Best Starts for Kids Health Survey: What we learned about school environments

Every other year, we ask our community to help us understand the strengths & needs of King County families through the Best Starts for Kids Health Survey (BSKHS), a critical tool to help us understand our impact. However, numbers can only tell us so much. Before the survey opens on May 28, we’re sharing how we partner with communities to help us understand the stories behind the numbers.

This is the 3rd blog post sharing what we learned from our community about school environments. Read the first blog here and the second blog here.


Note: This survey data was collected before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dramatically changed what school looks like for scholars. 

In 2019, we asked parents of elementary-school aged kids a few brief questions about school climate and culture in our BSK Health Survey: “this child is treated with as much respect as other students” and “parent feels welcome at their child’s school”. These are important because school climate influences how scholars feel about being in school and their overall learning and development. Nearly all parents felt that their child was as respected as other students at school (97%) and that they were welcome at their child’s school (97%).  

We asked parents in 13 communities how these results resonated with their lived experiences in community cafes. The majority of communities felt that the data were too positive and didn’t match their experiences with their child’s school. Pervasive experiences of racism and discrimination were mentioned as driving factors in these negative experiences. 

They get looked at in a different way. Most all spoke of their negative school experiences such as not being treated the same, feeling judged, that they get looked at differently, kids being treated like they are the problem, staff and parents may tend to point the blame on the child, a lack of change in graduation rates since 2001 as an indicator that there hasn’t been improvement.

Pasifika Café participant 

African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Ethiopian, Pasifika, and Russian families reported feeling unwelcome in the school environment due to lack of respect for their cultures, students were not treated well, and there were incidents where parents had to talk to school staff. 

Asian Indian parents commonly reported that children refused to take Indian food to school due to children teasing them about their food or hair “smelling.” Parents shared a desire for the schools to lead conversations early on about culture, color, and foods.  

Somali families added that the school may not actively discriminate, but accepts the “bare minimum” from children and does not push them to “their greatest potential”. 

LGBTQ2+ families felt their community was not represented in the curriculum and school environment – “songs were about mommy and daddy.”  

Families in a few communities did indicate that results reflected their experiences as their child’s school environments were largely supportive. Korean families acknowledged the presence of discrimination, but largely felt it was minimal for their children given the interest in Korean culture within the broader public.  

“I think my kids get fair treatment at the school…now, many kids are interested in Korean singers and dancers and Korean culture. So, my kids made a lot of friends at school and those things made school life fun and easy for my children…school treats my kids fair. I think it’s because there are so many people of color.”

Korean Café participant 

Most Khmer and Latino families agreed that their experience with the school was largely positive, but experiences varied by school and teacher. Children generally received support from teachers and the school system.  

Parents offered a few reasons why survey results might differ from lived experiences:  not enough people from their community took the survey; parents who did take the survey may not be representative; participants felt that trust needed to be established to gather accurate data; and that survey questions were vague, misunderstood or culturally inappropriate.  

So, what now? It’s not easy to resolve the differences in our survey data and lived experiences, but we are starting by: 

  • Checking the data for errors.  
  • Removing school survey results from our data website until we can add parent reflections alongside numbers so that we are telling the whole story. More soon! 
  • Discussing how we can continue improving our survey methods based on feedback from families and communities, including more outreach and including more responses from small communities.  

Keep an eye out for our last blog on next steps!


Learn more about our partners work in King County schools:

We know the impacts of trauma. Now what can schools and communities do about it? 

Partner Highlight: We.APP (We Act. Present. Perform) 

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