A discussion on the importance of schools in supporting academic and social success of all students
George Sugai
George Sugai, PhD

“Learn to do by doing.” —Benjamin Cluff Jr.

George Sugai, PhD, presented at the McKay School’s Benjamin Cluff Jr. Annual Lecture on March 22, 2018. Sugai, a Carole J. Neag endowed professor in special education in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut, discussed the importance of schools in supporting the academic and social success of all students.

“Schools are a really important investment. Public schools in particular are places where kids spend 180 days a year for 12 years, [spending] more time with other adults than they do with their parents in many cases,” said Sugai. “For us, that means we have a significant responsibility and obligation to provide experiences for kids inside of schools that equip them to be able to navigate the world.”

Sugai counseled that school professionals have an opportunity to build kids’ capacities for confidence. With the current environment that kids grow up in, Sugai said it’s especially important for schools to be a safe, supportive environment.

“Kids are growing up now in a very violent social community. They’re experiencing things that are very difficult to navigate,” Sugai commented. “Somehow we need to become more formal in our approach to try and help kids be more successful.”

Kids trust schools. Sugai drove this point home when he presented data indicating that 95 percent of students reported feeling safe at school, regardless of perceptions of crime in the surrounding community. “They’ve also said they’re more likely to feel safe at school if they have an adult or student that they have access to that they can talk to and they can share their feelings with,” Sugai added.

However, Sugai shared research that shows a troubling trend in the climate of schools and communities.

“After the 2016 election, of the ten thousand educators surveyed, 90 percent reported a change in climate towards a more negative environment,” said Sugai. “Some of the rhetoric that was being used at the national level and debates was starting to show up inside the schools.”

Not only is hateful and prejudiced rhetoric on the rise but organized hate groups are also growing. Since 2014 the number of hate groups in the United States has increased to the point where right now there is at least one group in every state. Utah has three.

This deteriorating social community has an effect on schools and the kids who learn in them. Sugai said that we need to be more deliberate in teaching social skills: “One of the best things to do is to teach kids the social competence, the social-emotional learning behaviors to be successful in school—teach them directly like you teach reading.”

Sugai’s counsel and research is more relevant than ever. In the wake of the devastating shooting in Parkland, Florida, Sugai and other researchers in the country made an official statement regarding the safety of schools in the United States. You can read the statement here.

You can access the slideshow Sugai presented with here.

Watch the full lecture here.



Congratulations to the recipients of this year’s Benjamin Cluff Jr. Awards.

Nedra Call
Nedra Call and family

Nedra Call, Nebo School District; Benjamin Cluff Jr. Award for Excellence in Public School Support.

This award is given each year to a public school employee who has made an excellent contribution to the mentoring and support of BYU education candidates.


Janet Losser
Janet Losser and family

Janet Losser, McKay School, Teacher Education; Benjamin Cluff Jr. Award for Excellence in Teacher Preparation.

This award is given each year to a BYU faculty member who has made a strong contribution to the preparation of BYU education candidates.


Tim Smith
Timothy B. Smith and family

Timothy B. Smith, McKay School Counseling Psychology and Special Education; Benjamin Cluff Jr. Award for Excellence in Educational Research.

This award is given each year to a BYU faculty member whose research has contributed to the improvement of teaching and learning.

Writer: Jake Gulisane

Contact: Cindy Glad (801) 422-1922