Safe and Sound Schools is proud to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week – an opportunity for communities to come together to recognize the important work teachers do in contributing to the education and safety of our children. 

As professionals tasked with inspiring young minds and laying the foundation for future leaders and professionals, teachers often go above and beyond the call of duty. From spending lunch and after school time providing our students with extra support, to spending their own money on classroom supplies, to becoming emotionally invested in helping our students navigate school life, teachers have proven to not only be educators but also caregivers. So join us in celebrating these heroes. Here’s a list of fun and thoughtful ways you can celebrate teachers this week, or any week!

  1. Donate to the classroom. Classroom donations in the form of gift cards are wonderful gifts as teachers often use their own money to pay for classroom supplies and materials. Target and Office Depot/Max are crowd favorites!
  2. A heartfelt thank you note is always a welcomed gesture from both parents/caregivers and students. Write a personalized note or card highlighting why you appreciate them.
  3. Give teachers a break, a meal break! Consider packing or ordering a special lunch or breakfast for your child’s teacher. You’re guaranteed a smile!
  4. Offer to volunteer. Teachers can always use another pair of hands in the classroom or in gathering or preparing materials. 
  5. Send flowers. Nothing says thank you like a burst of spring blooms from your own garden or local market.
  6. Shine a light on your favorite teacher! Snap a picture (with their permission) and explain why you appreciate them. Tag us on social media and we’ll share their story with our community. 
  7. Participate in the National PTA’s annual #ThankATeacher campaign. Access fillable cards, a poem activity, coloring pages, certificates, and fillable fliers to help make this week special.

If you have other ideas, please let us know and we’ll share them with our community. 

Cheers to all the teachers inspiring students and working toward safe schools and bright futures!

Recently our Co-Founder, Michele Gay, sat down for a Q&A session with Chris Noell, Senior Vice President of Product and Engineering for Raptor Technologies to discuss the many cybersecurity challenges schools face today. The following is an abridged version of the conversation.

Michele: Thanks for joining me today, Chris. I’m eager to hear your expert perspective on this often-overlooked aspect of school safety. Now that we find ourselves working, teaching, and learning in the cyber world, schools are dealing with significant challenges in cybersafety and cybersecurity. Some schools are sounding the alarm bells, others watching and waiting, and some are thinking, “Do I even need to worry about this?” What are your thoughts, Chris?

Chris: That’s a great question. I usually start with, “Are schools being attacked?” Unfortunately, the truth is that they are. In December 2020, the FBI, CISA–and a host of other leading organizations that monitor cybersecurity threats–published a statement warning K-12 schools of three major threats:

  • targeted ransomware attacks
  • theft of data, and
  • disruption of distance learning services.

To your point, schools are more online–and more reliant on technology than ever. Hackers are aware of that and now taking advantage of this new vulnerability. Experts have warned that incidents could increase 86% over this academic year. Even by standards in cybersecurity, that’s pretty astonishing and potentially devastating. So, whether your community has been hit or not, it’s time to take action to protect your school.

Michele: Unfortunately, for a lot of our school communities, it doesn’t become a pressing issue until it is already upon them. Of course, then they’re in a reactionary position. What resources are out there to help schools prepare for and prevent these kinds of threats and attacks?

Chris: The K-12 Cybersecurity Act of 2021 instructed CISA to study the risks that will impact K-12 school districts and develop cybersecurity guidelines and online training. You can visit CISA.gov to explore these resources.

As part of the security industry, we [Raptor Technologies] continually monitor the federal guidance, and then anchor the solutions and resources that we develop on those. While these guidelines are not mandatory—at the moment– it’s almost certain that they will become a standard of care.

 Michele: What are some of the practical things that schools can be doing to protect themselves? School leaders? Students, teachers, and staff members and so on?

Chris: We all have a role to play in securing our organizations. For the IT folks in the audience, I would say it starts with just understanding what you have in your district. What hardware do you have? What software do you have? What vendors have access to your network/do you rely on? Who do you share data with? It sounds really basic, but if you can’t answer those questions, you really can’t protect your environment. So start with that inventory.

 Any organization, especially an organization that may not have a lot of IT resources, should look to make this someone else’s problem as much as possible. What I mean by this is simply, wherever possible use software from reputable vendors whose products and services come with the highest levels security.

Michele: That’s really important for our school communities. IT resources are limited if present at all. And this kind of expertise is not readily available in house. I mean, our schools are run by educators!

Chris: You’re absolutely right. Another important thing for school leaders to consider about cybersecurity (as opposed to physical security) is that technology and related threats evolve at a much more rapid rate, meaning we have to update our tools and measures at a more rapid pace. With cybersecurity, there are tens of thousands of new vulnerabilities discovered every year. So just because it was secure yesterday doesn’t mean it’s going to be secure tomorrow. That really is the biggest headache and concern.

Michele: Truly. But our schools house some of the most precious data, about the most precious people that we have in our communities–in our country–so these issues are not to be ignored.

Chris: For sure. I think at the end of the day, you’re never going to have 100% security. The NSA, the CIA, even they don’t have 100% security. The reality is, once you have a computer, you have a risk. So, it’s really about how you manage that risk, just like all the other risks in life.

Michele: Not being afraid to face–and talk about–those risks and vulnerabilities is important too. I think some of our school communities tend to want to keep those things quiet, but we really need to shine a light on these issues if we are to be proactive. Right?

Chris: Absolutely. And although it can seem a bit overwhelming, I’ll refer back to something I’ve heard you say many times before, “It’s not rocket science.”

I think a lot of people look at security like it’s some kind of dark art. As though it involves some kind of mystical expertise. But it’s just basic blocking and tackling, an operational IT discipline, just like managing availability and performance is an operational IT discipline. So I would encourage people to be open about where they’re at and make steady progress over time.

Michele: Good advice. We’re not going to be perfect. When I talk about school safety, I emphasize that practice makes progress—not perfection.

And how about our kids–our students? They’re now major users of technology, of online education, of social media, all those things. So how about education for our students? I see that as a valuable way to help protect our schools and our children.

Chris: That’s a fantastic point because there are multiple values there. Educating students in cybersafety not only protects the institution, but certainly extends protection over our students when they leave the campus, go to their home networks, and interact online. They’re exposed to all the same sorts of attacks off campus as they are on campus.

Michele: So just like we talk about life skills of safety in the broader context of school safety, it’s the same thing here, right? We want our students, we want our staff and community members to have those life skills, not just for safety within the building and on campus, but as they go out into the world, as they go home, as they go into the workplace.

Chris: Yes, these are the new realities of keeping our schools and communities safe in a digital world.

Michele: Chris, I so appreciate you taking some time to share your professional perspective with us.

Chris: Yes, thank you. I’m glad that we could take some time today to talk about a really important topic.

Michele: Thank you for all that you do. And thank you to Raptor for letting us borrow you today! We are grateful for the support you all provide to of so many of our school communities and our mission at Safe and Sound Schools.

We are thrilled to feature this blog from one of our favorite writers!  Jeff Snyder is a neurodiversity advocate, speaker, and writer who shares his personal journey and experiences as a person with autism.  This eye-opening piece from Jeff teaches about the challenges of participating in school safety drills as a person with autism and provides advice on “being your best advocate,” as well as practical accommodations for students with sensory processing issues.


Let’s be real…fire drills are very bothersome and disruptive to autistic people. In fact, when I was in school, fire drills and other loud noises that are part of school life bothered me greatly. To be real, fire drills are important because their purpose is to prepare students and teachers, or anyone for that matter, for what happens when there is a real fire.

But I had a safety net when it came to the drills. It was put in my IEP that I would be taken out of the building before the fire alarm was pulled. This gave me the chance to get to know my town’s fire department on a personal level.

Now, while I had this safety net in place throughout my education, some others did not, either because the schools felt that the student needed to be prepared along with the rest of the school or maybe because some autistic students weren’t bothered by the loud noise.

For those who are bothered by fire alarms, they have a very good reason. Some indviduals are diagnosed with what is known as Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD, which makes it difficult for them to process loud noises or other uncomfortable situations.

But, it’s not just the noise.

There is also the matter that fire drills happen right out of the blue. Some autistic people like myself like to know when things are going to be happening, such as fire drills so we can mentally prepare ourselves for when it arrives. If you want to know if there is a fire drill scheduled, just say to your child’s teacher or principal that you just want a heads up for any scheduled fire drills.

If you feel that the student needs to go through the drill, teachers should have noise cancelling headphones on standby to reduce the noise level. This also applies to other situations where loud noises occur, such as with school assemblies. I will talk about this in the next blog!

It’s also worth noting that fire drills can happen in the workplace too, so if you wish to get an accommodation from your employer to get a heads up too, by all means request the accommodation.

If you’ve been feeling anxious, worried, stressed or upset about the war in Ukraine, chances are your students are too. Like many of us, kids may be struggling to make sense of what they are hearing from peers and what they are seeing on television and social media. 

Caregivers and educators play a key role in helping students navigate and cope through events such as war and civil unrest. Below you’ll find some key considerations and guidance to keep in mind, followed by resources from our partners at the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and a few more resources from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)

  1. Like school safety education, keep explanations developmentally appropriate. Individual levels may vary due to unique developmental, cultural, educational, and psychological factors.
  2. Keep in mind that some students and their families may be more vulnerable. These groups include those with connections to Ukraine, those that are refugees or have experienced violent conflict/war, those who have a loved one in the military, those that have experienced traumatic events or loss, and those with a preexisting mental health condition. 
  3. Consider how media exposure can affect mental health. War coverage and its aftermath can be upsetting and graphic, and can trigger feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. Consider limiting media exposure, discussing healthy social media habits, and providing opportunities to discuss media coverage if appropriate.
  4. Provide reassurance, support, and reaffirm safety to help foster resilience. Begin by clearing up any misconceptions and misunderstandings. Remember to be patient and empathetic. It is critical that students are provided with a safe space for discussion as well tools and services to support social connectedness and resilience. 
  5. Practice self-care and be kind to yourself. Modeling self-care and optimism can play a significant role in a child’s wellbeing. Unfortunately, sometimes we forget to acknowledge and address our own needs. This can lead to stress and burnout. Adults are encouraged to seek support services and take care of their physical and mental health so they’re better equipped to support the students they care for.

As you navigate this ongoing crisis and continue to monitor student reactions and behavior, don’t forget to keep the lines of communication open between home and school so students are better served and supported. 


Resources by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)

Resources by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NSTSN)


Sources: National Association of School Psychologist (NASP), National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), How to Cope with Election Stress, Dr. Scott Poland, Helping Kids Through Tough Times: 7 Simple Steps, Dr. Stephen Sroka

 

 

School safety is a process, not a product. It takes a village – students, parents, teachers, Student Resource Officers (SROs), custodians, lunch ladies, counselors—everyone has to be involved.

Safe and Sound Schools’ comprehensive school safety framework identifies six key components to school safety and security: mental and behavioral health; health and wellness; physical safety and security; culture, climate, and community; leadership, law, and policy; and operations and emergency management. But it’s not about being the expert in all six, but rather partnering with the experts like the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS). Together, we’ve developed a list of five questions everyone should ask about safety and security.

1. Does Your School Have a Current School Safety Policy?

Your school’s safety and security policy should involve an emergency operations plan (EOP) and security plan. Comprehensive plans—and the policies and procedures to implement them—form the foundation of school safety and security. Without proper policies and procedures in place, it is impossible to successfully use security technology and other security measures, regardless of how advanced they may be. Effective policies and procedures alone can mitigate risks, and there are often no costs associated with implementing them.

The PASS Guidelines include essential security-specific policies and processes, broken down by the five layers of school safety and security (district-wide, property, parking lot, building, and classroom/interior; see Guidelines for details).

2. What Drills Are in Place to Help Students and Staff Respond to Emergencies?

As the widespread success of fire drills has demonstrated, drills are critical to the success of your school’s emergency response both for students and teachers. The need for “lockdown” drills has grown due to the unique circumstances of an active shooter event. Whether in a school, business, or other public space, best practices now dictate having a lockdown protocol as the major component of an effective safety plan when escape is not possible. Schools should keep the age of their students in mind when designing exercises and training. The PASS Guidelines include recommendations for how to conduct lockdown drills, as well as tips on how to design a drill that works best for your school.

3. Does Your School Have a Team Assigned Specifically to Student Safety?

Your school should have a safety and security team that comprises, at minimum, the following key stakeholders to the K-12 environment:

  • security director;
  • school administrator;
  • security/systems integrator (or consultant);
  • IT director;
  • local police and fire officials; and
  • a school-based health care professional.

For larger or more complex projects, it’s best to have a hardware consultant on board as well.

4. Have School Administrators and Security Personnel Been Trained on Crisis Management?

Teachers and staff are essential to a successful emergency response. Staff should act on their own in an emergency when direction is not available, and—at a minimum—be trained on:

  • What to do in an emergency;
  • How to make independent decisions and act on them immediately;
  • What strategies and options they can use under various circumstances;
  • Who is responsible for what, and their individual roles; and
  • How to communicate with police, first responders, and others responding to the emergency.

5. Do Students Know How to Report Suspicious Incidents?

Ideally, a counselor or mental health professional has spoken with students about identifying red flags and what to do about it. Schools should also seriously consider anonymous reporting systems, which have deterred school violence in the past. The PASS Guidelines provide guidance on how to best implement anonymous tip reporting processes.


About PASS

First established in 2014, the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) brings together expertise from the education, public safety and industry communities to develop and support a coordinated approach to making effective use of proven security practices specific to K-12 environments, and informed decisions on security investments.

 

Recently our Co-Founder, Michele Gay, caught up with Thom Jones, Senior Vice President of Threat Detection and Prevention for Navigate360, the Premier Partner for Safe and Sound School’s recent 2021 National Virtual Summit on School Safety. The following is an abridged version of their conversation.


Michele: First, thank you for joining me, Thom. We’re so thankful to have a partner, like Navigate360, who works with us in our common mission to make schools safe for every child every day.

Thom: It’s been an amazing journey with Safe and Sound Schools since we began our partnership in 2013. We’re very proud of the work we’ve been able to accomplish together and appreciate your work and advocacy across the nation, raising awareness of the comprehensive issues schools and communities must address for safer schools.

Michele: That has evolved over time, as we’ve been able to work with so many different school communities together, engaging not only administration and staff, but parents and students as well. It’s imperative that we’re all part of the crisis prevention conversation and understand the multitude of issues schools must address today.

Thom: Especially since we’ve entered a new era of school safety with the overlay of Covid and the challenges it brings, such as isolation, home-learning situations, being distanced from key support groups, and the communications barriers it has created. We were thrilled to support this year’s National Summit on School Safety to bring so many of these issues to light. To see more than 1,100 registered and investing time over three days speaks to the dedication of the school safety community you’ve built.

Michele: We know there are many practices and programs that will endure beyond the pandemic, but one area we see that’s only going to grow is virtual engagement. While it presented challenges early on, it has helped us keep our national community connected and reach more schools than ever before. We love teaching and training in-person and look forward to the day we can continue our more regional-focused summits onsite, but we can’t let this pandemic stop our mission. The need is more critical than ever.

Virtual technology has allowed us to reach counselors, teachers. School Resource Officers, and others who might not be able to attend a national gathering because of budget or time constraints. Learning to leverage that technology has been very eye opening and the conversations we’re having because of that are energizing and encouraging.

Thom: Exactly. It’s something that people are becoming much more comfortable with and seeing the value that it brings. Of course, it doesn’t replace live interaction, but it offers us unique opportunities for reaching people.

Michele: Let’s talk more about two key things you’ve mentioned we’re facing now and will continue to in the coming year: opportunities and challenges. It’s very much, as you said, a new era for school safety. We have many of the long-standing challenges, but they’ve been escalated a notch because of the current climate and all the issues coming to the forefront.

There are difficult and important conversations happening around social justice, around politics, around vaccination and mask mandates—all those things are ramping up the emotion and the passion, but good things are coming from these conversations. So, while we have tremendous challenges that push into our schools, we also have tremendous opportunities for solving them. There has been a lot of innovation and creativity. I’d like to visit a little bit about that.

Thom: It used to be a person going to a district for a day-long session, and we had to shift more to e-learning and virtual opportunities, only to find that in combination, we can have more impact. People can get training in their buildings or at home and not have to travel and it still has a high level of fidelity. We’ve noticed that we’re doing a lot of training sessions on self-harm, harm to others and suicide prevention and whether it’s behavioral threat assessment or other training, the feedback we’re getting suggests that blended learning opportunities are something our audiences want to keep.

Another learning–and one that I’ve known since I was a school administrator–is getting a sense of what’s on your students’ minds. That student voice is so important. I was a young principal after Columbine and what did we focus on? Physical safety, physical safety, physical safety. And while that’s still imperative, students are more concerned about their social-emotional safety than physical safety today. Whether that’s mental health specifically or simply broader social-emotional in general. That’s where we see more emphasis and movement in school safety conversations and solutions moving forward.

Michele: Isn’t it amazing that our students are coming forward with that? I feel like we’ve been pounding the pavement with the message of physical safety being critically important—it’s a cornerstone of school safety. But you’re missing the bigger picture if you’re not focusing on mental and behavioral health, culture and climate, health and wellness. And if you weren’t on board with that already, the past year really brough that forward. We can’t forget the foundational aspects that we learned in the beginning—the security and operations—we don’t want to see those go away. But we have an important balance to strike.

Our platform at Safe and Sound Schools has always been about comprehensive school safety– and that takes leadership. That’s often overlooked, yet it’s one of our core pillars to building comprehensive solutions. You need a strong understanding of the leadership skills it takes to build and sustain successful programs, understanding and adhering to law and code, and creating policies that make sense. The pandemic has really shined a light on the importance of strong leadership and policy. Having to determine vaccine mandates and masking policies has been especially challenging. We’ve found that school safety leadership can’t be singularly focused. They have to understand all these areas and how to manage them. So, when we find ourselves facing an epic challenge, we can make the best possible decisions for our school communities.

Thom: Definitely. Challenging times, like we’ve seen in the past year pushes leadership. How do we feed kids? How do we educate virtually? And it doesn’t stop there. It’s all the issues we’ve been discussing today. When it comes to school safety, it’s important that we not just react. It’s important to have leaders and professionals responsible for school safety in districts who are charged with school safety, creating policies and being ready. Whether it’s been masking or vaccinations, I think business and political leaders can learn a lot from our leaders in education and the response they’ve had over the past year and a half, soon to be two years.

Michele: Yes, it really wasn’t a choice. Our school leaders had to step up and figure it out. This all comes down to the wellness, safety, and development of our kids. And as you pointed to earlier, there must be that kind of Maslow’s-hierarchy-approach of focus on physical safety and security first. What we’ve seen is that schools have been able to build from there, focusing on some very high-level needs today, and now having conversations about comprehensive school safety.

We’re going to move through this year, hopefully as much in-person as possible, because that’s one of the things we learned painfully early on. With the pandemic, our kids pay a price in a big way by not experiencing that in-person learning, that social-emotional piece, and now they’re speaking up about it and that’s amazing to see.

Thom: Before kids can learn, we have to address basic needs. One of the conversations we had recently with Dr. Melissa Reeves [Senior Advisor at Safe and Sound Schools] is that we’ll never return to the way we were as a society. We now must respond to our new normal. And what does that new normal look like? A year from now, we’re still going to be dealing with the effects of the early pandemic. She mentioned that it’s trauma we must face, just as we do natural disasters or school shootings or suicide. There will be post-traumatic stress from this pandemic experience that we need to be prepared to deal with.

We’re going to see the need to deal with mental health needs escalate. As an educator, I always knew there were kids that needed mental health support. And now there’s an additional layer of kids who need support and it might not be noticeable. So how are we proactively dealing with that? How do we identify those who might be on a path of self-harm or harm to others and intervene in a positive way?

I had a conversation with the Chief of Safety for Boston Public Schools a couple of weeks ago and we were talking about this concept around individuals who pose a threat to themselves or to others and she commented that theirs is not a natural state of thought and we need to have our teams trained and systems in place to provide proper interventions for those who are on that path. Unfortunately, we’re just seeing more students that are falling into that category.

Michele: I think we’re only beginning to understand the depth of impact on our students and their social-emotional development and mental health. It doesn’t mean there’s a mental health disorder, but there has been significant mental health impact because of the pandemic.

I remember that conversation with Melissa Reeves.  Elizabeth Brown, one of our Florida principals was there and Elizabeth talked about what she termed “ghost cases,” the kids that were never on your radar. They’re your highfliers, your achievers, kids with good support systems and many protective factors around them, kids that may never have hit your radar of concern before. Yet here they are now in crisis. Schools now must be very proactive and check in with everyone.

This is creating a lot of opportunities for communication between students in different mediums. Reaching out and letting them know if they need anything, there’s an avenue of support. If you’re feeling this way, it’s okay, we can help you navigate. Without that focus on prevention and early interventions, we’re going to continue to see crises for years to come.

Thom: No doubt about that. And that’s where things like the National Summit on School Safety are so important. It pulls together the nation’s top experts addressing the full range of issues impacting safety like suicide prevention and behavioral threat assessments. We know from the extensive research done by the National Threat Assessment Center that is that violence directed towards oneself, or others is preventable, but that’s what we need to learn about. How do we properly train our staff to recognize and intervene? How do we put a comprehensive program together with solutions, that is this new thing – a behavioral threat assessment. It’s a foreign topic in many communities around the county. We must help people understand that it’s not punitive at all. Our mutual friend and colleague Cindy Marble, who had been a Secret Service Agent for 26 years has run hundreds of threat assessment cases for her bureau that resulted in a total of only 1 arrest. These assessments are meant to be positive interventions. But you must act early to catch someone who is on a path to violence and that’s where learning from experts like those featured at the Summit are indispensable. Providing understanding of how we can be proactive.

Michele: It’s a proven method that’s been around for decades. We do have quite a few schools who have developed very sophisticated assessments and management programs. But, as you also said, many are just now realizing that it can be an incredibly powerful tool for prevention and intervention. If it’s done well, we should see declining arrests. We should see declining disciplinary actions because it’s about intervention.

Thom: It really is–and you’re going to see schools being able to eliminate social and racial disparities and purely look at behaviors this way. Let’s find a proactive way to deal with student needs as opposed to being reactive to student crises.

Michele: It’s all about the behaviors. Obviously not every case, not every act of self-harm or harm to others can be stopped or prevented. But the data on this process is so promising, why wouldn’t we be devoting so much more time and energy to prevention?

Thom: What the Secret Service did was focus on behaviors, not profiles. How do we identify these behaviors and work with individuals to prevent harm? But the challenge there is you don’t hear about the successes.

Michele: That’s a problem. When schools are successful at being proactive and preventing harm, you don’t hear about that. Then it’s difficult to justify to the community because you’re spending so much time and energy on intervention protocols. But the danger is, without them, you’re always being reactionary.

Behavioral assessment programs allow us to move away from stereotypes of what an attacker should look like and focus on behaviors. It must be neutral in its approach to work.

What else are you seeing out there in terms of intervention technologies?

Thom: Nothing replaces the human element. One of the lessons learned by the Secret Service is the greatest gift we must stop violence is the human mind. Part intuition, but also how are you collecting data? Whether we’re talking suicide or harm to others, there’s leakage that occurs. Signs, discussions, writings – how are you collecting that leakage? There’s technology that can help you scan and filter information and monitor language. There’s a lot of technology today and much more coming out to help with this process. I always say to districts, if you don’t have a way to scan your own media, your Google docs, and those kinds of things, you really should. You’re creating liabilities if you aren’t. So, we’re seeing technologies that help you accomplish that.

Anonymous tip reporting is getting so much better. With that technology you’re making sure students have a vehicle to report because other students always know. You may know some pieces, they may have others and having technology that helps you connect the dots helps behavioral assessments.

Michele: I love how you pointed back to the human element. Making sure that there are many multidisciplinary eyes looking at information and data that’s coming in from all angles to be proactive in our approach.

Thom: And responding immediately. Some of what you see may appear less serious on the surface and those can be the most serious. You must treat them all with great care.

Michele: It’s like Gavin deBecker’s book, The Gift of Fear. If it popped up on someone’s radar, made you stop and think, or raised a couple of eyebrows, you really must pay attention.

We started our conversation talking about journeys and I want to wrap our discussion on the same topic. As we continue this journey and school safety continues to evolve positively and in terms of facing challenges, that journey uniquely unites us with some amazing people, like those at our Summit, all focused on our mission to create safe and sound schools.

It’s about this shared goal we all have. I would love for us, in this challenging time in our country and world, to really gather around our kids and communities and unite around our shared goal. Maybe take a break from the politics and drama and be reminded about the importance of this work, practicing what we are preaching to our kids and in our communities. We don’t have the luxury of finger pointing or blaming, or politics when it comes to our kids, it’s about pushing up your sleeves and getting down to the work.

Thom: Coming back to something I mentioned earlier, I’ve been so proud of our education leaders across the country in the work that they’ve done on this journey to school safety. There will be obstacles that continue to arise, and we will to find new ways around them. But the journey continues and there’s so many opportunities out there for individuals and companies, like us, to partner with Safe and Sound Schools and really make a difference in that journey.

As you mentioned, we’re hearing loudly from our kids that mental health issues must be addressed, and rightfully so. What they’re asking for is Safe and Sound Schools.

Michele: Well said, Thom. Thank you for catching up with me.


To learn more about or mission, the National School Safety Summit, or the programs and experts we offer, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.

If you are feeling like time has been hard to track this past year (and the year before), you’re not alone. We’ve all juggled an enormous amount of emotion, stress, and uncertainty this year—on personal and professional fronts. Pressing on in slow motion and somehow sprinting in fast forward at the same time. A “blur,” a “time warp,” “pandemic perplexity.” Whatever you want to call it, this year–and everything that came with it­–has most certainly affected us, our sense of time, and maybe even our sense of progress.

If you’re reading this message, you’ve felt it too. You’ve been right there in the thick of it. Logging extra hours, walking the halls, making tough decisions, serving up support, encouragement, school lunch, and those weird elbow bumps.

You showed up. Every. Single. Day.

As 2021 draws to a close, I encourage each of you to take stock of the many challenges you’ve helped our schools, communities, and most importantly, our students meet. We’re not done. We won’t quit. Not until every school and every student is safe and sound.

Thank you for sharing in our mission. Thank you for staying the course.

All the best in 2022,

Michele Gay

By Scarlett Lewis

Scarlett Lewis, Sandy Hook mother and Founder of Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement™, will speak at this year’s National Summit on School Safety, October 26-28. Scarlett will join a lineup of over 30 school safety leaders and change-makers to share her life’s mission, and how the power of social and emotional learning (SEL) can change and save lives. Register today to hear from Scarlett and many other amazing presenters. 

It’s back-to-school time and I am so happy to see all the teachers and students back in their classrooms doing what they do best: teaching, learning, and choosing love! September kicked off the start of the school year and thankfully I’ve been able to travel, in person, to visit schools in seven states around the U.S. who are using the Choose Love For Schools program, and to also virtually check in with many more.  It made my heart happy to see all those classrooms bustling with activity.

It’s another year that our educational system has faced continued uncertainty related to the pandemic. However, schools have courageously forged ahead with in-person learning so students can get back to a daily routine, have more social interaction, maintain a focus on their academics with less distraction, and hopefully allot more time to social and emotional learning and character education.  Our children are showing great resilience as they wear their masks and focus on learning. That said, it’s our educators who are displaying even greater courage, determination, and grace. I have personally witnessed this and it is breathtaking. Educators are our modern day superheroes with the most important job in the entire world of helping to shape and mold our children into the adults they will become. The future of our world is literally in their hands.

I founded the Choose Love Movement to provide love and support to our educators and their students and the recent stories I’ve heard on my visits of how the Choose Love Formula has given everyone the strength and courage to face this challenge with their best selves is astounding. Courage is not the absence of fear but persistence and resilience in the face of adversity. In fact, I usually find myself crying tears of joy in between presentations because of all the positivity and dedication that I see coming from the educators.  They are so grateful to be back in the classroom with fellow teachers and physically standing in front of their students.  While most of the teachers are maintaining a positive mindset, during my most recent visits I have spoken with some who have voiced some valid concerns. One of the main issues that teachers face is learning loss from last year. The second is COVID and all the ramifications including new CDC guidelines, such as testing and quarantines. The third continues to be safety, and this has expanded to include the consequences of the pandemic.

Our goal is to revitalize and inspire educators, and to give them a framework to meet every student’s social, emotional, and academic needs. In a relevant article in last month’s Berkeley News, “As K-12 students return, schools shouldn’t obsess over pandemic ‘learning loss,’ ” Edward Lempinen writes: “But while some evidence suggests the pandemic has slowed students’ academic progress, Berkeley education scholars caution that educators shouldn’t obsess about it. Better, they said, to focus more on the social and emotional well-being of students — and their teachers — as in-person classes resume after a historic period of uncertainty, fear and loss.”

I want our educators to know that we are here to support them on their journey in actively engaging students in meaningful, cultural, and linguistically relevant learning experiences. I can see how educators are striving to address academic learning loss and bridging gaps where students are faltering, but adding CDC guidelines and ensuring safety precautions are in place makes it even more challenging. Talking with educators over the past 18 months, I’ve learned how overwhelming it can be to organize an effective social-emotional recovery for their classroom, make sure students keep their masks on and maintain hygienic practices, and follow a daily academic plan. Before any learning can be effective, students and educators need to feel safe, a sense of belonging, cared for, and loved. We need to continually support schools in providing tools and resources to help bring students and educators back to baseline so they are present, calm, and ready to learn and have a successful school year. I applaud all our educators who are really stepping up and amplifying their classroom experiences and not only finding joy being back in-person, but valuing their students’ and their own physical, mental, and emotional wellness that will ultimately improve and enhance classroom climates.

Our educators deserve to be recognized for all that they are doing to help students become their best selves despite the obstacles that make it more challenging. But I know our educators are dedicated, and by always choosing love in the face of uncertainty they are cultivating hope and resilience. I am amazed at the positive difference this courageous, grateful, forgiving, and compassionate choice is making in classrooms and entire schools around the world. Our educators are the change-makers who are creating our future!

The second largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is considering a vaccine mandate for teachers in schools. AFT leadership originally said that vaccinations should be voluntary, but that “circumstances have [now] changed.” Read on for more about a potential policy change for teachers on the way.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said during a Sunday interview that she thinks teachers need to work with employers on vaccine mandates.

Weingarten also said her organization is revisiting the issue of vaccine mandates for teachers as parts of the nation see a surge in coronavirus cases instigated by the rapidly-spreading delta variant.

The AFT has not supported such mandates previously, but Weingarten said the union was willing to work with employers to try to find solutions, and she said the rise in cases across the country is “alarming.”
Read this full article in the Hill: ‘Teachers union president signals personal support for vaccine mandates’

Read this full article in The Hill: ‘Teachers union president signals personal support for vaccine mandates’

Is it safe to send kids back to school with the Delta variant? While schools have not been major super spreaders of the virus, public health guidelines vary depending on COVID cases in each state. Read on for answers to the most common questions related to Fall 2021 and the current state of the pandemic.

“As the Delta variant rages and vaccination rates remain low in many parts of the United States, worried parents have one pressing question: How do I send my child back to school safely during a pandemic?
Next week, a number of school districts in the South where case counts for Covid-19 are on the rise, including several in Alabama and Georgia, will begin the 2021-22 school year. Even more schools in Covid hot spots around the country, including districts in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, will welcome students the following week.”

“While much of the public health conversation has been focused on booster shots and breakthrough infections, parents are frustrated at the lack of advice for families, particularly those with children under 12 years old, who are not yet eligible for a Covid vaccine. On social media and at school-board meetings, parents say they face an impossible choice: send kids to school and risk a Covid-19 infection, or keep kids home and jeopardize their mental health and educational development.”

Read this full article in the New York Times: ‘Kids Are Going Back to School. How Do We Keep Them Safe?’