Graduation Date


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department or Program


Department or Program Chair

Elizabeth Truesdell PhD

First Reader

Jennifer Lucko, PhD

Second Reader

Katherine Lewis, PhD


The aim of this research was to elicit student voice in regard to school climate, belonging, racial identity, and culturally responsive teaching. The study focused on gleaning a greater understanding of important factors that influence the academic achievement gap in a secondary school with predominantly White students and a minority group of students of color. Current studies are limited when it comes student perspective on the effects of culturally responsive teaching, identity formation, belonging, and school climate in this specific demographic. Methodology included an anonymous online survey with 52 participants and three distinct focus groups with 13 total participants. Findings indicate that while a large body of research has shown the value of culturally responsive teaching for students of color, belonging and school climate matter to all students. Student participants identified three major themes that contribute to lived experience of belonging and positive school climate. Firstly, pervasive awareness of similarities and differences and its effects on identity-formation affected students sense of belonging and school climate in that students who did not self-identify as part of the school community, or identified other groups as not part of the school community, did so on the basis of perceived differences. Secondly, daily interactions with school peers had a profound effect on student perception of school climate. Lastly, personalized educational experiences constructed by adults were indicated as extremely impactful for both belonging and school climate.