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

 

Remembering Red Lake: Missy Dodds, Former Teacher and Survivor of the Red Lake High School Tragedy, Remembers 3.21.05

This past week has been a roller coaster. On Monday, I sent my kids to school. By Wednesday, they were home–likely for the rest of the school year. When I picked them up from school on Tuesday, I was sad. I empathized with the teachers and staff as they said goodbye to their students, not knowing when they might see them again. My heart hurt for teachers who did not get to finish the school year as they had planned. My eyes welled with tears as I heard my own kids say to their friends, “See you in eight days.” I have not found the guts to tell my kids it will be longer than eight days.

My heart truly hurts for all teachers, students, and families as schools shut down across America. I know the feeling of “losing school.” It’s not easy when the place that is the center of your world –school– is ripped away without any notice. It’s painful and unfair.

Fifteen years ago this week, Monday, March 21, 2005, my world was ripped apart. A former student shot his way into my classroom at Red Lake High School. He killed five of my students and a co-worker, wounded four students, and left the rest of us with scars yet to heal. I know the feelings of having one’s world shattered in seconds. We “lost school” as we knew it.

Fifteen years later; we, the survivors and the community, are still adjusting to our new normal. We are walking a path never imagined.

The same is true for students and teachers across the country today.

I have found myself struggling with the same questions this week as I have the past 15 years: Who? How? Why? What? When? In today’s COVID-19 crisis, the answers can be framed with science. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of a school shooting, the answers are not as simple. Like many mass shooters, my former student fell through the cracks. This does not excuse his actions. Instead, it reveals that mental health is a huge component in school safety. The significance of mental health in schools can no longer be overlooked.

I see this as my own kids adjust to their new normal right now. I see the impact of “losing school” on their mental health. I see frustration and anger in my 1 st graders. The center of their world is gone for now. I see my 3 rd grader struggle with the loss of her social community. I see how my children’s mental health depends on school.

If there is anything we have learned as a nation this week, it is the importance of schools. Our schools are the heart and soul of our communities. They provide far more than education to our children. They provide food, friends, structure, and purpose. Our schools support our families. Our schools are the pillars of our communities.

Today’s COVID-19 closures are temporary. Normal school life will resume. When it does, I ask you to remember and advocate for the mental health supports that our schools provide. Please support your school’s mental health programming, staffing, and advocacy for all students. Like me, and like my Red Lake school community, all too many others know how mental health matters. When it comes to the safety of our schools and communities, our ability to meet the mental needs of our students and families can make all the difference.


Missy Dodds is a former high school math teacher and school safety advocate. She is a survivor of the Red Lake High School shooting. Missy serves as a National Parent Ambassador for Safe and Sound Schools. Her email is missydoddsparentcouncil@gmail.com and her Twitter @DoddsMissy

Safe and Sound Schools Co-founder Michele Gay catches up with award-winning school counselor and children’s author, Julia Cook.

In honor of National School Counselor’s Week, I sat down with my second favorite school counselor, Julia Cook (first being my dad, of course!) to talk inspiration, activation, and of course, school safety!  Here are the highlights of our conversation:

MG:  Julia, as usual, it has been too long since our last catch up!  And you have been busy speaking and writing.  I want to get to those projects in a bit, but let’s dive in on National School Counselor’s Week!  As you know, my dad was a middle school counselor, and a great inspiration for me as an educator. So much so, I almost became a school counselor myself. I saw firsthand how he changed the lives of the students he worked with by building meaningful relationships and programs to support their personal growth and development. What inspired you to become a school counselor?

JC:  I was a middle school math teacher for at-risk kids.  I wanted to get an advanced degree that would help me connect with my students more effectively. Shortly after completing my counseling training, we moved to a town that needed an elementary counselor.  I decided to try my luck and I ended up loving it!

MG: Over the course of my dad’s career, and then later through my career as a teacher, I watched the role of the school counselor change a GREAT deal.  As the needs of students increased, school counselor caseloads continued to grow. The also became responsible for managing multiple school-based programs and initiatives.  How did you experience this evolution as a school counselor?

JC: The role of a school counselor changes daily because our society changes daily.  We are in the people skill building business, and it seems to get tougher every day. The more technologically advanced our society becomes, the more we seem to be losing our “people trust and communication skills.”

I often read posts from school counselors expressing frustrations about being overloaded. Many school counselors have caseloads of 400-1000 kids, yet they are required to fulfill tasks that take away from contact time with the kids that need them. Our time is stretched so thin that it becomes impossible to invest the time needed for social skill classroom instruction, individual counseling, and small group counseling. As a result, we end up being more reactive than proactive in our day-to-day work with students.  My peers often express that the reason they got into counseling is not what the work looks like today. But if you were to ask any of us counselors why we continue to do the work we do, it is because it’s the most amazing profession on the planet!!! School counselors get to be life-changing, positive difference makers!

MG:  Well, you are certainly a difference maker. I’ve seen it firsthand.  Remember the day you came to my house?

JC:  How can I forget!  After Sandy Hook, I wanted to write a book to help teachers and parents know what to say to kids when disasters occur (The Ant Hill Disaster.)  Michele, you were kind enough to help me not only with the content, but you offered to write a powerful forward for the story that is just priceless.  When I planned to meet at your house one morning to discuss the forward it was a crazy day at your house. ESPN was filming a feature story about Joey, your family, and the Baltimore Ravens, but you were kind enough to fit me in anyway.  We were in your kitchen talking and I asked you if you had ever received the autographed copy Grief is Like a Snowflake book that I sent to you following the tragedy. You replied, “I’m so sorry, but I have a ton of boxes in the garage that have gifts from people from all over the world.  The boxes are so painful to go through that I haven’t been able to do it yet. I bet it’s in one of those boxes. One of your daughters perked up and said, “The tree book?  It’s up in my room.” “Where did you get it?” you asked. “It was in one of the boxes in the garage,” she answered. She brought it down to show us and opened it up to the page where the little trees have many different feelings /expressions and she said. “See mommy, I love this book because this is all the ways I feel.”  You took the book from her and turned it to the front and saw the inscription and my signature…and then we both started crying.

MG:  Now, I’m going to ask a tough one… What is one of the single-most rewarding interaction you ever had with a student?

JC:  I am so thankful every day to do what I do.  I feel like I am rewarded every time I get to read my books to kids and their eyes start to gleam. Last year, I was reading “A Flicker of Hope” to a group of 4th and 5th graders.  Right in the middle of the story, a 4th grade girl started sobbing.  I thought to myself “Oh no, maybe one of her family members had committed suicide and this book is just too real.” The counselor quickly ushered the child to her office.  The next morning, I received a call from the counselor. “Just wanted you to know what happened yesterday. When I got back to my office with that little girl, she reached into her pocket and pulled out 27 pills.  She told me she hated herself and she wanted to disappear. She had planned on ending her life that day after school by taking the pills. Then she said “But now I know if my flame goes out, I might not be able to relight it.  I don’t want my flame to go out. Can you lend me some of your light?”  The counselor continued, “I have several kids that are currently on suicide watch, but this is a child I would have NEVER expected to feel like this.  Thank you, Julia for writing A Flicker of Hope. Your book saved a kid’s life yesterday.”

MG:  Your story illustrates how very critical the role of school counselor is to the safety of students—from the inside out— and really the whole school community.  Connections, trust, and relationships are at the heart of all that we do to ensure that our schools are safe and our students have a safe place for ALL to learn and grow. And that means school counselors too!  What advice do you have for combatting fatigue, managing stress, and remaining present as a school counselor today?

JC:  Being a school counselor can be exhausting emotionally, physically, spiritually, and psychologically. Good counselors find a way to put work on the back burner when they leave school.  You must find ways to replenish yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually, and psychologically, so you can be energized for the next day. The glass of life is not half empty or have full… the glass is refillable…and you are the re-filler!  When my job as a school counselor was adding to my life, I always found ways to share that with my loved ones appropriately. However, on those days when it took from my life, I closed the door on work the minute I stepped into my house. If you want to be good at school counseling, you must be balanced in as many aspects of yourself as possible.

MG:  And that applies to all of us doesn’t it?  School counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, school resource officers, administrators, educators, support staff, facilities folks, parents, and students, and on and on.  We need to look out for each other and the school community.  It takes all of us.

JC:  Yes, we are better—and safer together!

MG:  Thank you, Julia!  And thank you to all of our school counselors this week and every week, for all that you do to keep our kids and our schools safe and sound!

Julia Cook is an award-winning children’s book author, with over 100 titles, translated into 9 languages, and over 2 million books sold.  Julia is a former teacher and school counselor, and a renowned international speaker.