What could fatherhood and school safety possibly have in common? Plenty, it turns out. At the heart of each is a primal instinct: survival and a need to protect. Central to each is a call to action — what we do and how we make our voices heard.

I began my professional career working with children as a general and special education teacher, and then through my doctoral training, gained a wide array of experiences as a psychologist  – working with children, adolescents and adults, forensic and health psychology, crisis and disaster mental health, and trauma-informed care and practices.

When our son was nearly two years old, I decided to leave full-time private practice as a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist in New York City to help design and open a global network of international schools, nursery through grade 12, the flagship campus of another international school, Avenues: The World School. This first campus would open the same year our son would begin his first formal educational experiences and enter nursery school. While I was excited to help build a “dream school,” I was also glad to be near my son and protect him throughout his school years.

Just as many “expecting parents” do, I sought to continue learning as much as I could about school design, safety, crisis management, and the many dangers our children face in setting out on this new journey to collaboratively design a new school. As a senior school administrator and leadership team member at Avenues and, more recently, the United Nations International School, I played an instrumental role in planning and developing key support foundations and programs, including health and safety; emergency management and crisis prevention; response and postvention; child protection and safeguarding; school climate; student physical and mental health prevention and wellness; social-emotional learning; life skills and human sexuality; and school safety,  school violence prevention, risk-reduction and intervention.

With a wonderful team of “co-parents” (aka school administrators, faculty, staff, and parents), Avenues opened in September 2012. Proud of this new venture, I was eager to participate and experience the growth and progress of this new school and simultaneously, this new stage of development of my own son as he began his early school years.

With halls abuzz and the academic year off as one would expect for a startup school, two disasters hit before winter break that, ironically, in my mind, have stuck as “the year of Sandy”: Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012.

Hurricane Sandy, a natural disaster, caused some physical damages due to flooding. We needed to close school for a few days and provide essential outreach and support to school community members who lost homes. So many parents and community members reached out with a desire to provide support, and some raised important questions about safety measures for our leadership team.

As the school doors reopened, regular school routines and rituals resumed, and the fall months quickly passed. This was, of course, until a news alert from the NY Times popped up on my iPhone during the morning hours of the last day of school prior to our first winter break. It was Friday, December 14, 2012.  The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, an act of human violence, shocked and traumatized the Newtown community, the State of Connecticut, the nation, and the entire world.

As an administrator, the shooting at Sandy Hook was hard to accept, but as a parent, it cut to the core of my most grave fears about our children’s safety. I saw how community members came together to show support, and how human connectedness was essential for care, healing, and rebuilding. I was glad that through work, I had a role to play in safeguarding “my” children.

Upon relocating to Cincinnati in 2017 with our son and my partner for his career, I became a stay-at-home parent and for the first time, had to send our son to school on his own. Not only would I not be in the same building during the day, but I was also no longer one of the key leaders and decision makers. This was hard, so I was on the lookout for ways I could proactively put my “primal parenting” urges of physical and psychological protection to use.

Inspired and impressed by the strength and growth of the Safe and Sound Schools mission, becoming a part of the Parent Council was a no-brainer. I applied for the program, eager to increase my own learning in the area of school safety advocacy from a parent and community member perspective.

Since starting this national leadership program, I’ve been able to collaborate with like-minded parents interested in being active, invested and empowered ambassadors, advocates, and parent leaders. Through our Parent Council training program, I’ve looked at school safety from a parent’s perspective. It has been an eye-opening and inspiring experience and a true privilege. Schools should be healthy, cheerful places of learning. The Safe and Sound Schools Parent Council is a way to foster this potential and reality.

As noted in the Final Report of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission: “the successful implementation of Safe School Design and Operations (SSDO) strategies requires the support of ‘local champions.’ Each community or school district should have a small standing committee or commission, comprised of individuals representing the school community, law enforcement, fire, EMS and public health, whose responsibility is to ensure that the SSDO standards and strategies are actually implemented in their community.”

Parents have an essential role to play in this framework. Combined with the resources of Safe and Sound Schools’ Comprehensive School Safety Planning and Development model, communities have a plethora of tools to help create safer schools. While negative news coverage may dominate the headlines, we need to keep reminding ourselves of how communication, collaboration, and proactive planning has resulted in stronger, prepared, and resilient school communities.

There is so much more we can all be doing to make our schools safe and welcoming places where our children can reach their full potential, and teachers, staff, and administrators can educate without fear. Our common voice as parents and safe school advocates is extremely important towards this vital goal, and we need to exercise it at all levels with an overarching belief of ‘everyone safe, everyone learns and everyone is successful.’

Herein is the call to action. Let’s work together to make this happen!


About the Author:
Topher Collier, PsyD, ABSNP, In addition to being the proud father of a 9-year-old, Dr. Topher Collier is a licensed psychologist and school administrator with advanced training in trauma-informed and crisis-specific care as well as in clinical care and intervention and neuropsychological, psychological and educational assessment of children, adolescents, adults, and families. 

Editor’s Note:
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

Safe and Sound Schools delivers State of School Safety Report 2019, detailing the latest information about school safety issues and recommendations on June 11, 2019

Newtown, Conn. – June 11, 2019Safe and Sound Schools, a national school safety non-profit, today released its State of School Safety Report 2019 in collaboration with Boston University College of Communication.  The report includes contributions to analysis and interpretation from national experts across six key areas: mental and behavioral health; health and wellness; physical environment; school law, policy, and finance; culture, climate, and community; and operations and emergency management.

“Our mission is to protect every school and every student, every day,” said Michele Gay, co-founder and executive director of Safe and Sound Schools.  “The State of School Safety Report furthers that mission each year.  With the support of faculty and students at Boston University College of Communication, we were able to conduct nationally-fielded surveys and gain a deeper understanding of the current views on school safety from all parties involved.  We hope that the 2019 Report will provide more insight into the progress our school communities have made, but more importantly, patterns that point to where we are falling short on a national level.”

Safe and Sound Schools surveyed perceptions of school safety among five groups: students in middle and high school, parents, educators, public safety officials, and community members.  This report’s findings identify several school safety issues that need to be addressed.

In the results pertaining to student feedback, students and educators were asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement, “The school takes student feedback on school safety seriously.”  Opinions from the responding students and educators differed greatly.

While 80 percent of educators surveyed agreed with the statement, only 27 percent of students felt that student feedback on school safety is taken seriously.  In fact, 60 percent of students disagree, and feel that their feedback is not taken into consideration by schools.

These responses are consistent with the 2018 State of School Safety Report, suggesting a lack of progress in this area.  The data points to the imperative for school administrators to prioritize student engagement in the planning process for safety preparedness – not solely in the activities or drills.  Students are almost universally present at school safety incidents, and should be part of the planning for emergency response.

In addition to survey data and further exploration of school safety issues, the State of School Safety Report 2019 provides strategic recommendations and steps schools can take to close the gap between stakeholder perceptions to improve school safety.

For more information, view the full ‘State of School Safety’ Report 2019.

A donation from Bark helped fund the Safe and Sound Schools team’s time to review results, coordinate external reviews, and prepare the final report.  Status Solutions supported the presentation and distribution of this research.

 

About Safe and Sound Schools

Michele Gay and Alissa Parker founded Safe and Sound Schools in 2013, following the tragic deaths of their children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Safe and Sound Schools works with school communities and mental health, law enforcement, and safety professionals to create and ensure the safest possible learning environment for all youth. The non-profit organization delivers crisis-prevention, response, and recovery programs, tools, and resources, backed by national experts, to educate all members of the school community, from students and parents, to teachers and administrators, to law enforcement and local leaders. Winner of the 2015 New England Business Association Innovation Award for nonprofits, Safe and Sound Schools continues to answer the growing needs of school communities with custom programs, assessments, and training, reaching schools in every state in the country. For more information, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.

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Media Contact:

Azia Celestino

Safe and Sound Schools

acelestino@safeandsoundschools.org

 

Last year, we released our first State of School Report, a national survey which aimed to shine a light on several school safety issues communities face. Our survey included perspectives from parents, students, educators (teachers, administrators, staff, mental wellness professionals, and SROs), and the general public.  

We found there was a sizable communication gap between educators and other stakeholders (parents and students in particular) and that students were dissatisfied with their school’s current safety conversations and actions. These findings helped initiate some very important conversations in our schools and we are eager to continue our discussion as we looked towards our follow-up survey conducted earlier this year.  

In the State of School Safety Report 2019, we followed up on the progress our school communities have made, but also aimed to discover new patterns that point to where we are falling short at the national level. We found there are still issues pertaining to the communication gap between educators and other stakeholders, with 60 percent of students feeling like their concerns and feedback are not being considered. Students also believe their school has an illusion of safety, which results in a false sense of security –with educators feeling largely split as to whether they agree or disagree with that assessment.

One of the most interesting findings we uncovered centered around the different perceptions between stakeholders, regarding mental health experts and education. We found that “80 percent of educators knew where to find mental health experts in their school, but only about 50 percent of parents and students did.” This statistic, and many others, indicate to us that there is still a lot to discuss when it comes to communicating with our school community about safety and resources. To read a summary of the research or the full report, download the report here: https://www.safeandsoundschools.org/research/.

We’d like to thank Bark for its generous donation that helped fund the Safe and Sound Schools team’s time to review results, coordinate external reviews, and prepare the final report.

Please share this report with your community to get the conversation started!

 


On May 23, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) held a panel featuring Safe and Sound Schools’ Co-founder

Washington, DC – June 7, 2019Safe and Sound Schools co-founder and executive director, Michele Gay, was invited by the U.S. Department of Justice components, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), to participate as a panelist in an internal conference focused on the topic of school safety and security.

The purpose of the event was to enhance COPS and BJA staff knowledge of school safety concerns, emerging issues, and promising practices.  In Rethinking School Safety: A Parent’s Perspective, Michele Gay told her personal story as the mother of a child killed during the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. Reflecting on the tragedy with the attendees, Gay shared how Safe and Sound Schools now works to help communities in identifying key preventative actions and safety solutions- measures that were not in place for her daughter’s school during that crisis.  

The panel was comprised of nationally recognized subject matter experts and practitioners of the most current information available on the topic of K-12 school safety.  Other esteemed panelists included:

  • Dr. Lina Alathari, Chief of the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center
  • Mo Canady, Executive Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers
  • Dr. Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, Director of Policy & Advocacy, National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
  • Phillip Keith, Director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS)

Both the COPS Office and BJA support programs that focus on providing funding to state and local education and law enforcement agencies.  These offices work to bring evidence-based programs, strategies and equipment to prevent school violence and increase school security.

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About Safe and Sound Schools

Michele Gay and Alissa Parker founded Safe and Sound Schools in 2013, following the tragic deaths of their children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Safe and Sound Schools works with school communities and mental health, law enforcement, and safety professionals to create and ensure the safest possible learning environment for all youth. The non-profit organization delivers crisis-prevention, response, and recovery programs, tools, and resources, backed by national experts, to educate all members of the school community, from students and parents, to teachers and administrators, to law enforcement and local leaders. Winner of the 2015 New England Business Association Innovation Award for nonprofits, Safe and Sound Schools continues to answer the growing needs of school communities with custom programs, assessments, and training, reaching schools in every state in the country. For more information, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.

About the COPS Office

The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) is the component of the U.S. Department of Justice responsible for advancing the practice of community policing by the nation’s state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies through information and grant resources.

Community policing begins with a commitment to building trust and mutual respect between police and communities. It is critical to public safety, ensuring that all stakeholders work together to address our nation’s crime challenges. When police and communities collaborate, they more effectively address underlying issues, change negative behavioral patterns, and allocate resources.

The COPS Office awards grants to hire community policing professionals, develop and test innovative policing strategies, and provide training and technical assistance to community members, local government leaders, and all levels of law enforcement. Since 1994, the COPS Office has invested more than $14 billion to help advance community policing.

https://cops.usdoj.gov/aboutcops

About the Bureau of Justice Assistance

BJA is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, that helps to make American communities safer by strengthening the nation’s criminal justice system: Its grants, training and technical assistance, and policy development services provide state, local, and tribal governments with the cutting edge tools and best practices they need to reduce violent and drug-related crime, support law enforcement, and combat victimization.

BJA’s mission is to provide leadership and services in grant administration and criminal justice policy development to support local, state, and tribal justice strategies to achieve safer communities. BJA supports programs and initiatives in the areas of law enforcement, justice information sharing, countering terrorism, managing offenders, combating drug crime and abuse, adjudication, advancing tribal justice, crime prevention, protecting vulnerable populations, and capacity building.

https://www.bja.gov/about/index.html

 

By: Leslie Lagerstrom & Todd A. Savage

My name is Leslie Lagerstrom and I am a mom, author, and advocate. If you met my son Sam, he would want you to know that he loves to travel, ski, and laugh. He would also share he is addicted to Scrabble, in case you might be a fellow competitor. As his mother, I would want you to know he has got the best sense of humor, loves volunteering to teach kids how to ski, and is one of the kindest people I know (my bias notwithstanding).  

Sam is also transgender. He knew his true gender identity early in life and began transitioning to be the boy he knew he really was at the age of 8. This is not something he hides, but also not a fact he feels the need to share because it does not define him. It is just part of who he is, a small part of the whole, but unfortunately being trans was all that his classmates could focus on while growing up, which brought about years of harassment and bullying.

When Sam was in fourth grade he told me matter-of-factly that he had become the outcast to both genders. Girls never could relate to his masculine ways, and boys did not want to be associated with ‘…that kid who used to be a girl,’ as they would say loudly while laughing for all to hear. I watched with despair as the bullying he experienced in the middle grades morphed into him being ostracized in high school, becoming invisible to his classmates who just could not get past the fact he was transgender. As strange and sad as it might sound, I think if Sam were to choose he would rather be bullied than being completely ignored. He led a lonely existence, some days not interacting with anyone but his teachers. 

I would have given anything for another parent to reach out to me. To offer a kind word to a mother who was hanging on by her fingernails. When I share our story one of the first questions I inevitably get from audiences is, “If there is a transgender child in our kid’s classroom, how can we help? How can we support the child and their family so that they feel like they belong?” Here is my common reply:

  1. Educate yourself and your family – don’t rely on the grapevine to help you understand what it means to be transgender. Ask your child’s teacher, guidance counselor, or school principal about where you can find helpful resources. Plan a family discussion on the subject so your children get the right information too. That said, don’t be surprised if they already know more than you on the subject – kids are amazing.
  2. Offer clues that you are supportive – sometimes a simple gesture can relieve an incredible amount of stress. Wearing a rainbow pin or tee shirt that has a supportive LGBTQ message on it will not only let kids like my child know you are an ally, but might also spark positive conversations with other people in the school community.
  3. Encourage your child to be inclusive, not just in school but in life – everyone wants to feel like they belong and transgender students are no exception. Many times they can be found eating alone in the cafeteria or unable to find a partner for classroom activities. Encourage your child to extend a hand, a kind gesture to kids in need. Your child will not only be a ray of sunshine for a lonely kid, but they will also be modeling respect for other kids to emulate.
  4. Stand up for the parents when you hear incorrect information about the child, their family, or what it means to be transgender – we encourage our kids not to be bystanders and then we do it ourselves (I am guilty of this too). It takes courage, but don’t be afraid to correct people who are spreading false information, making light of transgender people, or leading efforts that will negatively affect your school community.
  5. Don’t Be Nervous – sometimes our desire to show support is hampered by the worry that we may say something wrong. You can put that worry to rest. If something comes out the wrong way you will not hurt the child nor their parents as long as they can tell you are trying. In fact, you correcting yourself and moving on will be seen as a sign of respect.

Supporting School Culture Is Important, Too –  A Note from Dr. Todd Savage 

As a school psychologist that works with K-12 teachers, students and families across the nation, I have witnessed the success that can come when parents actively advocate for bolstering positive school climate initiatives at your child’s school and throughout the district. Learn about what is already underway in terms of building and maintaining school connectedness (i.e., relationships) within the school community, social-emotional learning programming, positive behavior supports, anti-bullying and bystander education, school safety and crisis preparedness, and promoting diversity and inclusion efforts. Families are an important part of the school climate equation and your contributions to the creation and maintenance of a positive school climate will go a long way for everyone, particularly transgender and gender diverse students and their families.

Finally, stand as an ally with your child’s school as the personnel there works to honor transgender and other gender diverse students. Being visible in this regard signals to other parents and families not only your support, it models strength when pressure may exist in the community not to be supportive. Sometimes all it takes for some people to muster the courage in the face of opposition is to know they are not alone in doing the work.


About the Authors:

Leslie Lagerstrom is the creator of the blog Transparenthood™, which chronicles her family’s experience raising a transgender child. She is a contributor to The Huffington Post and her essays can be found in two anthologies, Mamas Write and Nothing but the Truth So Help Me God. Committed to spreading awareness on the subject of transgender children, Leslie frequently shares her family’s story, speaking in front of audiences across the nation.

Todd A. Savage, Ph.D., NCSP, is a professor in the school psychology program at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF); he is also a past president of the National Association of School Psychologists. Throughout his career, he has produced scholarly work and professional development for teachers, administrators, other school personnel, and family and community members around supporting LGBTQ+ youth in schools, particularly transgender and gender diverse youth.

Editor’s Note:
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.