This last week I was invited to speak at the Violence Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Symposium in Corpus Christi, TX by Coastal Bend. I always love going to Texas, the people there are so warm, friendly and make me feel like family. I was really looking forward to speaking with this audience in particular because of its unique makeup. Usually at a conference, you get a gathering of individuals that all work in the same field. This group, however came from a wide array of professionals. We had first responders, medics, school administrations, business owners (i.e. movie theater owners) and so on. The team at Coastal Bend intentionally invited all these different groups together because they all had one thing in common, gatherings of large groups in their community. They understood the benefit that their community would gain by learning to be prepared for the unthinkable. I spoke alongside Dr. Tau Braun, violence prevention specialist and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools, and Robert Martin, expert in threat assessment and Safe and Sound Schools board member. I’ve presented with them previously. They always share invaluable information. Having such a variety of different groups in the audience allowed for the most amazing and diverse questions! It was an honor to speak in Corpus Christi and learn so much from all who attended. I am so proud of the work they are doing to ensure their community is prepared when tragedy strikes.
Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools
From as early as I can remember, my daughter Emilie had crayons in her hands because she LOVED to color! I remember getting frustrated when I would clean our van and find melted crayons all over the floor. Crayons were her constant companion. Every year at Christmas, we would buy a Costco size stack of construction paper to work through for the year to come. As the piles of papers would stack up, I usually found a place to stash them for the time being. She couldn’t stand to throw any of her art away and I didn’t know what to do with it all.
After she died, the crates of drawings I have from Emilie have been such a treasure. As I looked through them, I realized they were a gift for me to see the world through her eyes. I saw her version of the events of her life, the good and the bad. I took all those drawings and compiled them into scrapbooks. When I need a reminder of good in this world, I turn to these drawings and see the bright colors of life in them.
Art for Emilie was a way to express herself. Since her death, my husband Robbie and I wanted to take Emilie’s love of art and pay it forward to those who need it the most. So we began The Emilie Parker Art Connection. Through the Art Connection, we have been able to give resources and opportunities for the art community in honor of Emilie’s memory. One program in particular we have been working with is Art with Heart. An organization who uses art to help children overcome trauma through creative expression. This is something that we have seen personally help our own children in their grief for the loss of their sister.
As we look to continually improve our schools, we have found art to be an incredible resource. When art is used to decorate the halls and rooms of our schools, we are able to increase the connections our children feel to their environment. They gain a sense of increased ownership and pride with their school. This has been proven to decrease vandalism and destruction of property in our schools.
Art is a very powerful tool. It connects us to each other, to our community and schools. Most importantly, it can connect us to our own hearts. When that connection is achieved, lives are changed forever. Personally I have been touched by the healing power of art. It has allowed me to heal. When I see that same healing power touch the children we have come into contact with, it warms my heart. Emilie would be so proud to know that her love is being shared and is helping others.
The morning of December 14th, 2012, my world was shattered, forever changed. An armed attacker broke into my daughter’s school. He took my daughter’s life and the lives of many other children and educators that day.
Like so many others in our little community, I was instantly devastated. The actions of one man had changed my life forever. I had no idea how to move forward or make sense of anything anymore. Yet, two days later, I would speak for the first time to a person who would again change my life forever, Michele Gay, Josephine’s mother.
Our daughters, sweet friends in this life, lovers of all things girly and fancy, had left this world for the next–together. Michele understood my pain and sorrow–and my desire to make meaning of it, to use this pain for a purpose. Together we made a choice. We chose to be inspired by our daughters. We would let them lead the way.
We focused on the world they shared together, the place where they made friends, shared laughter and learned together –school. This place was so special to our children and our families. It was the heart of our community. In honor
of our girls, we decided to help others protect this special place in their own communities. We made it our mission to ensure that every school is the safe, warm, welcoming place that every child deserves.
Together we created Safe and Sound Schools. With the help of an ever-growing, nationwide community of dedicated parents, educators, law enforcement, community members, and safety, emergency & mental health professionals, we have been able to create something to make our daughters proud. Something that over the last four years has helped the communities close to us and all over the country. Together we have created a change that is working, inspiring others to work hard and work together for the safety of schools. We are honored to share the inspiration and spirit of our daughters to help other communities, and honored again and again to see this inspiration bring positive change to so many school communities.
On this fourth anniversary of our tragic loss, we choose again–to remember our daughters and their friends & beloved educators for the positive forces they were and continue to be. We marvel at the inspiring work of so many, work that makes our children and our schools safer.
There is much work to do, but we will never stop or give up. We invite you to join us in remembering our daughters and carrying on their legacy. A legacy of helping others, connecting with people, working hard, and doing better–together.
We thank you for your support of our families and our mission for Safe and Sound Schools.
– Alissa Parker
On the morning of December 14, 2012, I received a phone call that changed my life forever. It was an automated phone call from the Newtown School District informing me that there had been a shooting at one of the schools. Shocked, I listened to the message waiting for information. There is a shooting? How did this happen? What do I do? What is happening with my daughter Emilie? What does her school even do in an event like this? But the message didn’t address any of these questions.
After the short recording ended, I stood there confused. I wondered what to do next. I was standing in a children’s store, Christmas shopping with my youngest daughter. I got into my car and started driving towards the school. I called my husband to see what he could find out. He said the shooting had been at the elementary school and he heard on the news that parents were not supposed to go to the school yet to pick up their kids. Desperate to do something, I went to the preschool to pick up my daughter Madeline. There I was told by other parents that it was okay to go and get our children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I quickly loaded my daughters into the car and headed to the elementary school. The road was so backed up with cars and emergency vehicles. It felt like forever before I reached the school.
The driveway to Sandy Hook Elementary School was long and curved, the school not visible from the main road. The volunteer firehouse was situated at the corner of the main road and the school driveway. Approaching this corner, I took in the chaos. Children, educators, parents and first responders were all running around every which way. I imagined how scared Emilie must be around all that chaos and I couldn’t wait to find her. Cars were piled up everywhere and some cars were even parked on neighboring people’s lawns. As I ran down the road with my youngest daughters towards the school, I was told three different directions to find Emilie. By the time I reached the firehouse, I was confused, emotional and frustrated. What is going on? What am I supposed to do? Unable to find Emilie or her teacher, I was directed to the back of the firehouse. I was told to wait there.
I had imagined this room to be filled with joy as parents and children found each other and embraced with big hugs. Instead, the room filled up with parents like me. We waited and waited. Police officers and representatives from the school district were all there, but they looked just as confused as we did. I wanted to know what had happened. I wanted to know where Emilie was. But every time I asked for information, I was told nothing. What I didn’t know was that our beloved principal was gone. Without her, no one knew what to do. There was no orderly release of children to parents. Neighbors and family members were taking home other children, adding to the confusion and panic of parents arriving, unable to locate their child.
Only a week before the shooting at Sandy Hook, there had been an evacuation drill. It included an announcement, classroom lines walking calmly from the school and lining up at the firehouse, side by side. Controlled. What Sandy Hook had practiced wasn’t anything like the scene I saw that day. So many things never imagined happened that day. Part of our mission at Safe and Sound Schools is to help share our experience to help other schools around the country learn to be prepared. Schools that we have worked with across the country are now making change with us. They are preparing themselves for the unimaginable. What if their principal is unavailable? Who is the backup? Do teachers and students know where to go? Do the parents know the plan? By educating schools to ask these and many other questions, we are making an impact upon the preparedness and confidence of school communities nationwide.
Help us spread the word and share our resources with other school communities. Explore our website and free resources to see how our team of experts can help your school prepare for safety.
Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools and mother to Emilie Parker
Recently, I received an email from a parent asking me, “What can I do to help Safe and Sound Schools? What can change to improve school safety?” It’s the same question that I receive from everyone I meet online and on the road – from parents to students to teachers to first responders.
As I think about this question, it brings me back to when Alissa and I first started Safe and Sound Schools. We never imagined that 20 beautiful and innocent young students and six dedicated school staff and teachers would lose their lives to a horrible tragedy on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. We never imagined that our own children, Josephine and Emilie, would be among the names of the children killed that day. We never imagined how much our lives would change, including those of our families and the world around us.
We just knew that after what happened, we had to do something. We had to make sure that what happened at Sandy Hook didn’t happen anywhere else.
In creating Safe and Sound Schools, Alissa and I believed that we needed to educate communities and empower them to make school safety a priority. But through our travels, we found out that school safety issues varied from state to state, city to city. Communities want resources. Students want to get involved in the school safety conversation. Parents want to know what steps and policies are in place to protect their children at school. First responders want to be prepared for any type of crisis that happens at a school. And we want everyone to be safe and sound. But how do we get there?
To provide more resources, get students involved, and continue the school safety conversation online and on the ground, we need your help. We cannot do this work alone. We need everyone to be a part of the Change for School Safety. By collecting loose change and saving it as donation to give on #GivingTuesday (November 29), you can make a difference in school safety.
- Continue to travel to communities and empower them to put school safety first;
- Develop and share student-centered programs that will encourage students to speak out and do something about school safety issues affecting them; and
- Connect with school administrators, mental health and emergency professionals, and parents with the resources they need to keep their schools and students safe and sound.
There is so much work to be done. But in the words of Richard Bach, we know that “a tiny change today can bring a dramatically different tomorrow.”
Will you be part of the change for school safety?
To find out more about being a part of Change for School Safety, click here.
Michele Gay, Co-founder & Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools