Are you prepared? It’s a timely question for school communities and families.  Across the country spring brings warm weather and more outdoor opportunities.  With the gorgeous weather and added outdoor time we all enjoy, our communities and schools face increased weather and violence related incidents, as well as an annual uptick in physical injuries.

11 YouthSafe and Sound Schools is proud to join FEMA as a National Strategy Affirmer, supporting nationwide youth preparedness and education.

This Saturday, April 30, we celebrate America’s PrepareAthon with countless other national organizations working to keep America’s communities prepared for safety!  We invite you to celebrate with us.  There are many ways you can work together as a family and within your community to increase preparedness and awareness to keep yourselves and those you love safe.

It’s easier than you think!  Here are just a few ideas to get you started and share with family, friends, at school, and work:

  1.  1.  Access Alerts and Warnings–Take a moment to explore emergency notification systems in your community and school.  Register yourself and your family members to receive critical emergency information.

2.  Conduct an Exercise–This could be as simple as an in-home fire drill and family meet-up or helping plan one in your child’s school community.  Consider reaching out to neighbors to share plans and information to boost your safety capability during an emergency.

3.  Update Emergency Supplies–First aid kits, Go Bags, and food storage are great ways to keep critical items at hand when you need them.  Take stock and organize together.

4.  Make a Family Plan–Gather important information and decide on meeting places & communication channels.  Put your plan on paper together with Family Plan Emergency Cards.

5.  Take a Class–Sign up for a CPR or First Aid class in your community.  If you are already certified, consider a refresher or advanced course.

For more fun and easy ways to stay safe, visit https://community.fema.gov/take-action/activities and join us in preparing for safety with America’s PrepareAthon!

-Michele Gay, Safe and Sound Schools

 

 

 

If a crisis occurs in the school or anywhere in public, it can be a very daunting experience for anyone, especially if they are not prepared. But, imagine what it would be like for a student with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with ASD have a difficult time responding to changes or interruptions in their schedules. They not only need structure, repetitiveness and consistent schedules, but they also must have access to the resources and tools to keep them safe.

At The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation, our mission is to help families live life to the fullest. Through our programs and partnerships, people can access the services they need to lead active lifestyles and build their adult independence. Safety and preparation for a crisis situation is crucial for families to consider. This is why it is part of our core mission.

To give parents peace of mind, or at least help them prepare in case of an emergency, we have supported several safety initiatives including ALEC and SafetyNet Tracking Systems. Through Joey’s Fund, we have funded multiple fences for families who are concerned about the safety of their child but cannot afford to pay for one.

ALEC (Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition) is a first responder training program that provides an in-depth understanding of ASD to public safety and law enforcement personnel. We have supported ALEC’s Community Days in the Boston area to spread awareness about this safety program. ALEC’s Community Days allows individuals with ASD and their families to meet and interact with police, firemen and EMS in a non-emergency situation in their community. More information can be found through the Arc of South Norfolk at http://www.arcsouthnorfolk.org/alec-first-responder-training.html

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For over five years, we have also partnered with SafetyNet Tracking Systems (formerly LoJack SafetyNet) to provide children with autism GPS tracking bracelets through the Flutie Foundation’s Safe & Secure Program. This service enables public safety agencies to effectively search for and rescue individuals with autism who wander and go missing. SafetyNet not only provides the equipment for local law enforcement but offers a comprehensive training program to first responders. The program allows first responders to become familiar with the communication challenges an individual with autism may have and can adapt their search to rescue and return the individual home safely.

Another great resource to consider is Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide to Safety developed by Organization for Autism Research. It is a comprehensive guide for parents on safety issues and strategies to consider. It includes an Appendix for School Safety and Crisis Planning. You can download the guide for free at:   http://www.researchautism.org/resources/reading/index.asp#AGuideToSafety

Although we cannot prevent every tragedy or prepare for all crisis situations, we can better protect this at-risk population by educating ourselves and taking advantage of the growing number of safety resources that are available for individuals with autism.

Lisa Borges is the Executive Director of The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.

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Additional Resources

The National Autism Association has a lot of great resources and safety products for parents as well as a Safety Teacher Toolkit for educators in need of wandering prevention tools.

The Autism FYI Organization– their mission is to promote a safe environment for the increasing ASD population in their existing communities and is in the process of establishing a national registry for safety.

Autism SpeaksAutism Safety Project

 

 

Discusses Response and Recovery After School-Based Tragedy

Decatur, Ala. – March 8, 2016 – Safe and Sound Schools executive director and co-founder, Michele Gay, shared her experience of the response and recovery efforts at Sandy Hook School with child safety advocates and community members on March 8, 2016, at the 14th Annual Alabama Child Safety Conference at the Decatur Baptist Church in Decatur, Ala.

During her presentation, Michele shared her personal perspective of the Sandy Hook tragedy, focusing on the challenges, successes and lessons she learned. “For me, it’s the day my life changed forever,” said Michele. “Safety is a team effort. It takes all hands on deck to maximize the safety of our community and our children.”

Michele is the mother of Josephine Grace, lost on Dec. 14, 2012 during the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Through her experience and lessons learned, Michele is uniquely positioned to to help other communities address prevention, preparation, response, and recovery efforts in the event of a school emergency. In her presentation, she reminded the public of the importance of delivering safety curricula and training that aligns with the unique needs of students and staff of all ages, abilities, and educational levels.

Michele’s presentation is part of her ongoing efforts to advocate for improved safety measures, plans, and practices in schools across the nation. “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to protect one,” said Michele. “The key takeaway is the need for community involvement and making sure those efforts are strengthened.”

For more information about Safe and Sound Schools, including free assessment tools, tool kits and resources, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.

About Safe and Sound Schools

Safe and Sound Schools is a non-profit organization founded by Sandy Hook parents who lost their children during the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. Winner of the 2015 SBANE New England Innovation Award for nonprofits, Safe and Sound Schools is dedicated to empowering communities to improve school safety through discussion, collaboration, planning, and sharing of information, tools, and resources. To get involved, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 10.23.19 PMWe are an autism family.  We will always be.  Our daughter’s short life on earth was a journey for our family—a journey through autism into faith, hope, and compassion.  Through Joey, we learned to look at the world differently, hold onto each other tightly, and love each other fiercely.  Although her journey through autism came to a tragic end on December 14, 2012, we are committed to sharing with others all that she taught us.  In her honor, we share our experiences and support other families on this journey through autism and work to keep ALL students safe in school.

Supporting Children and Families with Autism

Joey’s Fund is one way that we aim to support families and children living with autism.  We created Joey’s Fund in honor of our daughter’s generous and compassionate spirit.  While living with autism, our family relied on the support of many other families—some with autism and special needs children, and many on a more “typical” family journey.  Providing direct support for other families with autism is our way of giving back in Joey’s name and thanking the many people that supported us during Joey’s life and after her tragic death.  We chose the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism as the home for our daughter’s fund.  The Flutie family continues their journey through autism and supports many others along the way.  We are proud that Joey’s Fund is a part of their mission to serve some of the most amazing people in the world:  autistic children, adults, and families.  We are honored to remain a part of the autism community in this way.

Autism and School Safety

Our autistic children––with all of their gifts and challenges––are some of the most precious and vulnerable members of our communities.  Most parents find that sending their child off to school alone for the first time is a great challenge.  Imagine how it feels for the parents of an autistic child.  Like many children living with autism, our daughter could not speak for herself and could not communicate her needs without the help of caring adults and peers.  Our autistic children face all of the childhood challenges and dangers of their typical peers—and exponentially more, because of their autism.

We relied on a well-educated and highly trained school staff to keep our daughter safe on a day-to-day basis; but, it was up to us to ensure that her unique safety needs were provided for while she was in school.  Her physical safety on the playground, in the classroom, and in the cafeteria required constant supervision. Like many autistic children, she loved to wander, was attracted to water, and had complex dietary requirements.  Her social-emotional well-being depended upon the facilitation skills of the staff.  She needed trained, caring professionals to help her play and interact with her peers in order to develop relationships and friendships and help her communicate her ideas, needs, and wants.

And let’s not forget her peers. Joey was young and lucky enough to enjoy true friendships with many of her classmates. Friends like Emilie, Jessica, James (and too many others to name!) were the highlight of her school days. There are no words to express the gift that Joey’s friends were to her and the family that loved and protected her in this life. Yet even her exceptional peers needed a great deal of support to understand and safely play with Joey. The safety of her beloved friends required the support of an attentive and caring school community.

Not a day goes by that our family doesn’t think about Joey.  We consider ourselves blessed for the time we had with her and on our journey through autism.  We know we are blessed to have her inspiring us in our missions: Joey’s Fund and Safe and Sound Schools, working to improve the lives and safety of precious people like her.

Michele Gay, Executive Director, Safe and Sound Schools
Photo credit:  Cynthia McIntyre Photography

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January, February, and March have come and gone with Safe and Sound Schools bringing its message to new communities and new social media channels.

This year’s first quarter started with the culmination of the Shine A Light for Safer Schools campaign, the holiday fundraiser we launched last November. Safe and Sound Schools raised over $3,500 through online and mail donations, some of which has already been used to update our free online materials and website.

By mid January, Safe and Sound Schools turned its focus to onboarding new students from PRLab, Boston University’s student-run public relations agency. This is Safe and Sound Schools’ fourth time working with PRLab students who help the organization meet its outreach initiatives.  We are lucky to have such great talent from BU to support our growing organization!

In the months of February and March, Safe and Sound team members travelled to several communities across the country. Michele travelled across the state of Tennessee, presenting to full houses of school administrators, educators, mental health professionals, and law enforcement in Knoxville, Murfreesboro, and Jackson, Tennessee. She then made her way to the Midwest to present to an audience of over 150 at the 2016 Tuscarawas County School Safety Summit in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. Michele concluded her February travels in Baltimore, Maryland. Joined by her husband, Bob Gay, Michele accepted a $20,000 endowment award from the BFG Community Foundation, an organization dedicated to affecting positive change in local communities by supporting charitable organizations.

In early March, Frank DeAngelis, Safe and Sound speaker & former principal of Columbine High School and Paul Timm, Safe and Sound advisor & author of School Security:  How to Build and Strengthen a School Safety Program, presented at the Axis School Safety Symposium in Syracuse, NY.  On the same day, Michele traveled back to the South, to Decatur, Alabama, where she presented to a room of approximately 400 administrators, educators, law enforcement, and mental health professionals at the 14th Annual Alabama Child Safety Conference.

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By mid March, Safe and Sound Schools launched it’s new website, complete with new additions, including a Press Room, Speaker’s Bureau, and an improved user-friendly interface.  We’ll continue to add to the site this year.

March also found us busy in Massachusetts, with Michele attending the Massachusetts Juvenile Police Officers Association conference and working with three local school districts, to support the unique efforts of each community to improve school safety.  We are excited to see our collaborative model take hold close to home and across the country!

Communications efforts continued with Safe and Sound Schools using social media platforms to celebrate social work month, highlighting and celebrating the contributions and positive impact social workers have on school safety and children. We concluded March and social work month with featured guest blogger & Safe and Sound Schools advisor, Shari Nacson, a Cleveland-based clinical social worker specializing in child development.

To keep up with Safe and Sound Schools daily, connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and now, Instagram. Stay tuned for more about our spring travels and additions to our new speaker’s bureau in the next quarter.