by Evaluation Fellow Maria Dominguez

Every year, Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) administers the School Climate Survey (SCS) to middle and high school students who go to schools in the MPN footprint and participate in onsite programs that are part of the MPN service network. We are pleased to share the key findings from the spring 2022 survey.

This is the first time MPN has been able to administer the survey in three years, due to the challenges of distance learning and families’ urgent resource needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two MPN partners, Jamestown and Mission Graduates, administered the survey via SurveyMonkey to students at their on-campus Beacon Centers in May 2022.

The SCS has several purposes. The US Department of Education, which has funded MPN since 2012, requires us to report annually on community indicators that we track through the SCS. Findings from the SCS also support our network partners and community members: By hearing directly from our students, the MPN network can leverage our best practices and improve upon our service model. Hearing student perspectives also amplifies the needs of young community members to our elected officials and other key stakeholders.

This year, 153 students across four MPN schools[1] – Everett Middle School, Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 Community School, John O’Connell High School and Mission High School– participated in the survey. While the survey is anonymous, we collect core demographic data from respondents:

  • 25% of respondents were in middle school, 75% in high school
  • 40% of respondents identified as female, 56% male and 4% nonbinary/gender non-conforming 
  • 68% of students identified as Latino
  • 11% of students answered the survey in Spanish

The following sections present the key findings from the 2022 School Climate Survey across four domains: School Safety; College Readiness; Internet and Technology Access;  and Home Life.

School SafetyOur student respondents largely feel safe and supported in their school settings; however, when we disaggregate survey responses by age and gender, we see some disparate experiences among MPN students – disparate experiences that merit further inquiry.

The vast majority of survey respondents indicated that their school was a supportive environment: Eighty-one percent agreed that there was at least one teacher or staff member on whom they could rely, and 77% felt that staff and teachers treat students with respect. As Figure 1 shows, over two-thirds of MPN students feel safe at school, and traveling to/from school; however, high schoolers report feeling less safe traveling to/from school compared to middle schoolers, and are less inclined to report having a school staff member on whom they could rely. Conversely, middle schoolers were less likely to report that teachers and school personnel treat students with respect.

Figure 1: MPN Student Perceptions of School SafetyWhen disaggregating the data by gender, we noticed that female students are more likely to report that they have experienced bullying or harassment (see Figure 2). However, there was a contrary trend in the school safety data: Girls were more likely to report feeling safer at school and traveling to/from school than male survey-takers.

Figure 2: Gendered Differences in School SafetyAs the SCS is almost entirely multiple choice, we can only speculate why these statistical differences emerged in the data. For instance, it is possible that high schoolers feel less safe between home and school because they are less likely than middle schoolers to get a ride from their parents; and there is a chance that boys are simply less likely to report that they have been bullied, out of a sense of pride. These are intriguing findings that we will need to research further to understand more clearly.

College ReadinessThe majority of MPN students who took the SCS intend to pursue higher education; however, disaggregating the survey responses reveals that Latino and male students are less likely and less confident in seeing college as part of their future.

Over two-thirds (69%) of MPN students plan to attend a four-year college, either straight from high school or as community college transfers; however, only 62% of boys/men in high school noted that they plan to attend college, compared to 90% of girls/women. As a whole, women in the U.S. are more likely to attend college than men; however, the nationwide gender imbalance in college students is nowhere near what we see in the SCS data.

While a majority of MPN students, regardless of gender, intend to earn a bachelor’s, Latino students were far likelier than non-Latino students to report uncertainty about their ability to attend and/or succeed in college. Half of non-Latino respondents noted that they were confident in their ability to go to college, compared to just one-third of Latinos. Per Figure 3, Latino students were also more likely to report their concerns over an array of specific barriers to college success, from academic preparation to financial capability.

Figure 3: Percentage of Students Reporting Various Concerns Over Barriers to CollegeThe School Climate Survey also asked respondents to name any specific resources they thought would help them succeed in college. Notably, the most frequently cited response was access to mental health resources – perhaps an indicator of the psychological stressors youth have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and/or widespread understanding about the benefits of mental health care. Other common responses ranged from additional academic support to financial aid to peer mentorship.

As with the data on school safety, we will need to explore in greater detail why there was such an imbalance between male and female respondents regarding their college plans, what else MPN partners can do to support Latino students on their pathways to college and what kinds of mental health supports would best help MPN students in postsecondary education.

Internet and Technology Access Remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the importance of equitable access to the internet and computing devices at home. Disparate quality in home internet and personal computers could exacerbate systemic disparities in achievement for students from low-income families.

As Figure 4 below shows, nearly all (95%) MPN students have access to the internet at home; however, over one-quarter (28%) of respondents do not have access to a home computer or laptop. Students with home internet but no home computer reported that they could access the internet through their smartphone, a tablet device and/or a video game console instead. Compared to a computer, none of those devices are optimal for students to complete homework, write essays or apply to jobs/colleges.

Figure 4: MPN Student Access to Home Internet and ComputersIn this context, MPN partners could connect students without home computers and internet to onsite technology, or work with families to secure access to low-cost computing devices and internet subsidies.

Home LifeFinally, the SCS asks students about a few components of their home life and daily activities.

  • Nutrition: The majority (83%) of students eat two or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day; however, only 18% meet the Department of Education’s (DOE) benchmark of five-plus servings a day.
  • Exercise: The majority (86%) of students are engaging in regular physical activity; however, only 27% meet the DOE benchmark of 60+ minutes of daily physical activity, and even fewer Latino students meet this benchmark (19%).
  • Student Mobility: Three-quarters (73%) of MPN students have lived in the same home for the past year; however, 13% of students report having moved two or more times in the past year, which can disrupt students’ ability to learn. This is of particular concern in the Bay Area, where the housing crisis imperils many low-income families and their living situations.

Conclusion and Next StepsOverall, the SCS reveals positive trends: The majority of MPN students feel safe at school, intend to go to college and do not face housing instability. In contrast, we can also see disparities in the experiences of male and female students, and Latino and non-Latino youth. It will be important for us to delve deeper into these trends, as well as the other challenges and barriers that our respondents named.

Data from the SCS serves as a foundation for additional exploration. Because the survey is only 18 questions and mostly multiple choice, we would benefit from different kinds of data activities with students, families, MPN staff and school personnel to better understand some of the findings from this year’s survey data. For instance, we could explore further:

  • Why do high schoolers feel less safe traveling to/from school?
  • Why do female students feel safer, even though they experience more harassment?
  • Why are male MPN high schoolers far less likely to plan to attend college?
  • Why are Latinos less confident in their ability to attend college?
  • Why are mental health resources the most commonly cited need for college?

We are excited to dive deeper into these questions and learn the context for them in future analyses, including longitudinal analyses, and comparisons to statewide and national data. Be on the lookout for further analyses posted here, as well as updates on our work based on this year’s survey data. 

[1] Ninth-graders are not represented among the survey population, which is a trend evident in past years’ responses and is reflective of who participates in the high school Beacon Center programs. James Lick Middle School students were unable to participate this year due to logistical challenges with survey administration.

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“How often do you worry about being forced out of your home due to increased rent or cost of living?”

“Do you feel safe walking in your neighborhood during the day?”

“What services have you or anyone in your family accessed in the last 12 months?”

Theses are just three of the many questions being asked of parents this month, as the second Mission Promise Neighborhood survey is well underway. This survey, conducted every other year, is mandated by the U.S. Department of Education, the main funder of the initiative; however, these are questions already being asked daily by Mission Promise Neighborhood partners and staff, always looking for ways to better families’ lives.

Explains Director of Evaluation Monica Lopez, “Data is vital to this education initiative. Information gives us the ability to act according to what we see is important to our community. We want to make data actionable.

These comments are echoed by Evaluation Analyst Morgan Buras-Finlay, spearheading the survey with Lopez to ensure the most accurate information is garnered: “I am excited to dig into data to better the initiative’s providing of services. Data is where it all begins so that families can succeed and students can achieve.”

What was learned from the 2014 survey
When the initial Mission Promise Neighborhood survey was conducted in 2014, guidance was put forth from the Urban Institute, an organization with a mission to “conduct sophisticated research to understand and solve real-world challenges in a rapidly urbanizing environment.” In their guidance document, the Urban Institute recommended a survey approach as the gold standard for Promise Neighborhoods. In their efforts to meet the rigor of a census, three-person teams of interviewers hit the streets with maps denoting addresses for their visits, these volunteers painstakingly knocking on doors of designated buildings in the initiative’s footprint. This proved challenging, for the majority of housing in the Mission comprises multi-unit buildings, meaning randomization was difficult.

The main obstacle was that surveyors had a difficult time finding people at home during canvassing. At times, residents felt uncomfortable opening the door to strangers. Additionally, those who did answer the door did not always fit the needed demographic: Latinos with children. This translated to just 65 surveys being completed after three weeks of canvassing six days a week, with morning and afternoon shifts.

Given the poor return on investment, the evaluation team changed course: strategic locations were chosen to find respondents that fit the demographic and had time to take the survey, with a $10 gift card as an incentive for anyone who answered all of the questions.

The new strategy increased the number of surveys to 350, with data then analyzed to better understand the needs of Mission Promise Neighborhood families.

The new model for 2016
To streamline the survey process this year, Director Lopez drafted a more-targeted proposal – a strategy that made better sense for optimizing the gathering of information on Latinos with very young and/or school-age children. It was also decided that a $50 gift card would be a good incentive for parents completing a longer survey. The incentive has definitely encouraged more families to take the survey.

In terms of outreach, postcards alerting families of a possible call were distributed throughout the Mission, plus some were mailed to families with children, as determined by the Mission Promise Neighborhood partner shared Salesforce database. The idea was to take away any fear of taking such a call and answering personal questions. An ad also ran in a local Spanish-language newspaper.

Data is currently being collected via phone calls to a random sample of households with children attending schools in the Mission Promise Neighborhood footprint. Survey interviews are being administered by seven trained bilingual, bicultural research assistants. Some of these research assistants have ties to the Mission; two of them have even been part of Mission Promise Neighborhood programs, as one has provided free tax preparation program and another has participated in the Mission Techies young adult program at MEDA, the initiative’s lead agency.

Mission Promise Neighborhood’s goal is to accommodate interviewees via appointments at convenient times, conduct surveys in-person and provide options for those who wish to participate. For example, if the prospective interviewees cannot speak at the time called, they can set up an appointment for later. This can even be at nighttime, with research assistants willing to take that extra step for the sake of data collection.

The protection of anonymity is paramount, with answers never tied to survey respondents’ names or other personal information.

The neighborhood survey is child-focused, so information about all of the children in the household is collected. Collecting data for all children is something new this year, as in the previous administration only data for one child in designated age brackets was collected. Age brackets are: infants and toddlers ages 0-5; kindergartners to 8th-graders (elementary and middle school); 9th- to 12th-graders (high school); and those out of high school, but under 24 years of age and still living at home.

Lopez and her team also included questions that were not asked two years ago – questions for which they know answers would be impactful. For instance, marital status is now being asked so as to determine the percentage of single-family households headed by mothers. Questions are also being asked about how often people return to the Mission for services. This is to show if displaced residents — often compelled to leave due to a no-fault the high cost of housing — keep an emotional attachment to the Mission. There is even a question around “formal” versus “informal” housing to determine less-than-ideal living situations, which are detrimental to student achievement.

The goal is to survey 600 households this spring, with one-third of that number already being achieved.

Connection to services
An interesting benefit of doing the Mission Promise Neighborhood survey is that it is branding the educational initiative, plus it ensures that residents know the free services available to help their families.

How does this work? After the completion of the survey, the interviewer asks if the family would like a connection to free services. If the answer is yes, the research assistant passes the family’s information to an evaluation team member, who then coordinates a referral or a call back. This has happened scores of times already.

Stay tuned for data dissemination from the completed surveys, as an insightful story of the Mission’s Latino community will surely be revealed … even better than before.


About Mission Promise Neighborhood

The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.

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2301 Mission Street, Suite 304
San Francisco, CA 94110

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