An Understanding of How Cultural Diversity Influences Strenths-based Programming in Schools

The Centre of Education and Research on Positive Youth Development recently received a Partnership Development Grant awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

The purpose of this research project is to investigate how cultural diversity interacts with and shapes the integration of strengths-based programs in schools. Cultural diversity, or the promotion of difference and variation within a group, has been continuously linked in the literature as a means to improve academic performance, develop identity, and cultivate productive relationships in schools. An appreciation of cultural diversity encourages students to feel positive about being different and introducing different ideas in their classrooms. Positive psychology, an area of psychology that engages the strengths of an individual to overcome hardship and increase work performance, is gaining momentum in North American schools as an effective way to promote a positive school climate for children and youth. Although very much still in its theoretical stages, schools with an orientation of strengths have the potential to increase academic achievement, enhance positive attitudes and interactions, and reduce social difficulties among students. This is indeed an exciting perspective, but more empirical evidence is still needed to guide school practitioners in its application, especially among culturally diverse school populations that are often a part of Canadian classrooms. This gap in the literature forms the impetus for this research proposal. The proposed study will add to strengths-focused research and theory by examining the relationships between reported strengths, cultural diversity, school climate, and academic performance.

This research project expands on previous empirical work situated in a formal partnership between Lakehead University and the Lakehead Public School Board (LPSB). Preliminary findings indicated that a strengths-based program lowered suspension rates, decreased in bullying practices and developed positive behaviours. In this specific proposal, the researchers will expand on the LPSB partnership to include rural schools as well as include new partners: the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board and the Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique des Aurores Boréales. These three school boards are in no way homogenous; they are characterized by significant cultural differences in language (French/English), geographic location with rural and urban schools, religion (Catholic/Non-Catholic), and racial differences (Aboriginal and other ethnic groups).  As noted in their strategic plans, all three school boards seek support in developing a strengths orientation specific to their schools as a means to produce a positive school climate. This systemic shift towards strengths-based programs presents a unique and important opportunity for the research team to build on previous work, create collaborative partnerships around research, and coordinate a project that explores how cultural diversity impacts the intervention and implementation of strengths-based programs. 

Under the direction of a Project Advisory Committee that involves school board representatives, graduate students, and the researchers, several schools will receive a strengths-based intervention program. There will also be control schools where no intervention will be done followed by analysis. This grant will enable existing and new partners to explore whether previous findings were anomalous or reflect an effective approach to address bullying practices in schools.