Wurzweiler’s Cuellar Receives $1M National Institute of Justice Grant for School Safety Research

Study Will Fill Critical Gap in School Safety Literature and Improve Targeted Interventions in Inner City School Systems 

Dr. Matthew J. Cuellar, assistant professor of social work at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work, has been awarded a three-year $1 million grant from the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) Comprehensive School Safety Initiative to conduct research on effective school safety systems.

Dr. Matthew Cuellar
Dr. Matthew Cuellar

The Comprehensive School Safety Initiative began in 2014 as a response to high-profile incidents of violence in American schools, with the aim of building sound and objective knowledge to improve the safety of schools, students and communities across the nation. The initiative is concerned with all forms of violence that occur on school property during or outside of school hours, on the way to and from school or school-sponsored events, on school-sponsored modes of transport, or during school-sponsored events.

Cuellar will serve as primary investigator on the Wurzweiler grant, which also includes his fellow faculty members Dr. Charles Auerbach and Dr. Susan Mason and is the largest federal research grant directed by a Wurzweiler faculty member. Together, the team will train three doctoral students and work within a large urban school district outside of New York City to examine the extent to which different school security climates affect student connectedness, student behavior, and ultimately academic performance. The grant has two primary objectives: to identify the most effective types of school security climates and determine how school security climates affect individual student performance over time.

Cuellar’s primary research interests are school safety and school-based violence prevention, with broader interests concerning juvenile justice; he also currently serves as assistant director of Wurzweiler’s social work doctoral program. His research for the NIJ grant is expected to fill a critical gap in the school safety literature that will assist school-based mental health providers in targeting interventions towards underachieving or disadvantaged students in inner-city school systems.

“We hope practitioners, educators, researchers, and administrators will be able to use our findings to reduce student victimization, increase high school completion rates, and promote student connectedness in urban school settings,” said Cuellar. “Regardless of our outcomes, I hope that our work on this project will help Wurzweiler School of Social Work and Yeshiva University take progressive steps toward promoting and ensuring the healthy development of all youth, one of the twelve Grand Challenges of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.”

“Dr. Cuellar’s research will touch the lives of millions of school aged children as his and other researchers’ findings will be used to develop policy designed to keep children safe and to support healthy learning environments,” said Dr. Danielle Wozniak, the David and Dorothy Schachne Dean of Wurzweiler. “His work is reflective both of the caliber of work we do at Wurzweiler and the impact social work has on society. We specialize in changing the world. And we are very proud of Dr. Cuellar’s contributions to that effort.”