Last week took me out on the road again but in the most familiar territory, my home state of Maryland.
Safe and Sound Schools joined the Maryland Center for School Safety on a cross-the- state tour of school safety training for Maryland educators, leaders, law enforcement, fire, and mental health professionals.
Our trip and our training was a gift—literally. Last February Safe and Sound Schools was awarded a grant from Maryland based non-profit, BFG Community Foundation to focus our efforts and our attention on the Maryland schools.
And that’s just what we did. Together with the Maryland Center, we launched our first Maryland School Safety Initiative. We’ve been working jointly for a year now, bringing national and local leadership and Safe and Sound resources to Maryland schools.
This work culminated in a teaching and training tour, Beyond Tragedy: Preparing the Maryland Schools for a Safer Tomorrow. We brought together a team of national and local educators and trainers, travelling from Cambridge to Fredrick, to Annapolis, connecting us with many of Maryland’s finest and most dedicated leaders and school safety professionals.
Bill Modzeleski, Safe and Sound Advisor and Former Associate Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, joined us to moderate the event. Bill’s national perspective and years of experience in the field set the tone for three successful days.
Dan Jewiss, CT law enforcement expert, offered his professional insights on improved emergency response and caring for victims, co-workers, and self in the aftermath of tragedy.
I followed with my personal perspective as a former teacher and Sandy Hook parent, touching on lessons learned in prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. But I can’t help but feel that it’s the indomitable spirit of my daughter Joey that was most meaningful to bring to each group.
Ben Fernandez, lead school psychologist, crisis team leader, and trainer for the National Association of School Psychologists shared professional insights and experiences, as well as familiarity with many of the local school safety and mental health challenges our Maryland schools face.
Ed Clarke and Dino Pignataro of the Maryland Center for School Safety joined us in discussion throughout the day and provided three fantastic training sites for the event. Their leadership and relationships with school safety practitioners and leaders across Maryland made this joint venture possible.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about an event like this for all of us was the opportunity to engage with the local experts and communities we are so honored to serve. Safe and Sound brings national and local experts and community members together. It’s our mission and our passion. Still, to watch it happen in communities across the country and in Maryland is a great honor and a true inspiration.
Thank you to the BFG Community Foundation, The Maryland Center for School Safety, and the many professionals that joined us across Maryland.
It’s amazing what we can do when we come together.
Michele Gay, Co-founder & Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools
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
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
June is already drawing to a close. Most of us are still wondering, “How did the school year go by so quickly?”
Maybe we’re just getting older. In our defense, I hear the kids saying it too.
It’s the sign of a great school year.
Teachers are closing up their classrooms, parents are pushing the sunscreen, and kids are switching to low power mode. It’s summer.
Yet some of us are already looking ahead to next school year. In fact at Safe and Sound Schools, summer means getting to work with some of our favorite community members: administrators, safety directors, school officials, emergency managers, law enforcement, and school resource officers.
This June, Alissa and I met with law enforcement officers in Florida, SRO’s in Tennessee and Wyoming, and will soon head to California to meet with emergency managers and responders.
I first spoke to a room full of these folks in April of 2013 at the Massachusetts Juvenile Police Officers Association (MJPOA), in Norwood, Massachusetts. Though the President of the organization, now a great friend, insisted that my message be brought to the group of 400+ SRO’s, I really wasn’t sure what I had to offer.
I’m a mom, a former teacher, and the mother of three beautiful girls. My youngest was killed at Sandy Hook on December 14, 2012. My second survived, hiding in a closet with her teacher and classmates, and my oldest waited in “hard lockdown” for hours for news that she would never receive: that we were all alright.
Yes, I have a story. I can grab the heart of a room full of people with it. But I wondered, “What do I have for trained safety professionals?” “How can I help them do what they are trained and called to do?”
That April morning, I stepped up to the podium to address a room full of SRO’s. I wondered if they could see me standing behind it. I felt so small.
I opened my mouth and the words came out. My experience, my perspective, my observations. It was what I had to offer.
It was the beginning of a relationship between school resource officers and our fledgling foundation, Safe and Sound Schools. Since that day, folks like these have taken my experience and Alissa’s, our perspective and our observations, and made schools and communities safer.
Since that spring, we have steadily reserved our summers for law enforcement, emergency managers, school safety teams, and school resource officers. By listening and learning from them, I can develop more powerful resources to make it easier for them to be effective in schools. For example, SROs have a better understanding of how to speak to teachers, students and parents. They also feel appreciated by the community.
This year, it was our privilege to offer full day Safe and Sound School training to the SRO’s of Tennessee and Wyoming, and to share our story with the many of the finest law enforcement officers in Florida.
We’ll continue with these efforts and close the month with the emergency mangers of California. Together, by working with our School Resource Officers, we can accomplish great things.
So yes, summer is finally here, but our work for a safer school year–for safer futures–It’s only just begun.
– Michele Gay