Since education research rarely focuses on rural schools, we aimed to examine school climate and student well-being with a particular focus on rural schools, compared to suburban schools.
Cross-sectional survey data were collected from 62,265 students in 22 rural and 78 suburban Maryland middle and high schools. Student self-report data were collected on school climate (safety, engagement, and environment) as well as internalizing problems, behavior problems, stress, substance abuse, and future orientation. Multiple-group, multilevel models were fit to compare between rural and suburban schools. On average, rural students reported significantly lower perceptions of safety and engagement than suburban students. Safety and engagement were generally associated with higher youth well-being. A number of moderated effects were observed, which generally suggested stronger associations between school-level climate—particularly engagement—and more positive outcomes for rural compared to suburban students. Students' perceptions of safety and engagement were associated with student well-being, in some cases with stronger associations for rural students. These findings suggest that efforts to improve school climate may be particularly impactful for rural students. (Publisher Abstract)