Ensuring the safety of a school community is a tough job under normal circumstances–and these past 6 months have been anything but normal. As we look ahead to a new school year, the job is more challenging and more important than ever. For months now, our school communities have continued the heroic work of providing for the basic and educational needs of children, youth and families through the COVID-19 crisis. And as the year began to draw to a close, school district leaders began “sharpening their pencils” to plan ahead for a very uncertain school year.

Then the tragic death of George Floyd shifted conversations in communities, large and small, across the country to the role of police in our schools and the programming needed to overcome long-standing race and equity issues in our nation.  Another defining moment in our history emerged – one that will shape future generations. The role of our schools in the collective efforts of our progressing nation cannot be emphasized enough.

Only a month earlier, Safe and Sound Schools had initiated a series of focus groups to discuss the reopening of schools this fall across the country. Through these discussions we were able to offer support through these crises and gather data to inform our summer webinar series, “Return to Learn With Safe and Sound Schools” set to kick off on July 7th.  For the past several months we’ve heard from parents, teachers, school social workers, counselors, psychologists, nurses, principals, superintendents and yes… students as they shared their hopes, fears, concerns and challenges as they think about the upcoming school year.  In some ways, the focus groups felt like virtual support groups as peers from across the country quickly found they shared much in common.

Although the data collected exceeded our expectations, it was the sincere passion and love for our children that we wish we could pass on to each person reading this blog. As one teacher put it, “I don’t know what I will do if I don’t get to see my kids this fall.” That is the inspiration behind our Safe and Sound “Return to Learn” webinar series! We hope you can join us to make the hope of that joyful reunion of teachers and students–in whatever form it takes–a reality this fall.

Social isolation can come in many forms. More often than not, it’s caused by illness. The current pandemic has brought about a new form of mandated social isolation, likely restricting your child’s ability to see their friends. Other conditions might bring about social isolation too – friendship trouble, a recent move, or starting at a new school can also lead to feelings of isolation.

Help Your Child Develop Resilience

Resilience is our ability to withstand and move beyond adversity– optimally, resilience gives us the ability to become stronger as a result of challenges.

Helping your child develop resilience takes a multifaceted approach. One of the best starting points is looking at the ways you can increase your child’s sense of agency. In other words, your child needs to know that they have some measure of control over their lives. Encourage this type of thinking by focusing on how challenges or problems make them feel AND how they will solve or overcome those challenges. For younger children, you may have to formulate a plan with them, as their developmental stage can play a role in their ability to articulate or set a plan in motion.

Create Opportunities to Socialize

Physical isolation is rarely a permanent affair and luckily, in today’s world, there’s almost always a method of socializing. In cases where physical distancing is required, encourage your child to call or video chat with their friends and family. If physical distancing is not required, there are other ways to help your child ease feelings of isolation. For example, you might opt to sign them up for extracurricular activities or arrange for play dates. Take some time to chat with your child about activities they might like.

Talk to Your Kids

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is hear your children out. How isolation is making them feel, why they think they’re isolated, and how they plan on dealing with isolation are all important topics of conversation. What’s more, speaking with you about these things is, in some ways, a stopgap to isolation in and of itself.

In circumstances where social isolation isn’t being caused by sickness or other unpreventable factors, it can be a good idea to talk to teachers and other parents about your child’s behavior. Some children (especially young children) don’t yet have the social skills necessary to create lasting friendships. You might talk to them about shyness, aggressiveness, or other traits that may be creating barriers to social interaction.

Keep in mind that social isolation can be exceedingly difficult to go through. Be patient, listen, and validate your child’s feelings, affirming that together, you can work toward a solution.


Guest Author: 

Veronica Wallace is a childhood educator and blogging enthusiast. Some of her favourite articles can be found on the Kidthink website. Kidthink specializes in offering clinical treatment of mental illness in children aged twelve and under, along with community outreach and training for this type of treatment.

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.

It took four months to plan, write, field, analyze and prepare the final summary, but through the hard work of students and faculty from Boston University, in partnership with our team, we are excited to share this report with you.

We can boil down the results of the State of School Safety 2020 survey and report to this: we are headed in the right direction.

When we first set out to report on the state of school safety in 2018, the world was a different place. In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, educators were grappling with safety threats but lacked resources, parents were hungry for details about plans, and students demanded to be heard. Communication about school safety was sparse, and parents and students were not confident in their schools’ safety preparedness.

In 2019, the State of School Safety report showed a continued disconnect among stakeholders about school safety. Educators felt more prepared than students and parents. Students still felt they did not have a voice in school safety decision making, and parents and students sought increased communication about plans and protocols. Parents and students were unsure how to access mental health experts in their schools. However,educators and parents both felt a sense of optimism that schools have the expertise to improve school safety, and educators showed a deeper understanding of the role mental health plays in school safety.
Results of the State of School Safety 2020 report indicate we have come a long way in three years. Not only have we increased understanding among all stakeholder groups, we have fostered a more proactive culture of comprehensive school safety awareness and saw educators enhance the safety of their schools through easily accessible improvements. While we love seeing the impact of our work, there is still much more to do.

As you dive into the report, you will see we delivered it to you in a more visual format, which we hope will make it more accessible to all members of your community. We also divided the results across our framework for comprehensive school safety, making it easier for you to parse out feedback for various members of your safety team.

The strides we’ve taken are worth recognizing, but we must stay vigilant in our cause – school safety is not an item you can ever cross off your to-do list. The more we learn and as threats continue to evolve, we must stay alert, committed, and invest in all areas of school safety.

Well, it’s certainly not the end of the school year that any of us imagined! As the mom of a graduating senior, I feel for the graduates, and so many others who won’t celebrate their milestones and accomplishments in the ways they had hoped.

As a former teacher, I feel for the classes missing end-of-the year picnics and field days, the little kindergartners dressed up for Kindergarten graduation, the rising middle schoolers and high schoolers closing another chapter and looking onto the next.

All across the country, our students have had to learn to take it all in stride and find ways to mark the end of another year and be grateful—and hopeful about the future. Schools and families have answered with creativity and generosity, planning one-of-a-kind celebrations for these important milestones in student and school life.

Here are a few of my favorites, shared by Safe and Sound community members:

  1. A surprise neighborhood parade – These started cropping up first as birthday and even wedding celebrations, but one neighborhood added a socially distant band performance of pomp and circumstance by elementary and middle school students for the high school grads on the street.
  2. Yard bomb celebrations – Many students are waking up to yards COVERED in signs, posters, balloons, streamers, and crazy inflatables.
  3. Drive-in (and through) ceremonies – Some schools have used drive in theaters, retrofitted parking lots, and athletic fields to gather carloads of families to celebrate safely together.
  4. Through-the-Years scavenger hunts – Families and neighborhoods have pre-planted clever series of clues, gifts, and cards, celebrating memories of students from early years through 2019-20.
  5. Big screen celebration slide shows – For friends, family, and neighbors to enjoy from their porches and cars
  6. Fireworks displays – Where allowed of course!
  7. Street-lining signage – for neighborhood-wide congratulations of students and grads driving by.
  8. Crazy car decorations – Bigger is better this year! In addition to the typical streamers and soap-written messages, cars stuffed with balloons and gifts from family and friends are a big hit.
  9. Decorate the door (or mailbox) –Invite friends and family to leave decorations for your grad to find “when the doorbell rings” or when they open the mailbox.
  10. Chalk the Walk – Invite friends, neighbors and family to decorate your walk or driveway with congratulatory messages.
  11. Tailgate to Celebrate – Family and friends gather to park their cars 6 feet apart, play music and bring their own picnic foods.
  12. Virtual Game Show – Take your Zoom celebration up a notch by organizing the group in a trivia game all about your grad.

Got more good ideas? Email them to us at info@safeandsoundschools.org and we’ll share the ideas on social for others to enjoy!!


Author’s Bio: Michele Gay is Co-founder & Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools. A former teacher turned school safety advocate, following the loss of her daughter in the Sandy Hook School tragedy, Michele speaks and travels to communities across the country on a mission: every school safe and sound.

It is not unprecedented that a teacher, school employee, or student may die when school is not in session; summer break is one example. The difference now, of course, is that we can’t gather in person to honor the life and commemorate the loss of someone in our school community. The need for physical distancing does not require social separation. There are numerous actions and activities that schools and parents can take to provide opportunities for children and teens to recognize and mourn those who die during this quarantine period.

Most school policies on responding to the death of someone in their community likely have not considered how to adapt those policies when school might still be technically in session, but not in person. Whatever you call the current schooling options – online, virtual, remote, or distance learning – none of these modes are particularly conducive to collectively memorializing a deceased friend, peer, teacher, or other school staff. However, existing policies and procedures can be adapted for this new reality, and here are some options to consider:

Zoom, Facebook Livestream and/or Videoconference Remembrance Sessions

All of these platforms pre-date COVID-19 and the current restrictions about gathering in groups of more than 10 people. Numerous folks have used them for live-streaming memorial or funeral services when family members could not attend due to cost, distance, or health reasons. Schools can use this technology, in coordination with the wishes of the family of a deceased teacher, student or school staff member for all in the community to gather, albeit remotely.

Video Clips

All smart phones have video capability, and in the face of our inability to meet face-to-face, we can still communicate to each other, to family members, and to our larger school community in sharing thoughts and reminiscences after the death of someone in our community.

Write and Draw

Even if virtual opportunities are offered, parents can help their children participate and honor a deceased teacher, friend, or school staff member by having them write memories, draw pictures, and share these on-line and/or with the family of the deceased.

Have your Own Small Remembrance Service

If there is no opportunity to participate in rituals through the family’s plans, and your child’s school doesn’t take the initiative to respond to the death, you can still take have your own remembrance ceremony or service in your home. It may be as simple as lighting a candle and sharing memories about the person who died. You can write a letter together to the family of the deceased, especially since they are grieving both the death and the inability to gather with others for connection and community support.

Despite the challenges presented by physical distancing, the worst thing we can do is to do nothing. Families will appreciate every gesture of kindness; and we are showing our children that in the face of considerable odds, we will find ways to honor and remember those who die during this time of forced separation.


Donna Schuurman, EdD, FT
Sr.Director of Advocacy & Training, The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families
www.dougy.org

Last year, Safe and Sound Schools launched The Good Days Tour, a nationwide contest to promote positive school culture in high schools across the country. We teamed up with teen actor Jeremey Ray Taylor and the band Chasing da Vinci to bring a live workshop and concert to the winning school.  

In February, we announced our first winning school–Hollister High School outside Springfield, Missouri! For their contest submission, Hollister students submitted two impressive videos about the importance of student involvement in school safety.  Shortly after announcing Hollister as the winner, our team, along with Jeremy and Chasing Da Vinci, flew out to the beautiful state of Missouri where we were warmly welcomed for a fantastic assembly with the students at Hollister. 

And they did not disappoint! The student energy and excitement was contagious! The assembly was filled with music, laughter, and hope – as we shared stories from Hollister students that have created “Good Days” through acts of kindness in their school.  My favorite moment was seeing Jeremy Ray Taylor instruct the students to turn on their cell phone flashlights to demonstrate the power of sharing kindness with others. I will never forget seeing the dark assembly room light up with the individual lights from each student. It truly touched my heart.  

 I flew home from Missouri the following day as our world was quickly changing. Social distancing, school closures, and stay-at-home orders emerged as COVID-19 spread throughout the United States. Suddenly the packed school assembly, the hugs and handshakes we received in Hollister all seemed like a distant memory.  

Despite the feelings of fear and anxiety, my heart, like in Hollister, was once again touched by the support and service seen from students across the country. This gave us an idea…Good Days are still on the horizon for our students and our schools, and we can look forward to those together.  

Today, Safe and Sound Schools is launching the “Good Days Ahead” Contest – a NEW virtual twist on our campaign, spotlighting the positive acts of kindness of our students and the impact they are having today to bring good days ahead in their communities.  Once again, we are teaming up with Jeremy Ray Taylor and the band Chasing da Vinci to bring students a truly memorable experience!  

Participation is easy! During the month of May, students will use the hashtag #GoodDaysAhead to post a video or picture on Instagram sharing how they are working to bring good days ahead through acts of kindness today. It can be as simple as planting positive yard signs, weeding a neighbor’s garden, sewing masks for healthcare workers, or tutoring a struggling student over Zoom. You can also nominate another student you have seen make a positive impact on others.

We’ll select three winners for a virtual “meet and greet” with Jeremy Ray Taylor, which will be announced during the “Good Days Ahead” Livestream on June 6, 2020.  Learn more about how to enter by clicking here to see full contest rules.   

We look forward to hearing your stories soon!


Alissa Parker, Co-Founder of Safe and Sound Schools

Q and A with Michele Gay

I overheard a conversation the other day in the grocery store (from a distance of course) where one well-intended shopper said to another “We’re all in the same boat.” The other shopper replied, “I don’t think so. Maybe the same sea, but way different boats.”

One of our favorite team members, Susan Parziale, has been especially on my mind this month. It’s April and this month is special to both of our families because it’s Autism Awareness Month, time to celebrate our children and families, and so many inspiring individuals with Autism. Having daughters with Autism is what brought us together years ago.

Sue and I sat down recently to check in and talk about the unique challenges in her “boat.”

From left to right: Jonathan, Jenna, and Susan.

MG: What’s going on in your world right now?

SP: Well, “my world” is now “my house!” Here in Massachusetts, we have been in full “stay home” since the beginning of March. Our daughter attends a full day, year-round school to meet her needs. Under normal circumstances, any interruption to school is a challenge for us, so as you know, this long-term shutdown has hit us especially hard. Like most children and adults with Autism, our daughter thrives on daily structure and consistency. Services after school for life skills, swimming and outings in the community are also essential to her progress and stability. Of course, none of those things are happening now and her daily routines have been upended. We are seeing difficult behaviors–that we had conquered in the past–rear up again. Normally, school and support staff would do a home visit to assist, but obviously that’s just not possible now.

MG: So what kind of support can you get from school right now? What does schooling from home look like for you and your family?

SP: We start each morning with a parent/teacher consult via Zoom to discuss a daily program. Because my daughter is a teen, we are focusing on life skills (e.g., laundry, trash, making the bed, preparing small meals, etc.). There is sure a lot of time to reinforce those skills at home right now! A few times a week have a 1:1 Zoom call with one of her teachers to work on a task with her iPad program L.A.M.P. (Language Acquisition through Motor Planning). We are lucky to be able to do at least some programming this way. I am grateful that the activities are still set by the school staff, but obviously I have to work on all of the programming with my daughter throughout the day. This means taking turns with my husband to do our own work–often at odd hours!

MG: What’s been an unexpected benefit?

SP: I am an organized person by nature so staying on task and focused has come in handy with keeping a daily schedule for all of us. The family walks have been a nice benefit too. Like most families, we only had time on the weekends for walks and weather was always a factor since we live in the Northeast. Before COVID-19, we would have never gone for a walk in cold
weather, now we do not bat an eye because it is an essential part of our day—and our sanity!

MG: What’s been the hardest?

SP: The hardest part is the Autism meltdowns. We have created a safe calm-down space where our daughter is free to go for breaks, but I feel so helpless in soothing her through these. We just have to ride it out, but it is incredibly stressful as a parent. She also has been exhibiting perseverating behaviors [repeatedly asking] for certain places and people. It is very difficult for her to understand that we can’t go to these places and see these people that are normally part of her life.

MG: How have you had to adjust expectations for yourself and your family to make this work?

SP: We get up at the same time each day; start home school and then take our afternoon walk. It’s a little like Groundhog day for us! But we know that it’s just what we need to do for our daughter. We give her a daily printed schedule each morning to show her the plan. We try our best to keep to this schedule but have learned that we have to roll with the unexpected. I’ve also learned to give her breaks whenever she asks. It’s a give and take.

MG: How are you taking care of yourself so that you can be the best version of yourself for your family?

SP: To deal with stress, I exercise each day with online classes by my local gym, I have Zoom meetings with other parents of children with Autism and we discuss our challenges and give suggestions to each other. I also call my family each day to check on how they are doing. And my husband and I are watching a lot of comedies!

MG: I know you are still working out! I can tell—even on Zoom. I’m so glad you are finding ways to stay connected with other parents too. The support of your “Autism tribe” can be literally lifesaving. It makes such a difference. You’re one of the most positive, forward-thinking people I know. Before I let you go, will you share what gives you hope for the future?

SP: Now that we are 30+ days in with our focus on life skills and home schooling, I find I’m more confident that I can handle teaching my daughter all sorts of skills that she will need when entering adulthood. I guess I am more capable than I thought. For lots of parents supporting a child with Autism, the transition to adulthood is daunting to say the least. Somehow, I feel a little more ready to face the challenge…An unexpected silver lining in all of this.


Susan Parziale, Administrative coordinator for Safe and Sound Schools, NAPO professional organizer, owner Organizing Offices and Homes
Michele Gay, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools

With the recent onset of Covid-19 both nationwide and globally, anxiety is on the rise. With so many unknowns, how do we help our kids navigate a new normal and keep their anxiety in check?

Here are a few tips that you may find helpful:

  • Know the signs of anxiety. When kids feel that they are out of control of their surroundings and their situations they may misbehave, have trouble sleeping, experience shortness of breath, and ask the same questions over and over again – in hopes of getting consistent answers.  They might also appear to have a lack of focus, experience cold sweats, dizziness, nausea, feelings of panic and even irregular heartbeats.
  • Teach your child to practice mindful breathing. Kids and adults tend to hold their breath or “breathe shallow” when they get uptight or feel scared.
  • Limit screen time and highlight offscreen accomplishments. Build confidence and positivity through activity!
  • Be sure you and your child are getting adequate sleep. Poor sleep can lead to irritability, increased anxiety and increased depression.
  • Be the person your child trust and can talk to. Every human relationship revolves around two things: trust and communication.  Be appropriately truthful with your child. If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know how to answer that question, but let me find out and we can talk about it later.”
  • Talk to your child about their feelings. Identifying feelings is an important first step for understanding their emotions. Though children experience feelings, understanding their emotions can be difficult.  A feelings chart can help parents help their child connect an abstract concept (feelings) with a concrete visualization (chart).  Check out the printable “Feelings Chart” Julia developed with Safe and Sound Schools here.
  • Listen to your child’s perceptions and gently correct misinformation. It’s always a good idea to listen to and understand your child’s perceptions before you tell them what you want them to know. This way you do not risk introducing new worries or information that your child is not ready to absorb.
  • Genuinely accept your child’s concerns. Every child needs to be seen, heard, and feel validated.  Listen carefully and validate what your child is saying. You might say, “I can only imagine how you must be feeling. Let’s talk through what’s in your head and we’ll work together to try to make some sense out of all of this.”
  • Focus on the CAN-Do’s and the GET-To’s. Nobody likes to be told what they have to do, but we all like to be told what we get to do. Even though our choices might be more limited than ever, we still have choices—and that can be empowering.
  • Limit your child’s media exposure – and yours too! It is very important to stay informed, but over-watching interferes with cognitive balance and coping abilities.
  • Establish a predictable routine at home and follow it. The inability to predict what might happen and feeling out of control of a situation can fuel anxiety.  Work with your children to establish a predictable routine at home.  The more involved your kids are in establishing the routine, the better!
  • Set expectations—and consequences. Don’t confuse anxiety with other types of inappropriate behavior.  Set limits and consequences so that you don’t allow anxiety to enable your child.
  • Do everything you can to NOT pass your fears onto your child. People are like snowflakes – we are all unique.  Every person deals with anxiety differently. Keep in mind–although you are your child’s expert, you are not your child.  Just because you feel a certain way, does not mean your child will feel the same way.
  • Designate a DAILY fun time that kids can anticipate and plan for. Planning for and looking forward to a “positive feeling” event is a great way to counteract the unsettling feelings of anxiety.

We are all currently sailing in uncharted territory with so many things to worry about. Now more than ever, it is important for you and your child to remember that together, we are strong!


Julia Cook
National Award-Winning Children’s Author/ Parenting Expert
www.juliacookonline.com

 

 

Like everybody else, I am working hard to adjust to the new normal to keep my family and community safe through the current crisis. “Stay Home,” “social distance,” “no-contact nods,” and near compulsive hand-washing are all a part of this strange, new normal.  

Somewhere between calls, virtual meetings, meal prep (and so much more laundry!) these past weeks, my kitchen counter was converted into an art studio.  I guess it’s a bonus that we can now help ourselves to snacks and meals–and arts and crafts–simultaneously? Yeah…

Under any other circumstances my kitchen-turned-art-studio would drive me nuts.  Right now, I recognize the counter space as a small sacrifice to keep my kids safe and sane under these extraordinary circumstances.  Come to think of it, I have noticed far less squabbling and far more healthy family chatter than I would have ever imagined.

We are all making sacrifices, discovering  unexpected benefits, and finding creative ways to stay connected.  Like so many of you, I find myself checking in on friends and family more often than ever–especially those living alone, or in nursing and retirement homes.  But what else can we do from a distance? I cannot help but worry about our elder friends and family, now more isolated than ever.

And I know I’m not the only one worried.  

Conversations with many of our Safe and Sound community members—parents, school leaders, educators, students, corporate partners, mental health and public safety folks– reveal common concerns about maintaining healthy connections, especially for our youngest and oldest populations.  

And that’s where this idea came from…let’s connect our students to our seniors to encourage and engage two groups in most need.

This time at home offers our homebound students a unique opportunity to serve our senior population, albeit from a “safe distance.”  It’s an opportunity to shift focus from so many difficult sacrifices––school, sports, prom, playdates, social outings, and more––toward the needs of others, painfully isolated from family and friends during this crisis.

Join us in connecting #StudentsToSeniors, a Safe and Sound initiative to engage students of all ages and encourage seniors at a time when both are in need of outside connection.  Safe and Sound Schools invites students to create encouraging artwork for collection and digital delivery to seniors across the nation.  

Artwork can be 2-D drawings, paintings, digital creations, or photos of 3-D artwork (like sculptures, models, or dioramas).  To learn more about how you can participate, visit https://www.safeandsoundschools.org/s2s/.

I, for one, have a kitchen counter full of art waiting to be shared…

So push up your sleeves, allow for a little creative mess, and support the health and wellness of both students and seniors with us!

Thank you for helping us work to keep everybody safe and sound through this extraordinary time.


Michele Gay, Co-Founder of Safe and Sound Schools