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Relationship Centered Schools

In a time when public education is under attack, when we are facing a national teacher shortage, and when young people experience fear and isolation in their schools, we need a solution that works for us all.

The solution is Relationship Centered Schools.

Relationship Centered Schools break down walls and brings people together so that every student can reach their full potential regardless of race or zip code. When we prioritize relationships, students of color want to come to class, are ready to learn, and are prepared to succeed in college, career, and life. When we prioritize relationships, the hard work of transforming our education system is so much more possible. Every student deserves a Relationship Centered School.


A Relationship Centered School breaks down the cycles of racial bias and inequity in our schools by supporting educators and students to build relationships that embrace and empower all students to pursue their dreams. They are schools that invest in school staff, value student voice, and create space for relationship building.

What’s at Stake

Too many young people of color lack caring relationships with adults at school which leads them to disengage from learning, and fall short of reaching their full potential. Black, Brown, Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American students continue to face a Belief Gap of unequal expectations based on race and zip code that leads them into the school-to-poverty or school-to-prison pipeline, and comes at a high cost to their families, to future generations, and the prosperity of the state.

1 out of 3 students in California cannot name a single caring adult at school

What’s the Solution

Californians for Justice launched our Relationship Centered Schools campaign in 2015 after 10-months of youth-led action research surveying 2,000 students and interviewing 65 school leaders across the state. We found that relationships are the key to student success in college, career, and community leadership, particularly for students of color. Relationship Centered Schools address systemic racism and close the belief gap by confronting bias and trauma, uniting social and emotional learning with academics, and uniting people to lead together towards a shared vision for our schools. Learn more about Why Race & Relationships Matter in California Schools.

When students have at least one caring adult in their schools so much more becomes possible for student success. Together, we can ensure that all students have a caring adult on campus.


“We believe relationships are the key to racial equity, and with the rise of hate and fear in our communities, now more than ever, students and staff need services that Build Relationships Not Walls." - Hannah Doroteo

Actions We’re Taking

As we continue to build momentum for our Relationship Centered Schools Campaign, students from across the state are organizing to create a culture where relationships matter. Student leaders identified the following issues and solutions to ensure that every student graduates prepared for college, career and community leadership:


Locally, Californians for Justice youth leaders are organizing in 4 districts and 11 schools to:

  • Value Student Voice by leveraging data from student responses on school climate surveys, having students collaborate with administrators and teachers through youth-driven ‘design teams’ to adopt new practices that create a culture of positive relationships, and by having students play meaningful roles on staff hiring committees;
  • Invest in Staff by reducing the teacher shortage through new strategies for retention,providing more staff professional development on key unconscious bias and social emotional learning, and and student-led trainings for new staff; and
  • Create Space for Relationship Building by creating advisory structures so students stay with a caring adult for all four years of high school, changing master schedules to allow for more time for teachers to collaborate with each other and with their students, and creating Freshman orientation days that focus on relationships.


At the state level, Californians for Justice is advocating for:

  • Policies and funding to create a well-funded public education system and a diverse, prepared, and supported educator workforce--two critical conditions for Relationship Centered Schools
  • Increased capacity building and learning opportunities to build awareness of social emotional learning and school climate strategies that are necessary to achieve racial equity in our classrooms and schools.
  • A new narrative around race and relationships that humanizes students, families and educators so that our communities can lead together to create the schools our students deserve

To sustain and grow our Relationship Centered Schools campaign, we provide ongoing capacity building and one-time trainings for school and district leaders to improve their practices around relationships and racial equity, and student and family engagement. Learn more about our capacity building services here.

Join the Fight for Racial and Educational Justice!
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