Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction


Curriculum, Instruction, and Foundational Studies

Major Advisor

Lindsey Turner, Ph.D.

Major Advisor

Keith Thiede, Ph.D.


Hannah Calvert, Ph.D.


According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2021), more than half of all public-school districts and nearly one-third of all public-school students attend rural schools in the U.S. This study identifies characteristics of the physical environment of rural schools, considers how the physical environment of rural schools compares to urban and suburban schools, and describes the associations of a school’s physical environment with perceptions of school climate among students, staff, and parents.

Using the School Assessment for Environmental Typology (SAfETy; Bradshaw et al., 2015), this study objectively assessed the physical environment of 40 rural schools in Idaho. Those characteristics were compared with data collected in prior research (Bottiani et al., 2020). This study found rural and non-rural schools, and the make-up of their physical environments, are not that different. The physical environment of rural schools had low frequencies of instances of disorder, such as trash, graffiti, drugs, paraphernalia, and evidence of building decline, such as broken windows and neglected landscaping. Rural schools also produced moderate scores related to appearance, with characteristics including illumination, visibility, and ownership. Most schools in this study were found to have interior and exterior surveillance cameras in place and employed school resource officers.

Rural secondary schools in this study had a higher presence of surveillance measures than non-rural high schools, whereas non-rural high schools had higher frequencies of disorder. And, although a comparison to non-rural elementary schools is not available, the rural elementary schools score in the current study show similar physical environmental characteristics as did urban secondary schools in all three factors of the SAfETy.

In addition, the current work also examined aspects of the social environment, through evaluating school climate. The Maryland Safe and Supportive (MDS3) School Climate Survey Suite was administered to students, parents, and staff in all 40 schools participating in this study. Multi-variable regression analysis was used to examine the associations between the SAfETy and school climate. Several associations were found among students, with fewer associations among staff and parents.

This research study concludes that a variety of important, urgent, and malleable associations exist between a rural school’s physical environment and perceptions of school climate among students, staff, and parents. This research, and future research that builds upon this work, will assist schools as they strive to transform, strengthen, and sustain positive school environments for all stakeholders.


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