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.

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!

 

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.

Throughout the months of January, February, and March, the Safe and Sound team collectively traveled to 20 U.S. cities, plus a stop in Canada, reaching over 5,000 people.

Safe and Sound Schools kicked off 2019 with New Year, New Sound at Kellogg’s in New York City! With a new twist on New Year’s resolutions, Safe and Sound Schools invited teens to sound off on school safety. Teens gathered for an evening of music and fun, and shared their New Year’s school safety resolutions. Michele was joined by celebrity guest and actor Jeremy Ray Taylor. Jeremy discussed school culture, “sparking” kindness, and encouraged everyone in attendance to join the growing Safe and Sound national movement. He echoed that sentiment in a PSA for Safe and Sound Schools. Also in attendance, were members of the band Chasing DaVinici – Jeddi, Jessi, Josephine and Josiah. The band debuted an original song, “Good Days,” dedicated to Safe and Sound Schools. The evening was certainly one for the books!

With New Year, New Sound setting the tone for 2019, the Safe and Sound team hit the ground running in the months that followed. While our in-house team continued preparations and planning for the inaugural National Summit on School Safety, Safe and Sound Schools’ team of speakers traveled from coast to coast, presenting in states like Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, California, Florida, and Arizona. For a full list, scroll to the bottom of this blog.

In March, hundreds of school safety professionals convened in Houston, Texas, to attend the inaugural National Summit on School Safety, a two-day conference co-hosted by Safe and Sound Schools and Region 4 Education Service Center. The conference focused on comprehensive school safety, providing attendees with opportunities to learn about the six key areas of comprehensive school safety. With more than 30 presenters and panelists in attendance, attendees were able to listen to keynotes, attend workshops, and participate in a series of group roundtable discussions. For a full recap, click here.

Although New Year, New Sound and the National Summit on School Safety were certainly the biggest highlights of the first quarter, here other highlights that helped make our first quarter one to remember:

  • With the generous support of our partner, Door Security and Safety Foundation, Safe and Sound Schools produced a short education video about door safety.
  • Safe and Sound Schools welcomed Bark as an organization partner.
  • Azia Celestino joined Safe and Sound Schools’ media relations team. Azia was key in helping the organization plan New Year, New Sound and the National Summit on School Safety. We are fortunate to have a media savvy go-getter on our team!
  • Miss Green Wave Teen 2019, Cameron Fox, joined Charlie Hobin as a Safe and Sound Schools teen ambassador.
  • After months of preparations, the Safe and Sound Parent Council program training officially took flight!
  • Safe and Sound Schools launched new research for 2019, surveying students, educators, and public safety officials in efforts to gain new perspectives on the state of school safety in the country today. Results will be shared later this month!

Now for a full list of first quarter travels…

January

  • Jan. 4, NY – Michele Gay, with the help of Kellogg’s, hosts New Year, New Sound in New York City.
  • Jan. 7-8, PA  – Melissa Reeves holds threat assessment workshops in Lancaster.
  • Jan. 9-10, MA – Frank DeAngelis presents for Masconomet High School.
  • Jan. 13-14, CA – Frank DeAngelis attends a conference in Menlo Park.
  • Jan. 23, MN – Frank DeAngelis presents Leadership Lesson from Columbine and Beyond Minnesota Juvenile Officers Association in Duluth.
  • Jan. 29, MS – Frank DeAngelis presents for the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents in Jackson.

February

  • Feb. 15, CO – Frank DeAngelis presents for the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab in Denver.
  • Feb. 19-20, CA – Frank DeAngelis attends the CAHF Really Ready 5 Conference in Anaheim.
  • Feb. 27, CO – Alissa presents in Denver with the support of Allegion.
  • Feb. 27, NY – Frank DeAngelis presents for the Corning-Painted Post Area School District in Painted Post.

March

  • Mar. 1, FL – Michele Gay presents School Safety: A Parent’s Perspective for the National School Systems Contractors Association in Tampa.
  • Mar. 6, OH – Scott Poland presents on youth suicide and threat assessment for South-Western City School District in Grove City.
  • Mar. 8, Canada – Frank DeAngelis presents Leadership Lesson from Columbine and Beyond for the  Saskatchewan Association of Police Affiliated Victim Services (SAPAVS) in Saskatoon.
  • Mar. 11, MA – Alissa Parker and Frank DeAngelis present for the Burlington Police Department.
  • Mar. 13, AR – Michele Gay presents School Safety: A Parent’s Perspective for the Arkansas Mental Health in Education (ARMEA) Annual Conference in Little Rock.
  • Mar. 18, KY – Michele Gay and Melissa Reeves hold workshops for Muhlenberg County Schools in Powderly.
  • Mar. 21, NY – Frank DeAngelis presents Leadership Lesson from Columbine and Beyond the University of Buffalo/Utica National Insurance Group in Buffalo.
  • Mar. 22, PA – Michele Gay presents Beyond Tragedy: Response and Recovery in a School Based Crisis for Friends of Safe Schools USA-Pennsylvania in Washington.
  • Mar. 29-30, TX – Safe and Sound and team travel to Houston to host the inaugural National Summit on School Safety.

Don’t forget to follow us on social media for day-to-day updates on all things Safe and Sound.

 

Safe and Sound Schools is proud to participate in Teacher Appreciation Week. In honor of this week’s celebrations, we’re turning the spotlight to recognize our very own, Michele Gay. Many of you know Michele as one of the founders of Safe and Sound Schools – and of course, mother to Joey, Marie, and Sophie. What you may not know is that prior to founding Safe and Sound Schools, Michele taught in the Maryland and Virginia Public Schools, where she served as both an elementary classroom teacher, a mentor teacher and a peer coach.

Q: What inspired you to get into teaching?

A:  It was my family. I grew up in a family of educators.  My father was a school counselor. My mother was a teacher and principal. As a kid, I marveled at how hard my parents worked. Too hard, I thought!  But the impact they had on so many children and families was undeniable. It was inspiring. It tugged at my heart until I found myself working with children as a high school student and ultimately deciding to pursue a teaching career myself. The real clincher was the students themselves. Once I saw what they had to teach me, how exciting it was to watch a new skill take hold or a new idea light within their eyes, I was done. Teaching was it for me!

Q: What were some of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher?

A:  The time I got to spend with so many incredible young people was undoubtedly the most rewarding part of the job. Every day was an adventure. Every child was uniquely gifted and challenged. It was incredible to be a small part of the journey of so many amazing people.

Q: What is one your fondest memories as a teacher?

A:  My fondest memories are of laughing with my students. The science experiments gone awry, the unexpected answers, the serious moments that turned into unstoppable giggle-fests, the unscripted moments of kids being themselves–they were the best.

Those moments where a hard-earned victory was achieved top the list, too.  Like when the furrowed brow of concentration on a child’s face gave way to the beaming excitement of discovery or long-awaited accomplishment. Nothing’s better than watching someone learn that they CAN do something they thought impossible.

Q: What was your biggest challenge as a teacher?

A:  Time. Without a doubt. There was just never enough of it to meet all of the goals and objectives on the list for each day, plus the grading, and the testing, and the meetings, phone calls and continuing education. Like lots of teachers, I’d trim time off of my lunch, stay late after school, and still have to bring work home. Don’t get me wrong–I signed up for it. All of it! But I always wished there was more time for relationship building, teaching, and listening and learning from one another in every school day.

Q: Teachers can change lives. They play pivotal roles in shaping minds and inspiring their students. Can you tell us about a teacher that made a lasting impact in your life?

A:  There were quite a few. “Miss Terry,” my third-grade teacher always comes to mind first.  After a really rough second grade, I landed in her class and was greeted with the immediate comfort of a safe place.  She created an environment where it was okay to make mistakes, ask for help, laugh out loud, and most importantly, to admit when you were wrong. She modeled all of those things for us every day. She gave us all that we needed to learn–and then she got out of the way. I continue to go back to those lessons throughout my life as a teacher, a mom, a wife, and an advocate.  

Q: You’ve transitioned from educating children to educating an older crowd as part of your work for Safe and Sound Schools. What aspects from you career as a teacher do you use in your work today?

A:  See answer above! Seriously, I am lucky to work with the most dedicated people you can imagine.  Teachers, school staff, police, fire, emergency managers and responders, school-based mental health professionals, architects, community leaders, parents, and students–and on and on–that want school to be the safe place it has to be to serve our students and the future of our country.  My work today is really just another kind of teaching. The students are much bigger and the conversations are a bit more complicated, but we are working together to solve for safety. My job is simply to guide the process and see what kind of amazing things they come up with.

I had the privilege recently of returning to work with a group to whom I delivered a reunification workshop for a few years ago. I still cannot get over how much incredible work they have done since our workshop together. I just provided the training, tools and a little inspiration. Everything else was all them.  And judging by my recent visit, they are only just getting started. If I hadn’t chosen teaching all those years ago, I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to step into this new role and move forward from tragedy in such a positive way.

The decision to become a teacher has been a blessing many times over in my life. Today, it gives me great appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the educators I work with, and deep gratitude for the teachers who have touched and shaped my own children’s lives.  


Teacher Appreciation Week is observed from May 5-11 this year. Please take some time to recognize the teachers in your community – click here for ideas and facts.

On behalf of everyone at Safe and Sound Schools, we’d like to thank all teachers for their outstanding contributions and efforts to educate, inspire, and keep our kids safe and sound.

 

In late March, hundreds of school safety professionals convened in Houston, Texas, to attend the inaugural National Summit on School Safety, a two-day conference co-hosted by Safe and Sound Schools and Region 4 Education Service Center. The conference focused on comprehensive school safety, providing attendees with opportunities to learn about topics ranging from threat assessment and emergency planning to mental health and school safety funding. With more than 30 presenters and panelists in attendance, attendees were able to listen to keynotes, attend workshops, and participate in a series of intimate roundtable discussions.

Read on for a detailed summary of the event. As you can imagine, with two jam-packed days, there’s a lot to cover.

After introductory remarks by Dr. Pam Wells and Chief Alan Bragg, Michele Gay and Alissa Parker led the first keynote of the conference. This was the first time in five years Michele and Alissa shared the stage. They shared memories of their daughters, Joey and Emily, before walking the audience through the tragic events at Sandy Hook. Their primary message for attendees: rethink school safety – together.

The day proceeded with an agenda full of workshops focusing on the six key components of comprehensive school safety: (1) physical environment (2) operations and emergency management (3) mental and behavioral health (4) health and wellness (5) culture, climate, and community (6) school law, policy and finance. Attendees were able to participate in three workshop sessions throughout the day before ending the day with small roundtable discussion sessions. Presenters included:

  • Dr. CJ Huff – Former Superintendent of Joplin Schools and child advocate
  • Susan Payne – Founder of Safe2Tell and 28-year law enforcement veteran
  • Lisa Hamp – Survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting and school safety advocate
  • Bernie James – Professor of Law Specializing in Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, and Education Law
  • John-Michael Keyes – Founder and Executive Director of The “I Love U Guys” Foundation
  • Scarlett Lewis – Founder of Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement and social emotional learning advocate
  • Paul Timm – VP of Facility Engineering Associates, Physical Security Professional, Author

For the full list of workshop presenters, click here.

Safe and Sound Schools and Region 4 welcomed another full house on day two of the conference, starting the morning with the Beyond Columbine panel, featuring:

  • Jim Accomando, President of the National Parent Teacher Association
  • Dr. Melissa Reeves, Past President of the National Association of School Psychologists
  • Dr. CJ Huff, Former Superintendent of the Joplin, Missouri Schools
  • Mo Canady, Executive Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers
  • John-Michael Keyes, Father of Emily Keyes, Executive Director of the I Love U Guys Foundation
  • Natalie Hammond, Surviving Sandy Hook Teacher
  • Patrick Ireland, Surviving Columbine Student
  • Charlie Hobin, Student Leader, Bend, Oregon

Mo Canady focused the importance of school resource officers and building relationships while Natalie Hammond and Patrick Ireland shared the importance of support systems during recovery. John-Michael Keyes and Dr. Melissa Reeves echoed Natalie and Patrick’s thoughts and discussed trauma. Dr. Melissa emphasized that trauma is a life-long journey and advocated for life-long support post-tragedy. CJ Huff shared the importance of self-care after a tragedy while Jim Accomando urged parents to have a seat at the table. Charlie Hobin concluded the panel session with a message for students: get involved and spread kindness.

“My failure as a leader during the disaster was I did not take care of myself. Now I understand the need to be a role model of SELF CARE.” – Dr. CJ Huff

After another series of roundtable discussion sessions, the day continued with a second panel focused on tools and technology, featuring:

  • Anthony LaValle, Industry Expert & Founder, ReportIt
  • Titania Jordan, Industry Expert & Chief Parent Officer, Bark Technologies
  • Bruce Canal, Industry Expert & Director Industry Associations, Axis Communications
  • Rania Mankarious, Chief Executive Officer, Crime Stoppers of Houston
  • Dr. Catherine Finger, Industry Expert & Business Development Manager, NaviGate Prepared
  • Erin Wilson, Industry Expert and Door Security & Safety Foundation Ambassador

Panelists discussed available tools and technology for safer schools with panel moderator Paul Timm encouraging people not to give up on technology as part of a comprehensive safety plan. Panelists also emphasized the need for community like-mindedness, supporting school culture, building partnerships and remembering that although helpful, technology is not your only line of defense.

“It’s not always a technological solution…there’s security management, behavioral, leaning on your relationships, your friends… it’s important that you realize you have a world of knowledge.” – Bruce Canal, Industry Expert & Director Industry Associations, Axis Communications

Former Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis and Columbine survivor Patrick Ireland closed the summit with an inspiring, tear-jerking, and powerful keynote that brought the audience to a standing ovation. Frank DeAngelis walked the audience through the Columbine tragedy and illustrated the powerful and lasting relationships he built with his students throughout his career. As Patrick Ireland shared his experience and journey toward recovery, he left the audience with four key takeaways:

(1) People at generally good in nature. (2) With perseverance we can all achieve greatness. (3) We have a choice of being a victor or victim. (4) There is tremendous power in forgiveness.

This summit was made possible with the generous support of our partners and the collective effort between the Region 4 and Safe and Sound Schools team. Thank you to everyone that joined us in Houston!

VIEW SUMMIT PHOTOS

What could school safety and climate change possibly have in common? Plenty, it turns out. At the root of each of these enormous issues is human behavior: all of us, what we do — and what we don’t.

Whether it’s a school shooting at Sandy Hook, a bullying event, or a school bus accident, too many schools see only darkness and sadness, instead of being healthy, cheerful places of learning. But inevitably, we’ve learned, resilience appears: the amazing propensity for communities to come together to support, love, heal, and rebuild.

Now what does this have to do with the environment? I’ll get to that… First, let’s level set on some facts.

Carbon emissions are analyzed by scientists, who have warned of a planetary greenhouse effect for decades. In a series of increasingly alarming reports, they conclude that global warming creates exacerbated conditions for extreme weather events: major precipitation, historic flooding, unmanageable wildfires, unbelievable wind-velocity accelerations, and record-breaking heat waves among them. All of which affect our school children, teachers, families, and staff, especially if they are asthmatic, or if they live near a coal plant, or a flood zone, or if the coach doesn’t bring practice indoors on a sweltering day. (See, I told you I’d make that connection.)

Threats to schools are often tangible. A gun, social media post, or a bottle of pills. Each of these are controlled by the people who use them — and also by the policies that regulate them, or not. By contrast, carbon emissions are gaseous, barely tangible. But greenhouse gasses are also controlled by human beings, and by the policies that regulate them – or not.

Visitors from another planet might wonder why carbon emissions and school-based crises, both issues with massive public support and smart solutions — have not been fixed. “Why the delay?” they might ask. After all, the danger is obvious. Solutions are at hand.

To tap into the solutions available, we need everyone to get involved. When it comes to climate change, we are involved, with more of us joining the ranks of the concerned and alarmed as we speak. On the school safety front, we see more parents, students, educators, mental health professionals, public safety officials, and general community members stepping up and doing what they can.

School-safety advocates know what climate activists know: culturally, politically, and financially, the established “business as usual” approach does not always welcome change.

For a moment, let’s leave the special interests, the lobbyists, the partisan politics behind. Let’s focus on the lives of our friends and neighbors, doing all we can to help those who feel fear, loss, pain, and suffering due to violence in schools. Similarly, as we watch people’s livelihoods, health, homes, and farms literally burn, smoke, blow, or wash away, we need to be there for each other, to comprehend the loss, and be supportive as we press ahead.

An overwhelming majority of the world’s most esteemed scientists agree climate change is real and human activity is to blame. An equal chorus of first responders, educators, parents, and policy leaders would say the same about school tragedy: it is real, and human activity is to blame.

In climate communications, the Trusted Messenger principle has proven to be powerful: informed and engaged, armed with facts, we can all be influential in our communities and networks. The same is true in school safety. When we work together, across all facets of schools, families, public safety officials, and community partners, we can develop comprehensive solutions to address threats to school safety.

From the broadest standpoint, we need a planet on which to live and educate our youth. As we dive more deeply, the threats schools and communities face due to weather-related incidents, amped up due to climate change, are only going to increase in frequency, intensity, and duration. So for our planet, for our schools, and for our youth, we must step up. We must do all we can to make our children – and our planet – safe and sound. Please help me in protecting our world – the physical planet, and all it holds dear, including our precious students and those dedicated to their education.


Guest Author: Sarah Finnie Robinson is the Director of The 51 Percent Project, a new climate communications initiative based at Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy. She is a parent and grandparent, and she knows the world can be a better place.

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.

His students may call him “Mr. De,” but Frank DeAngelis is known by many others as family, friend, mentor, and colleague.

When I first met Frank in the summer of 2013, he brought me immediate comfort. I never could have predicted how steady a force he would become for Safe and Sound Schools and for me personally.

The summer after my daughter was killed in the tragedy at Sandy Hook, I attended The Briefings, an annual conference presented by the“I Love You Guys” Foundationin Colorado. Friends had encouraged me to come to listen, learn and speak in public – for the first time – about losing Josephine and starting Safe and Sound Schools. Though it was to be a short speech, I was beyond nervous. Up to this point in my life, the only audience I was eager to speak in front of was a classroom full of energetic elementary students.

Sitting in the front row of the auditorium at Columbine High School, my stomach flip-flopping and heart racing, I looked to my right and two seats over, where I caught the eye of Frank DeAngelis. We’d never met before, but he just knew by looking at me, that I was not at all sure of what I was about to do. He reached across the presenter between us, patted my hand, and gave me a look that conveyed, “You got this.” It’s a look he’s given away thousands of times to thousands of others, but that one was for me—and at just the right moment.

Frank’s gesture of support and solidarity gave me the strength to get on that stage and launch Safe and Sound Schools publicly. The feedback from attendees at The Briefings and the I Love U Guys community was incredible and thoughtful. They validated our mission and our approach. I knew we were on the right track and with the right people.

After that day, Frank and I exchanged emails and continued to run into each other in our travels and at conferences. Each time I saw Frank, I felt like I was reuniting with an old friend. The work of building a foundation and launching a mission was hard and surprisingly lonely at times.  Whenever I would run into Frank, I’d leave with my cup filled and a reminder that I was not in this alone.

Years of speaking and working together have passed and the friendship has continued.  Frank is now an integral part of the work we do at Safe and Sound Schools and has joined us as an advisor and speaker. And, we are lucky to have him.

Frank officially retired a few years ago, but has not stopped since. He works with us, sits on the board of the I Love U Guys Foundation, and supports the work of the Koshka Foundation and Safe2Tell Colorado. We joke that his retirement has him busier than ever.

When he asked me to read and review the manuscript for his new book, I was honored, but also grateful that others would have the opportunity to get to know Frank.  Frank is such a special person, and everyone who has met him feels connected to him. But, of course, there’s only so much of Frank to go around.

Frank’s book, “They Call Me Mr. De,” is a perfect opportunity to get to know Frank, and be inspired by a great man and a truly humble servant.

Forever changed by the Columbine tragedy, Frank carries a heavy burden. He does it with heart and dedication, and always in honor of his “Beloved 13,” the survivors, the entire Columbine community, and all those he has come to know and love since the tragedy. His book–his story– is a gift to all of us.

To understand what I mean, take a read or a free preview. And know that a portion of proceeds from this book will come back to support the mission of Safe and Sound Schools and all the non-profit organizations that Frank DeAngelis, a.k.a. Mr. De, generously supports with his time and in his travels.


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

By Cameron Fox, Safe and Sound Schools Teen Ambassador

Through the Safe and Sound Schools Youth Council (SSYC), students can get the resources to easily create a school safety council within their own communities.  I recently started my own chapter- the Summerville Youth Safety Council at my school, Summerville High in South Carolina.

In our first meeting, we brainstormed issues and areas of importance to improve our school’s safety.  Many people believe that implementing more physical safety features such as cameras, windows, and locks, are the only ways that schools can become safer.  While physical safety measures are extremely vital to a safe and secure school, our council asked ourselves questions like, ‘What other methods could impact the feeling of safety?  What could the student body do to promote change?’  We came up with 4 ways students can make schools safer.

Build relationships between students and school staff

I believe that creating a familiarity with the school’s staff can encourage students to report safety concerns.  Many students that I have spoken with are more comfortable speaking to a teacher rather than an administrative officer.

The council members and I came up with the idea of a Teacher-Student Breakfast held at the high school.  The event will allow students to really get to know their teachers. This is important because the bond between teachers and students has a big impact on the safety of a school.

Know the difference between ‘snitching’ and reporting

Many students fear retaliation from peers, and become discouraged when it comes to reporting a threat.  However, they don’t understand the greater risk of not saying something about suspicious activity. Speaking up can impact everyone in the school community.  Students that report can save lives.  This aspect of school safety is extremely powerful, and helps prevent potential threats.

Get to know the physical safety measures & protocols at school 

My chapter realized that students within our high school don’t recognize the physical safety devices employed on campus.  It is important to make them more aware about what these devices are and how they are used. I believe that educating students about this equipment is a simple way to empower students, and evoke a better feeling of safety.

Taking the 2019 State of School Safety Survey 

Safe and Sound Schools has created a survey that allows students, teachers, and parents to share their thoughts on school safety.  This is an easy, yet important, method to encourage individuals to speak about how safe they feel.  This survey will gather your feedback and point out the topics that are trending across the nation. Just make sure you complete the survey here by Thursday, April 4, 2019!

I hope this blog post encourages other students to take action and be proactive to make their schools safer.  Click here for the step-by-step process to start your own Safe and Sound Youth Council chapter.


Cameron Fox attends Summerville High School in South Carolina.  She is a teen ambassador for Safe and Sound Schools and the reigning Miss Green Wave Teen 2019.  As a titleholder within the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization, her advocacy platform is “Feeling Safe and Secure in Schools.”  Cameron is an active member of the local Dorchester Task Force for School Safety, and her goal to ensure a safe learning environment for youth.  She works to inspire students to utilize their voices and become leaders in their school communities.

 

My heart is heavy. After learning about these recent suicides, I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m sharing my story, but maybe I’m not sharing it with the people who need my help the most.  If you haven’t been impacted by a shooting, it’s natural to wonder, how did this happen? Why didn’t they seek mental health resources? The answer is not so simple.

As a physically uninjured survivor from the Virginia Tech shooting, I’m often told that I’m lucky. “Lucky” totally resonates with me. I feel lucky that I walked out of Norris Hall on April 16, 2007 unharmed. But it is important to recognize that “lucky” doesn’t correspond to an easy recovery journey.

It feels very selfish to ask for mental health resources when others were killed or wounded. But the truth is, physically uninjured survivors need help. Often, we as physically uninjured survivors, are in denial that we need resources or recognition. We have trouble raising our hands and advocating for ourselves. After trauma, it is so difficult to see clearly.

The psychological impact from mass shootings is difficult to measure. It can’t be measured quantifiably, like the number of gun shots fired. The psychological impact from mass shootings is close to impossible to see. We can’t see mental health the same way we see physical wounds and injuries. Mental health is something we feel.

For many shooting survivors, the feeling of safety in public is stripped the instant the gun shots are fired. It usually takes years to rebuild. In the interim, it is replaced with terror, sadness, loneliness and self-doubt. Survivors have to figure out how to deal with these feelings while regaining a sense of safety. We have to deal with anniversaries that evoke intense emotion and bring back traumatic memories from the tragedy. The thought of “moving forward” can be overwhelming and feel impossible.

It is common for survivors to create hierarchies of pain in their minds. Individuals who lost family members at the top, followed by physically injured survivors. We put ourselves, physically uninjured survivors, at the bottom. We start to think we don’t need resources, because others are experiencing more pain than we are. We start to think we should just suck it up and move on.

But what we need is quite the opposite. We need to feel validated that something traumatic happened to us. We need therapy dogs to pet and shoulders to cry on. We need good listeners. We need each other – fellow survivors.  We need our families and friends. It requires a village to get through recovery after a traumatic event. But so often, we don’t have that village. Most people will return to their daily routines and try to forget the horrific events of the past. But we as survivors, we will never forget.

By now, there are thousands of survivors of mass shootings, parents who lost loved ones, and law enforcement officers and medics who responded to these tragic events. These people may think for a long time that they weren’t impacted by the event. But while they may have escaped physical wounds, the mental wounds run deep. They may walk wounded for months, sometimes years, before realizing the impact the shooting had on them.

The most recent and public losses of survivors in Parkland and Sandy Hook remind us all that this road is long and it takes strong support and connectedness to survive the mental injuries of tragedy and loss. Our hearts and prayers are with these victims and their families today and always.


Author

Lisa Hamp, Virginia Tech survivor and Safe and Sound speaker