Astor Emphasizes Emotional Intelligence as a School Priority

Professor of Social Welfare Ron Avi Astor spoke to the Southern California News Group about ways to prevent bullying and violence in schools. In a survey of California middle and high school students, about one in three reported being bullied or harassed over a five-year period. However, schools that have implemented a focus on “social-emotional learning” saw lower levels of reported bullying. Social-emotional learning emphasizes that students get in touch with their own emotions and mental well-being and show empathy for others. “This actually moves into the core purpose of what schools are supposed to do for society; they are supposed to create a society that cares, that supports and helps people,” Astor said. “It puts schools out in front of what we hope society will be in 10 years.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, many California school districts have increased their focus on students’ mental health and well-being.

Astor on Aggression Targeting School Staff

Several media outlets reached out to Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor to provide context to a new report by the American Psychological Association (APA) on the alarming levels of harassment and threats experienced by school staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Astor, a member of the APA task force that conducted the research, spoke to NPR’s Morning Edition, CBS Los Angeles, K-12 Dive and The 74 about the “pressure-cooker” atmosphere in the nation’s schools. “Schools were and still are a battleground,” he said. “COVID is symbolic of all these larger cultural layers that filter into every classroom, every school in the country.” Astor also appeared at a March 17 congressional briefing on the study, and noted that school staffs are “just underfunded, understaffed and do not have enough help organizationally to create a positive, healthy environment.” The report, which received national attention from NBC News and EdWeek, among other outlets, recommended comprehensive research-based solutions to improve the campus environment for both students and staff.


School Personnel Report Threats, Harassment During Pandemic

Professor Ron Avi Astor and a team from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare contributed to research on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on teachers and other school staff as part of a task force launched by the American Psychological Association. In a report released today, the task force found that approximately one-third of teachers surveyed said they had experienced at least one incident of verbal harassment or threat of violence from students during the pandemic. Almost 50% of the teachers expressed a plan or desire to quit or transfer jobs, according to the report, based on a nationwide survey of 14,966 teachers, administrators, school psychologists, social workers and other pre-K through 12th grade school staff. “This was one of the first studies we know of that looked at how both COVID-19 and issues of school safety impacted all school personnel,” said Astor, who holds a joint appointment with the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. “School staff such as bus drivers, janitors, secretaries, yard aides, crossing guards and cafeteria workers are often left out of these large national studies. Their voices are so important and commonly ignored.” The APA task force will present its findings at a congressional briefing today at 2 p.m. EDT,  joined by several national co-sponsoring organizations. The UCLA team that contributed to the findings included Hector Palencia of the Social Welfare field education faculty and doctoral students Laura Liévano-Karim, Natalie Fensterstock, Chaoyue Wu, Kate Watson and Sawyer Hogenkamp. Gordon Capp of CSU Fullerton was also part of the UCLA team. — Joanie Harmon

Read the full story

Read the APA report

Register to view the congressional briefing


Astor on ‘Tsunami of Mental Health Needs’ in Schools

A Reuters article on signs that the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic are worsening gun violence in American schools included insights from Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor. Since the 2021-22 school year began, campuses have been the site of 141 shootings, more than at any point in the previous decade, gun safety advocates say. Astor said several factors, including the pandemic, overall community violence and breakdowns in family structures, have created a “tsunami of mental health needs” in schools. In many places, burnout, staffing shortages and illness have left teachers and administrators ill-equipped to deal with the challenges. “Kids are walking into a system that has been massively weakened,” Astor said. “We’re going to see a variety of different forms of gun violence and violence in general. We’re in a situation where things are going to get worse.”


Astor on Parental Concerns for Child Safety in Israeli Schools

A study co-authored by Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor about perceptions of child safety in Israel’s schools was featured on several international new outlets, including YNET News. Astor and his research partners analyzed 2,165 responses from a nationwide survey of the parents of children between kindergarten and 12th grade. The study, which assessed parents’ and children’s sense of protection in Israeli schools, found that only 10.6% of parents “feel their children are very safe in the educational institution.” According to the survey results, 40% of children were victims of physical harm at least once and several reported verbal harassment and social media shaming. The research team also highlighted parent dissatisfaction with educational institutions’ handling of violence.

Faculty Reported Among Top 2% in Scholarly Citations

Eighteen faculty members affiliated with UCLA Luskin are included in a listing of the top 2% for scholarly citations worldwide in their respective fields as determined by an annual study co-produced by Stanford University researchers. The 2021 report is a publicly available database that identifies more than 100,000 top researchers and includes updates through citation year 2020. The lists and explanations of study methodology can be found on Elsevier BV, and an article about the study was published by PLOS Biology. Separate data sets are available for career-long and single-year impact. The researchers are classified into 22 scientific fields and 176 subfields, with field- and subfield-specific percentiles provided for all researchers who have published at least five papers. The following current and past scholars with a UCLA Luskin connection met the study’s criteria to be included among the most-cited scholars:

Laura Abrams

Ron Avi Astor

Evelyn Blumenberg

Randall Crane

Dana Cuff

Yeheskel Hasenfeld (deceased)

Aurora P. Jackson

Duncan Lindsey

Susanne Lohmann

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Thomas Rice

Ananya Roy

Robert Schilling

Donald Shoup

Michael Storper

Brian Taylor

John Villasenor

Martin Wachs (deceased)


Astor on Schools’ Role in Protecting Students, Preventing Violence

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to the Los Angeles Times about pandemic-related factors behind reports of tension, misbehavior and violence on school campuses. Students who returned to in-person learning after a long period of isolation may have also experienced food and housing insecurity, mental health issues and other stressors, Astor noted, so schools should be well-positioned to support students on many levels. “Historically, schools have also played the role of creating a better society and a better world,” he said. “This is the right time to retreat back to that.” A K-12 Dive article on who bears responsibility for preventing violence on campus also cited Astor. He recommended that everybody — including teachers, staff, administrators, peers, parents and law enforcement — be trained to spot and properly respond to students who display red flags, including an obsession with firearms; signs of depression and suicidal ideation; having a plan to hurt themselves or others; and troubling social media posts.


Astor on Parents’ Role in Preventing School Shootings

A Christian Science Monitor article on parent accountability in school shootings cited Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an authority on the prevention of school violence. Astor recommended that parents be educated in how to recognize warning signs that mass shooters often show — such as visiting a website that glorifies past school shooters, an obsession with firearms or suicidal tendencies — as well as where they can turn for help if they have concerns. In 2018, Astor and other scholars published a holistic public health plan to prevent gun violence at schools. The plan includes building healthier school communities and families through things like bullying prevention and threat assessments. “What I like about that approach is it doesn’t get us stuck in this Second Amendment rights issue that everybody seems to gravitate to almost automatically, of ‘there’s nothing you can do’ or ‘eliminate all guns,’” Astor said. “There’s a lot you can do in between.”

Jackson Selected as American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare Fellow

Professor Emerita of Social Welfare Aurora Jackson was elected as a 2022 fellow by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. The academy is a prestigious society of distinguished scholars and practitioners dedicated to achieving excellence in the field of social work and social welfare through high-impact work that advances social good. The fellowship program recognizes and celebrates outstanding social work and social welfare research, scholarship and practice. Jackson’s scholarship examines the interrelationships among economic hardship, parental psychological well-being, parenting in the home environment, and child developmental outcomes in families headed by low-income, single-parent mothers with young children. When she is formally inducted with 15 other fellows in January 2022, Jackson will become the second woman from UCLA to join the academy, following the induction of Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams in 2020. Academy fellows are nominated confidentially, then confirmed by a supermajority of current academy members. “Being a member of the academy is the highest honor the profession can bestow on a scholar,” said Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, who was inducted into the academy in 2017. Jackson will contribute to the growing list of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare scholars who have been inducted as academy fellows. In addition to Abrams and Astor, they include Distinguished Professor Emeritus Stuart A. Kirk (2010), Professor Emeritus James Lubben (2011), Professor Emeritus Robert Schilling (2011) and the late Professor Yeheskel “Zeke” Hasenfeld (2013). — Zoe Day

New Paper Analyzes Impact of School Closures on Families

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor and doctoral student Kate Watson collaborated on a new paper highlighting the needs of children and families during school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper, published in Social Work, analyzed responses to a nationwide survey of 1,275 school social workers who reported on their clients, including schools, children and families, during the COVID-19 school closures in spring 2020. While other reports have focused on academic challenges facing students during the pandemic as well as the effects of online learning on academic success, the authors identified a knowledge gap in understanding the needs and difficulties of K-12 students and their families from a social work perspective. In their responses to the survey, school social workers indicated that the children and families they served had significant unmet basic needs, including for food, health care and housing. “Poverty and mental health compounded pandemic difficulties, which were associated with the sociodemographic makeup of schools,” wrote Watson, the paper’s lead author, with co-authors Astor and colleagues from Hebrew University, Cal State Fullerton and Loyola University Chicago. Based on the survey results, the authors identified several policy and practice implications for the future. They highlighted the need for “additional services for students and families, a plan to address structural inequities in our schools and communities, coordinated outreach to reengage missing students, and recognition of the strong work being done by school staff coupled with a need for additional supports and resources to combat persistent inequality.” — Zoe Day