eric Schaps. 1997. “Caring School Communities.“ Educational Psychologist 32:137–51.

Solomon, Daniel, Victor Battistich, Marilyn Watson, Eric Schaps, and Carol Lewis. 2000. “A Six-District Study of Educational Change: Direct and Mediated Effects of the Child Development Project.” Social Psychology of Education 4:3–51.

Solomon, Daniel, Marilyn Watson, Victor Battistich, Eric Schaps, and Kevin Delucchi. 1996. “Creating Classrooms That Students Experience as Communities.” American Journal of Community Psychology 24:719–48.


Denise Wood
Developmental Studies Center
2000 Embarcadero, Suite 305
Oakland, CA 94606–5300
Phone: (510) 533-0213
Fax: (510) 464-3670
Web site: