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.

untitled-design-9Help 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 

 

PRLab and AdLab collaborate to make a “Change For School Safety”

Learn more: BU COMmunicator

Six people were killed Monday when a Chattanooga school bus with 35 young children aboard crashed, turned on its side and wrapped around a tree, according to the district attorney. Read the article: Official: 6 dead in Chattanooga elementary school bus crash

While the rest of the country gives thanks Thursday, six Chattanooga families are grieving the absence of a child from their table. Read the article: Chattanooga bus crash: 6 children dead; Titans to help victims’ families

On December 14, 2012, I came home from a long day at high school only to find my mother crying in front of the TV. It was my senior year. I didn’t need any other stressors in my life. I was in the process of sending college applications and writing essays.

I asked my mother what happened. “Que paso?” She told me that 26 people were shot at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. “Twenty of them were just babies. Little kids,” said my mother as she sobbed and pointed at the TV.

I stood there motionless staring at the television. A million thoughts ran through my mind. How could this happen? Why did it happen? Who would take the lives of innocent children at an elementary school? What steps did the school take to protect to the students? Was I even safe in my own school?

I found myself frustrated and angry. I wanted to do something, but what could I do? I was just a senior in high school.

img_1414
Four years later, I found myself a
Boston University College of Communication student as a PRLab account executive for Safe and Sound Schools. Maybe it was destiny, it was my opportunity to finally do something about school safety.

Using my skills and knowledge of public relations, I worked with my PRLab team, Yunong Song and Xiangyi Zhao, to find creative ways to spread the word about school safety. When we heard about Safe and Sound’s #givingtuesday fundraising campaign, Change for School Safety, we knew that we had to get everyone at COM involved.

We first presented to the entire PRLab agency of a 100 students. As we explained why we as an agency need to get involved, we heard the many stories of students recounting where they were the day of the Sandy Hook tragedy. They told us how they felt unsafe returning to school after it happened and revealed their standing concern for their young siblings, nieces and nephews. PRLab accepted to be a part of the #ChangeforSchoolSafety.

Eager to get a head start, every PRLab student dropped their spare change in our Change for School Safety jar –a jar that students have access to in our meeting room, so they (and their clients) can drop off change anytime.

We didn’t stop there. On November 7, we challenged the AdLab agency to be a part of the Change for School Safety. As we left the presentation, the entire AdLab class yelled at us. “You guys are going down!”

img_1411It was a good feeling. It was also good to hear that one of the AdLab students, Emily Hartwell, was going to make her own jar. “I am really happy that PRLab challenged us to participate in Change for School Safety. I am also participating at home by making my own school safety jar for my house.”

As BU students, we want to know our campus and every other campuses throughout the nation is safe. Every child in America deserves to learn in a safe environment. Every parent in America deserves to know that their child is safe at school. We need to rethink school safety. We can’t wait for someone else to make that change. You have to be the change you want to see in this world.

Our team is working hard to get Boston University students involved in the Change for School Safety by talking to people, putting up flyers around campus, and getting people to understand why school safety should not be taken for granted. I just hope that by talking to at least five students a day, we can get other students from other colleges and universities to participate. I hope it encourages them tell five others and so on –family, friends, coworkers, professors, anyone. School safety should be on everyone’s mind. It needs to be a priority.

Will you take the challenge and be a part of the change to make schools safer for all students?


Maria, PRLab student at the Boston University College of Communication

Two BU COM organizations compete against each other to raise money for safer schools

BOSTON, Nov. 15, 2016 – Boston University’s PRLab and AdLab joined the Safe and Sound Schools “Change for School Safety” initiative. The two Boston University College of Communication (COM) student-run agencies will compete against each other to raise money that will help to provide resources to communities and schools to better their safety measures.

On Nov. 7, 2016, PRLab Account Executives – Maria Guimaraes, Yunong Song, and Xiangyi Zhao – challenged AdLab to see which COM agency would raise more money for the cause. Both agencies agreed to participate. Two custom-made jars are placed in the PRLab and AdLab rooms to collect donations. The winner of the challenge will receive a pizza party.

Safe and Sound Schools is a returning client of PRLab. Last year, PRLab helped Safe and Sound Schools collaborate with BUPD to hold a school safety panel discussion, “From Tragedy To A Safer Tomorrow.” The event garnered the attention of Governor Charlie Baker’s staff and other local Bostonians who wanted to make sure that what happened at Sandy Hook did not happen in their communities.

This year, the PRLab students are excited to join a new campaign and spread the word about school safety by getting AdLab involved. PRLab would like all college students to get involved in the school safety conversation on-campus.  “School safety should be on everyone’s mind,” said Risha Tyagi, a director for PRLab. “I believe small changes can make a big difference.” AdLab shared similar sentiments. “The group is happy to participate,” said Davis Mastin, President of AdLab, when he formally accepted the challenge on behalf of AdLab.

On Giving Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, PRLab and AdLab will count their change to make a donation to Safe and Sound Schools.

About Safe and Sound Schools

Safe and Sound Schools is a non-profit organization founded by the 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.

About PRLab

PRLab is the nation’s longest-operating student-run public relations agency.  Founded in 1978, the award-winning agency gives Boston University students a hands-on PR experience, while still delivering the benefits of learning in a classroom setting. Students work with companies and nonprofits by applying what they learn in their classes to real-world situations. For more information, visit: http://www.bu.edu/prlab/

About AdLab

Established in 1975 by four audacious Boston University students, AdLab is the country’s largest full-service, student-run ad agency. It has grown to an agency of over 100 students, led by a hand-picked executive board and two industry veterans for advisors. AdLab provides BU students the opportunity to create real work for real clients and guarantees clients cutting-edge creative, effective advertising work. For more information, visit: http://buadlab.com/

Scarlett Lewis, Founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, mother of Jesse Lewis, and Safe and Sound speaker/instructor, shares our dedication to the safety of children. Here she talks about her mission and Jesse’s legacy, teaching love and compassion to prevent violence and promote peace.

After the shooting death of my 6 year old son, Jesse Lewis, along with 19 of his classmates and 6 educators, two questions emerged from my shock and horror: How could something like this happen? What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

I watched as people began pointing fingers, first at the shooter, his mother, and then at guns, politicians, video games and media—all to no avail. When blaming and demanding that others fix the problem doesn’t work, what then?  We must take responsibility for what is happening to our children and in our society. We must be part of the solution. The truth is that every school shooting is preventable. Period.

nurturing-healing-loveBefore Jesse’s funeral, I found a message he had written on our kitchen chalkboard shortly before he died, “Norturting Helinn Love” (Nurturing Healing Love). Those three words are in the definition of compassion across all cultures. Love is as necessary to our healthy existence as food and water. This need unites and connects us all as humans. What if we could infuse our classrooms with love and teach all children how to give, and receive love?

The hard fact of the matter is, some children do not receive love at home and in their lives. I set out to figure a way to get Jesse’s message into classrooms with my understanding that if the shooter knew how to give, and receive love, our tragedy would never have happened. I found that this was already being done, through Social and Emotional Learning, “SEL”.

SEL has been around for decades and teaches children how to get along with one another, how to manage their emotions, have empathy for others and show compassion – basically how to be responsible and kind citizens. Children and adults without these skills suffer from feeling a lack of connection to others, impaired–if not disabled–ability to learn, increased physical and mental health issues, and increased rates of drug abuse and incarceration among other negative implications.

Studies show that children who receive SEL have better academic performance, more positive attitudes and behaviors, and experience less anxiety and depression. Long-term studies following kindergarteners who were taught Social and Emotional Learning skills into adulthood have found there were higher graduation rates and even less divorce rates among these individuals. In fact ALL the research on SEL shows that this is the most powerful and proactive mental health initiative we have, and cultivates safer and more positive classroom and school climates.

When I think about what we focus on in schools other than academics: anti-bullying, drug awareness, suicide prevention, sex education, it looks to me like we are teaching kids what not to do. Social and emotional learning teaches kids what to do by providing a positive focus on tools and skills that can help children feel good, about themselves and others.

Columbia University did a study recently that showed for every $1 invested in SEL programs there was an $11 return to the community. I can’t think of a better investment –in our children, in our safety, and in our futures. In fact, SEL has proven to be more important than academics, when determining future success. When children have these skills, personal and academic achievement follows.

The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement is committed to making sure every child has access to this life-changing and life-saving education. This fall we are piloting our signature Choose Love Enrichment Program, Pre-K through 12th grade, that includes SEL, Character Values, Positive Psychology, Neuroscience, Mindfulness and more. The Choose Love Enrichment Program teaches children a formula to choose love in every situation, based on Jesse’s message. This is offered online and is free at www.jesselewischooselove. org.


Scarlett Lewis, Founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, mother of Jesse Lewis, and Safe and Sound speaker/instructor

untitled-design-8CJ Huff, Former Superintendent of the Joplin, MO Schools, shares Part 2 of his blog series on building relationships in the school community, focused on reaching outside the school to strengthen our schools. Click here to review part 1

Over the past 20 years I have had the opportunity to work with community partners in a variety of capacities. I have also learned that among school districts, buildings, and classrooms, school/community partnerships range from open door to appointment only. No question–there has to be a balance–but I believe it is important to err on the side of inclusiveness whenever possible.

Schools give many reasons for keeping the community at arms length. Security, fear the school day will be disrupted, legal liability, and concerns about confidentiality are often at the top of the list. Each of these issues is legitimate, but not insurmountable. Developing well-defined parameters for community involvement are important. But it is also important to keep in mind that there are many wonderful people in your community wanting to help, if given the opportunity.

A mistake schools often make is asking for support (usually financial) only when we need it. There have been few times in my career that a local business or organization didn’t step up and help during those times. However, the message we are sending can easily be interpreted as, “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”

There are many benefits of engaging the community in the schools. At a site level, new resources are brought to the table. When parents, educators, businesses, human service agencies, and churches (Yes…they can be involved too AND it is legal.) sit down together at the same table to talk about kids, good things happen. A few thoughts to consider…

  1. The Sleeping Giant: Faith-based organizations are mission driven and full of individuals who are seeking ways to give back to the community. Does this mean they will be preaching to the kids at school. No. That isn’t legal. But as a local minister in Joplin put it, “We know we can’t be the voice of God in our schools, but we can be the hands and feet of God by supporting our children and educators.” I often refer to faith communities as “The Sleeping Giant.” When given the opportunity they will respond quickly to the needs of the school. No questions asked.
  1. Treasure: I learned quickly that treasure doesn’t necessarily mean monetary resources. In fact, some of the best “treasures” that have been brought to the table are not monetary. Volunteers knitting stocking caps for needy kids in preparation for the winter, organizations donating school supplies, service organizations taking on special projects – the list goes on. The point is that there are many giving hearts in your community with treasures to offer. Although it doesn’t look like cash, these treasures are priceless.
  1. Advocacy: Community complacency towards our schools has come about as a result of decades of schools pulling down the blinds and shutting the doors. Unfortunately, when our doors are closed and our windows are covered, others can’t see the good things happening in our schools, or spot challenges and potential solutions. I would ask you to think on this for a second. How might the tides turn if members of your community could see—and be a part of–the good work in your schools? What would happen if in your community you had dozens or even hundreds of volunteers working in different capacities supporting your children and the good work of educators?

advocacy_topicicon-01Ultimately the purpose of opening the doors of our schools is to move our communities from complacency to action and from action to advocacy. In this era of limited resources and high accountability, I’d encourage educators and school leaders to take that first step and open the doors…even if it is just a crack. You might be surprised to find who is waiting for you on the other side of the door ready to help.


CJ Huff is the retired superintendent of Joplin Schools in Joplin, MO. He is recognized nationally in the field of community engagement and 21st century education programming.