Students make the best teachers. They are the eyes and ears of their schools…. the leaders of movements… and the galvanizers of change. In all the years I’ve spent traveling around the country, I’ve met some incredible students who are just as inspired as we are to create a nation of safer schools.

As excited as I was to meet these students, and thrilled that they understand the need for school safety, I felt frustrated that there wasn’t a way for them to turn their ideas into action. So fueled by their passion and bright ideas, we talked to our network of experts, students, teachers and administrators to build a new program: The Safe and Sound Youth Council.

The Safe and Sound Youth Council gives students a seat at the table and brings them into the national conversation of school safety. It is a leadership program, accessible to all, and gives students the support they need to assess their school’s safety, act with smart and sustainable changes, and audit their impact. At the same time, the Safe and Sound Youth Council provides them with a foundation of credibility to help bring their ideas to life.

We hope you will check out the program page to learn more about the Safe and Sound Youth Council. Please also share this program with your networks, especially any students. The faster we can get more Safe and Sound Youth Council chapters off the ground, the closer we’ll come to creating a nation of safer schools.

So thank you to Kaia, Noah, Trey, Makenzi, Colby, Anthony, John, Julia, Olivia, James, and the countless other students who helped bring to life this unique and empowering program. At Safe and Sound Schools, we will never give up, and thanks to the new Youth Council program, we can bring the students into the conversation and foster a new generation of champions who won’t give up, either.


Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools

 

When disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma happen, youth can feel frightened, confused, and insecure. Whether children experience trauma personally, simply see an event unfold on TV, or hear it discussed, it is important for us and our communities to be informed and ready to help them.

That is why more than 60 organizations, including Safe and Sound Schools, have affirmed the National Strategy for Youth Preparedness Education: Empowering, Educating, and Building Resilience. The National Strategy envisions a Nation where youth are empowered to prepare for and respond to disasters.

The National Strategy encourages organizations at national, state, and local levels to elevate the importance of youth preparedness, educate youth on actions they should take before, during and in the aftermath of a disaster, and spread the message of preparedness to their constituents and communities. Whether you are a teacher, parent, guardian, or student, you can help build your school and community’s preparedness. Read more about the National Strategy, or sign up to become an Affirmer organization.

Make School Preparedness a Key Component of Resilient Communities

Because children spend so much time in school, we should make school preparedness a key element, and the National Strategy does that. It is important to note that youth preparedness efforts must be age-appropriate, with educational materials tailored to children’s developmental levels. It is crucial that we prepare students without scaring them.

Programs throughout the United States are already preparing kids for disasters in meaningful ways. Many of these programs readily share their materials at no-cost. The Safe and Sound Schools program is an excellent example of how to help students and school communities to prepare. They offer free toolkits, workshops, and other digital resources, which are great ways to take the first steps toward ensuring your community and equipping youth for any disaster.

Some other options include the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Student Tools for Emergency Planning program or Save the Children’s Prep Rally. The FEMA Youth Preparedness Catalog is a comprehensive list of youth preparedness curricula, training, and programs from across the country. It is another smart place to start when looking to bring a youth preparedness program to your school. FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Technical Assistance Center can also answer any specific questions and help you find tools and resources that fit your situation—making the process much more manageable.

Promoting youth preparedness is a key step in making our schools safer, more resilient, and more secure. Look at what programs already exist, and then adapt them to suit your needs. Doing so will help make our schools safer and develop the next generation of prepared students.

For more information and resources about youth preparedness, check out www.ready.gov/youth-preparedness or email the Youth Preparedness Technical Assistance Center at fema-youth-preparedness@fema.dhs.gov.


Charlotte Porter, Director (A), Individual and Community Preparedness Division, Federal Emergency Management Agency

 

In Part 1 of this two-part blog series, we discussed the popular Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why.” We concluded Part 1 by discussing the alarming statistics surrounding youth suicide, findings that have lead many schools to push for mandatory suicide prevention efforts and training in schools.

At the time of this writing, 26 states have passed legislation, either recommending or requiring suicide prevention training for school personnel. Training requirements vary, but the most accepted standard is:

  • One hour of training annually on the warning signs of suicide
  • School referral and support services for identified suicidal students

The majority of states have only addressed the need for training. However, a few states have also addressed the need for schools to have policies and procedures for suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. Several states have addressed the need to identify high risk youth for suicidal behavior, which include LGBT youth, homeless youth, children in foster care, and children living in a home with a substance abusing or mentally ill family member.

The Jason Flatt Act has passed in 19 states and extensive information is available at jasonfoundation.com. JF, a leader in the suicide prevention national movement, focuses on the need for suicide prevention training in schools. Every state that has passed the Jason Flatt Act can access free online trainings on their website. I am proud to share that with my colleague, Rich Lieberman, we have created five modules for the JF on the following topics:

  • Suicide and LGBT
  • Suicide and bullying
  • Suicide an and NSSI suicide
  • Suicide and depression
  • Suicide postvention

It is very important that school community members, such as administrators, counselors, school psychologist, nurses and social workers, familiarize themselves with the legislative recommendations and all requirements pertaining to their state. These key school community members need to make a commitment to stay current in the field of youth suicide prevention. One way to do that is to sign up for the free Weekly Spark from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. The Weekly Spark provides a summary of trends and research emailed on a weekly basis. School community members can also assist their community by collaborating with suicide prevention advocates, making sure to identify resources for prevention in their community.

If your state has not passed related legislation, then please be an advocate for suicide prevention in schools. If your state passed legislation, then ensure that the legislative initiatives for your state are followed at your school. One place to start is to ask your school for the formation of a suicide prevention task force.

The Jason Flatt Act has passed in the following states: Tennessee, Louisiana, California, Mississippi, Illinois, Arkansas, West Virginia, Utah, Alaska, South Carolina, Ohio, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Georgia, Texas, South Dakota, Alabama and Kansas.

States with legislation for suicide prevention in schools other than Flatt Act:Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Netflix’s program “13 Reasons Why” caused many schools to take action and alert parents of their many concerns regarding the show’s message and portrayal of suicide, but now it is time for schools to take action to prevent youth suicides by training school staff and developing suicide prevention plans.


Dr. Scott Poland is on the advisory board of Safe and Sound Schools and has a long background in schools and suicide prevention. He is the author and co-author of five books, from the 1989 book, Suicide Intervention in Schools, to the 2015 book, Suicide in Schools. He is the co-author of the Suicide Safer School Plan for Texas and the Crisis Action School Toolkit on Suicide for Montana. He can be reached at spoland@nova.edu

The very popular Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why” raised much needed discussion about youth suicide prevention in our schools last spring. Many schools responded by sending messages to parents, alerting them of the content of the show and encouraging them to either not let their children watch it at all or to watch it with their children.

Unfortunately, the show had many unsafe messages about youth suicide that many experts believe, will lead to suicide contagion.

At a presentation in Tampa, Florida, shortly after the Netflix’s show aired, a mental health specialist shared that immediately after the show, many adolescents were hospitalized for suicidal actions. Several had attempted suicide in the same manner as Hannah Baker, the suicide victim and show’s protagonist. Here are a few of the many unsafe messages in the show:

  • Suicide was portrayed as a logical outcome as a result of bullying.
  • Suicide was portrayed as an act of revenge.
  • The method of the suicide was shown in a dramatic and horrifying detailed scene.
  • Adults were not portrayed as helpful to teenagers and the majority were portrayed as non-existent or oblivious to what was going on in their child’s life.
  • The terms mental illness, mental health and depression were not mentioned in the show.
  • The school counselor in the show was depicted as non-approachable and non-helpful.
  • The most likable character in the show, Clay, stated after the suicide of his friend Hannah Baker, “we need more kindness in the world”. Kindness is certainly important, but is not enough by itself to help a young person struggling with mental illness.

That said, the beginning of the school year is an opportunity for schools to examine and improve their suicide prevention efforts. Unfortunately, youth suicide is at or near an all-time high. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents in America. It is important to note that the suicide rate for middle school-aged girls has increased more dramatically than any other group in America according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

To gain a better understanding of youth suicide, many school districts have participated in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBS) for high school students. Schools are encouraged to review their local and state data. The 2015 national YRBS results indicate the following:

  • 17.7% percent of high school students seriously thought about attempting suicide in the last twelve months.
  • 14.6% actually made a plan to do so in the last twelve months.
  • 8.6% actually attempted suicide in the last twelve months.

This means that in a high school of 1000 students, 86 students have made a suicide attempt within the last year. Those with previous history of suicide are the most likely to make a future suicide attempt. The volume of suicidal behavior for young people results in the necessity of schools providing suicide prevention training to all personnel who interact on a regular basis with students. In fact, there is a growing national legislative movement for suicide prevention in schools. In part 2 of this blog, we will take a deeper dive into the discourse and legislation surrounding suicide prevention as it relates to schools.


Dr. Scott Poland is on the advisory board of Safe and Sound Schools and has a long background in schools and suicide prevention. He is the author and co-author of five books, from the 1989 book, Suicide Intervention in Schools, to the 2015 book, Suicide in Schools. He is the co-author of the Suicide Safer School Plan for Texas and the Crisis Action School Toolkit on Suicide for Montana. He can be reached at spoland@nova.edu

Unique student-driven program to leverage the power of today’s youth to address school safety

NEWTOWN, Conn. – Sept. 13, 2017 – Safe and Sound Schools, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering communities to improve school safety, is launching the Safe and Sound Youth Council. This chapter-based, student leadership group harnesses the power of today’s teens in tackling the broad and difficult challenge of securing our nation’s schools.  

Students in the Safe and Sound Youth Council will lend their creativity, leadership, and critical thinking to improve school safety through in-school and community service projects. By providing their unique perspectives through collaboration and sharing of ideas, students will develop real-world skills, foster life-long safety skills, and grow a nation of leaders and advocates for a safer tomorrow. In addition, they will be working with administrators and teachers, who will provide oversight and an important link to the broader community.

“Traditionally, students have been excluded from the safety conversation.” said Michele Gay, co-founder and executive director of Safe and Sound Schools. “This is a missed opportunity because the students are walking their halls, seeing the ins and outs of their buildings, and have the network to bring about real change. The goal of the Safe and Sound Youth Council is to give students a seat at the table and bring them into the national conversation so that they can make a difference.”

“It’s not enough for me to be told that there’s a plan,” said Olivia G., a high-school student in Maryland. “I want to know it and be a part of it.”

The Need For Student-Driven School Safety Programs  

The changing landscape of safety in American schools presents challenges never-before-faced in our schools.Today’s schools face a wide array of serious safety issues such as crime, drug abuse, mental health, violence, human trafficking, gang activity, workplace violence, suicide, and cyber-safety issues, on top of longstanding safety issues like weather, fire safety, and natural disasters. Protecting the safety of school communities is far too great of a responsibility to rest on the shoulders of administrators or police alone, as in past times.

Safe and Sound Schools advocates for a collaborative approach to school safety and believes this is the most impactful way to change the safety of America’s school communities. Although school safety is often a collaborative effort between safety experts and administrators, students are continually under utilized. Today’s school safety landscape requires cross collaboration. Students can play a powerful role in the safety of their communities. The Safe and Sound Youth Council harnesses the power of the student voice, setting itself apart from other traditional safety programs.

The Safe and Sound Student Council is available to every high school in America, free of charge, and will provide students with critical preparedness and safety education and leadership skills. Those interested in starting a Safe and Sound Youth Council chapter can download the program guide by visiting the Safe and Sound Schools website.

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.

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Back-to-school is an important event every year in my home. It represents so much more than just back-to-school. It means my kids are getting older and naturally that I am getting older as well. There will be new teachers, new clothes, new school supplies! Summer wanes, fall creeps in and life takes on a familiar routine. Of course, for me another topic on my mind when school rolls around is safety. Even when our girls were young my husband and I spoke openly and frequently about safety rules and guidelines. We have had these talks so often over the years that our girls are now able to mimic our “discussions” verbatim any chance they can.

Talking about safety at school has been one of the newer additions to our list of safety conversations. After losing my oldest daughter Emilie to a school shooting, how could it not? This year, our safety conversation was initiated by my youngest daughter Samantha, a soon to be 3rd grader, while shopping for new school clothes.  “Mom, can I tell you something,” she began.  “Did you know there are drills at our school where we have to go outside?!”  I smiled and asked her if she could tell me why they would need to go out of the school for a drill. She explained to me not only why they would need to evacuate their school, but how all the other drills at her school work. Samantha loves an audience and I love seeing her repeat all the safety information she has learned both at home and at school.

When we talk to children about school safety, it can often feel intimidating. However, like most things, the more we practice the better we get. In that one conversation while shopping, my daughters covered not only safety drills but also discussions about bullying and what to do if you find yourself surrounded by strangers. Seeing Samantha take our safety talks to another level and become the teacher herself was amazing. Safety is an empowering tool for children. Having safety rules and boundaries gives them a sense of security and control.  So, if you haven’t already started those conversations with your kids, start now! You will be amazed with the ideas they will share with you and the questions and conversations that will follow. Hopefully, someday soon they will become your teacher as well!


Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools