While I spend a fair amount of time traveling to visit schools, communities, and school safety professionals, my travel increases tremendously in the wake of a school tragedy. In those moments, when I listen to the conversations around me, I hear such strong views, opinions, and ideas about school safety– all coming from the deepest places of concern, fear, anger, and disbelief.
In the aftermath of tragedy, with every breaking news detail, we are unified in our desire to keep our kids and communities safe. But, as mouths move and emotions rise, I find myself internally wondering, What were your thoughts on school safety the day before the disaster? Were you this concerned with school safety the day before the tragedy? Were you talking about it at the office? Did you post on social media about it? Was the topic even on your radar?
For many–if not most of us–it likely wasn’t. While I wonder, I do not judge. It wasn’t high on my radar on December 13, 2014, the day before an attacker walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and into my daughter’s fist-grade classroom. It wasn’t until a tragedy touched my life that the issue of school safety took a permanent position in the forefront of my mind and sparked the mission that is now at the core of Safe and Sound Schools.
With the new school year upon us, the back-to-school commercials airing once more, and school emails filling our inboxes, I wonder about the year ahead. Many of you are wondering about it as well, perhaps even considering a more proactive role in the safety of your child’s schools. With this hope in mind, I share the top 10 questions I hope you will ask yourself, your children, your neighbors and your school – questions I wish I had asked myself years ago:
1. What conversations are you willing to have with your children regarding school safety and the risks that can arise while at school (always considering your child’s age and readiness for conversations surrounding safety)? Topics may range from weather safety (what to do in the case of a tornedo) to school violence. What will be your family plan? Who in your family can your student call in case of an emergency.
2. What about your school’s plans? Are you aware of the emergency plans? Do you know what is expected of you? It’s critical that you know and understand your school’s plan in the case of an emergency and in order to support these plans at home. For example, does the school perform lockdowns? What kinds of other drills are practice–and how often?
3. How is outside access to the building controlled during school hours? Are exterior doors locked or open during the day? How many points of entry into and out of your school are there? What about the security of school visitors? Is there a visitor management system, either manual (with staff checking visitors in and verifying id’s) or technology-based (such as Raptor Visitor Management) in place to vet those gaining entry into the schools?
4. What about security? Does staff or security walk around the school, inside or out? Does your school have the support of a school resource officer? Does your school have any unique weaknesses in terms of its physical structure that need to be addressed? Do the classroom doors lock? If so, how? Do those locks meet fire code? How are the doors unlocked? Are glass entryways into your school fortified?
5. What law enforcement agency supports your school and is called in case of an issue? How many officers and agencies (i.e. fire, police, EMS) are available to your school if needed?
6. In the case of an emergency, what is your schools reunification plan? Is there one? What is expected of parents in case of reunification?
7. Have you talked to your students about being good citizens as well as being good cyber-citizens? How are kids protected and/or disciplined in cases of bullying?
8. How does your school support mental health? Is there a school-based mental health professional available to students and families? Do students know where to take concerns about themselves or their peers? How does your school foster a culture of safety and support for all students?
9. Does your area provide unique challenges or issues that affect your student’s safety? Extreme weather or natural hazards? If so, are there weather shelters in place? Is your school in a high-crime area? If so, is walking to school appropriate? How is student safety ensured when coming and going to and from school?
10. Does your school have a system to monitor threats on social media that identify your school or students in them? What about reporting mechanism on campus? Do students have a way of reporting known information to either a trusted adult or an outside agency? Safe and Sound partners with ReportIt nationally. This and other organizations offer tools for students and community members to keep their schools safe.
Having lost our precious daughter at Sandy Hook School, the thought of school safety is with my family every single day. It is my hope that communities come together, with students hand-in-hand, working purposefully, to protect every campus across our nation. The loss of one child this coming school year is one too many. Join me and our growing team of volunteers, experts and community members who are determined to keep all kids Safe and Sound.
Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools
As summer draws to a close, the next few weeks are prime time to take your kids back-to-school shopping. Lunch boxes, binders, and classroom essentials like tissues and cleaning wipes are necessary purchases for parents to make before children start their first day back.
Although we assume that these common school supplies are safe for our children to use, there is still the chance that harmful ingredients can be present. Before you take your child shopping, keep these three ingredients in mind and make the conscious decision to purchase and inquire about healthier products.
1. Phthalates in plastic products
Phthalates are a class of chemicals used to improve the durability of plastic. They are found in a number of consumer goods including food & beverage containers, children’s toys, and even shower curtains. But, they are also widely present in school supplies such as lunch boxes, backpacks, and binders.
Phthalates are a known hormone disruptor, and multiple studies have linked exposure to developmental and reproductive concerns. Research has also suggested a risk of allergic diseases due to DEHP and BBzP phthalate exposure.
When you take your child shopping for supplies, consider purchasing eco-friendly binders made from non-plastic products such as cardboard or fabric. Avoid backpacks with plastic designs or exteriors as these likely contain phthalates. If you’re on the hunt for a new lunch box, choose cloth over hard plastic versions or check out independent reviews such as this one from Romper for phthalate and BPA-free options.
2. VOCs in classroom cleaning supplies
VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are a variety of chemicals released as gases from common cleaning products. Air fresheners, chlorine bleach, glass cleaners, and even wet wipes can contain these chemicals that are linked to a number of health issues. Exposure has been known to cause headaches, liver and kidney damage, and allergic skin reactions.
Oftentimes, teachers will ask students to bring in cleaning supplies for the classroom. Before you throw any brand into your cart however, check the label for VOCs. Benzyl alcohol, ammonia, and ethanol are three common ingredients to look out for, but consultCenter for Disease Control’s (CDC) list for others that may be present.
To err on the side of caution, choose eco-friendly cleaning supplies that will protect your children and the environment. If you’re still unsure about a product’s safety, look for buzzwords on the packaging like “harmful if swallowed,” “use gloves,” or “use in a well-ventilated area.” These phrases are usually good indicators that a product contains harmful chemicals like VOCs.
3. Glyphosate in School Groundskeeping Products
Although this ingredient isn’t one that parents will be able to directly impact, it’s still important to know the products that are being used to treat school grounds, sports fields, and playground areas.
Glyphosate is an active ingredient inherbicides, widely used by gardeners, homeowners, and farmers. In recent years however,lawsuits have alleged thatglyphosate is a carcinogen linked to cancers including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In fact, a school groundskeeper’s legal casehas been the first to move forwardafter years of exposure to the chemical during his time as pest manager for a San Francisco school district.
A study published in JAMA found that the prevalence of human exposure to glyphosate has increased by 500% in recent years. However, research is still being conducted to determine the human health effects of this exposure. Concerned parents should inquire with school administration about the products being used on school grounds, especially since the chemical’s safety remains under speculation.
Heading back to school is an exciting time, but don’t let the anticipation of a new academic year cause you to forget about your children’s safety. Take time to read product labels, inquire about the safety of your school’s groundskeeping efforts, and ensure that the items you send with your child into the classroom are safe and healthy for all.
Guest Author Bio:
Morgan Statt is a health & safety investigator who covers a number of issues including product safety and trending health news. With her background in strategic communication, she strives to educate readers on how they can make informed decisions about the products they purchase every day. In her free time, she can be found crafting the perfect Spotify playlist and supporting local businesses who share in her passion for quality food. Follow her on Twitter @morganstatt.
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.
With summer already in full swing, we are already looking forward to the second half of this year. We thought you’d appreciate a look back on our progress through April, May, and June.
- Expert presentations– we traveled to 12 states, 17 cities, and even went to Sweden, reaching nearly 10,000 educators, emergency responders, mental health professionals, students, school staff and community members on topics ranging from physical safety to mental health and resilience. Read on below for a detailed list of our presentations and community visits.
- Tools and Resources – we launched our first-ever State of School Safety Report to help communities better understand how parents, students, and educators view school safety threats and opportunities. We also grew our crisis response network to help schools affected by tragedies this year. We are working on several exciting projects to be announced later this year. We are deeply grateful for the generous donations of many individuals, corporate partners, and organizations that make this work possible.
- Community Support – We also appreciate the donations and fundraising efforts from following groups and organizations: Indian Lake Central High School, Ransom Everglades School, Oakdale High School Student Government Association, Jammin Hammer Jewelry, Building for God Foundation, and Alice’s Tea Cup.
- Organizational Readiness – In May, Michele Gay and Alissa Parker joined the Safe and Sound’s Board of Directors for the annual Board Retreat in Boston, MA. Thank you to all of our board and team members for making the trip!
We’ve got a lot ahead of us, from conferences to new partnerships, programs, and resources, and we are excited to share it all with you in the coming months! You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram to stay up to date with all things Safe and Sound. Thank you for your support.
Now, here’s a report on all our visits during Q2, showing you the breadth, depth, and reach of our organization’s work:
- Alissa Parker – PublicSchoolWORKS webinar about practical ways school community members can improve school safety.
- Dr. Todd Savage – School-Based Safety and Crisis Prevention, Preparedness, and Intervention Considerations for the Art and Science Academy in Minnesota
- Michele Gay – Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals
- Michele Gay – Chinle Unified School District, on tools and ideas for safer schools and community engagement
- Paul Tim – PublicSchoolWORKS
- Michele Gay – ALEC task force on school safety in Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Michele Gay – Maryland Task Force on School Safety for Students with Special Needs at Ivymount School in Montgomery County, Maryland
- Michele Gay – Marriotts Ridge High School to share the Sound Youth Council with students and parents
- Michele Gay – Keynote at the DHI Connextions Conference in Baltimore
- Michele Gay – school safety webinar, sponsored by Raptor Technologies.
- Alissa Parker – attended the Dougy Center Gala Event in Portland to honor the Parker family and celebrate Emilie’s birthday; funds from the gala go toward supporting grieving families
- Alissa Parker – North Penn School District in Landsale, PA
- Dr. Melissa Reeves – Indiana School Safety Academy
- Michele Gay – Secure Schools Alliance meeting in Washington, D.C., with national safety and industry leaders to develop a unified national coalition of school safety leadership
- Frank DeAngelis – Kaufman County Office of Emergency Management on Leadership Lessons from Columbine and Beyond
- Michele Gay – PrepTalk for FEMA alongside Kristina Anderson of the Koshka Foundation, Sarah Thompson of Save the Children and Lori Peek of the Natural Hazards Center. You can check out Michele’s talk at https://www.fema.gov/preptalks/gay
- Michele Gay – Axis Communications Advisory Council in Sweden, with Safe and Sound speaker and expert Paul Timm, and national school safety expert Kevin Wren, to present to area school and safety leadership in Lund. What an exciting opportunity to share Safe and Sound’s message and trainings internationally!
- Frank DeAngelis – Large Unit District Association of Illinois
- Michele Gay – Pennsylvania community leaders, educators, safety professionals, and community members
- Michele Gay – Keansburg Schools in New Jersey
- Michele Gay – South Carolina Association of Superintendents
- Michele Gay – Baltimore County School safety leadership’s annual school safety conference
- Alissa Parker – Texas Association of School Administrators Summer Conference
- Alissa Parker – Axis/Dallas Independent School District
- Michele Gay – National Association of School Resource Officers in Reno, NV, about Safe and Sound’s “Kids First” program on developmentally appropriate safety education
- Jin Kin – International Center for Leadership in Education in Orlando.
Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions about our work, please reach out through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Safe and Sound Schools is proud to offer a team of speakers covering a wide range of school safety topics. Our team of school safety experts combine deep practical knowledge with engaging delivery to inspire and educate your school community.
Learn more about each speaker below.
John is the Chief of Police for the Lancaster Lebanon IU13 Police Department and the Safety and Security Director for the IU13. Additionally, John is a safety and security consultant and published author. His presentations include frontline training and situational awareness.
Dr. Brock is a Professor and School Psychology Program Coordinator in the College of Education at California State University, Sacramento. He specializes in functional behavior assessment, school crisis intervention and response, suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention, violence prevention, and threat assessment and management.
Frank is the retired principal of Columbine High School and a national-level speaker focusing on recovering after a school-based tragedy. His presentations include lessons learned from Columbine and beyond and a presentation focused on student involvement.
Scott is the Founder and CEO of Ervin Educational Consulting LLC. He works as a behavioral consultant specializing in extremely difficult, at-risk, disturbed, abused, and neglected kids. He draws from his experience to lead workshops focusing on classroom management.
Michele is the Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools, mother of Josephine Gay, and a former teacher. Michele uses her story to teach topics like community engagement, response and recovery, and developmentally appropriate safety education.
Lisa is a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting, a school safety advocate, and national level speaker focusing on recovery after a school-based shooting. Lisa uses her story to advocate for school safety and community engagement.
Dr. CJ Huff is an educator, child advocate, retired superintendent of Joplin Schools, and subject matter for the U.S. Department of Education. His presentations focus on community engagement, and crisis and recovery.
Mr. Kim is an FBI veteran SME specializing in active shooter, targeted violence attacks, and workplace violence and resiliency. Mr. Kim’s presentations include active shooter survival strategies and active safety in schools and beyond.
Scarlett is the Founder of Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement and mother of Jesse Lewis. Scarlett is an advocate for Social Emotional Learning (SEL) that teaches children how to manage their emotions, feel connected, and have healthy relationships. Her presentations focus on SEL, Choosing Love, and cultivating a healthy workplace environment.
Steffanie is the founder of Art with Heart, a non-profit organization focusing on overcoming trauma through creative expression. Steffanie combines her talent in the expressive arts to teach participants how to use creativity to release difficult emotions, develop self-awareness, and bring attention to inner resources of strength, despite difficult life events.
John is the Executive Director of Security and Emergency Management for Jeffco Public Schools. He specializes in active shooter preparedness and emergency plan development.
Amanda is the Professor and director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Prevention at the University at Buffalo. Her area of expertise is school violence and bullying. Her workshops focus on crisis prevention, intervention, and recovery, as well as bullying prevention and intervention.
Alissa is the Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools, best-selling author of An Unseen Angel: A Mother’s Story of Faith, Hope, and Healing after Sandy Hook, and mother of Emilie Parker. In her presentations, Alissa shares her story, highlighting the importance of community engagement and rethinking school safety.
Dr. Poland is a licensed psychologist and professor at the College of Psychology and Co-Director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He specializes in youth suicide, bullying, school violence, and threat assessment. Some of his presentations include bullying and suicide prevention and resiliency, and school safety best practices.
Dr. Reeves is the Past president of the National Association of School Psychologist, special education teacher, counselor, and author specializing in crisis prevention and intervention, reunification and recovery, threat assessment and trauma. Her presentations focus on topics like mental health, reunification, and threat assessment.
Dr. Savage is a Professor of School Psychology at the University of Wisconsin River Falls, specializing in LGBTQ+ matters, culturally-responsive practice, school safety and crisis prevention, preparedness, and intervention. Dr. Savage’s presentations include understanding and supporting transgender and gender-diverse youth, and comprehensive school safety.
Paul is the Vice President of Facility Engineering Associates, a board-certified Physical Security Professional (PSP), author of School Security: How to Build and Strengthen a School Safety Program, and a nationally acclaimed expert in physical security.
Carin is the Founder and CEO of Mission Be, Mindful Education. A former school social worker for over a decade, Carin has experience working with youth in schools, foster care, and the juvenile justice system. Carin is a gifted speaker, mindfulness leader and visionary. Her workshops include mindful education training for both educators and parents.
To learn more about each speaker and and read a detailed summary of all their presentations, click here. To book one of our speakers, please contact Gina at email@example.com or 866-769-9037.
We are excited to share that H&H Medical Corporation is hosting a 3-month fundraiser campaign for Safe and Sound Schools.
From July 1 through September 31, 2018, H&H Medical Corporation will donate a portion of revenue from online sales of select trauma kits and supplies to Safe and Sound Schools to help fund free programs and resources for school crisis prevention, response, and recovery.
We are incredibly thankful to be the recipient of this fundraiser and are thrilled to have H&H Medical Corporation step up to support our nation’s schools. To learn more about this fundraiser, click here.
You can support Safe and Sound Schools and help make this fundraiser a success by sharing this initiative with your network or by stocking up on trauma kits and supplies in preparation for the school year.
H&H Medical Corporation is the provider of high-quality products for emergency first responders. Click here to support the fundraiser!
Parents often ask us how to be more engaged with their kids, how to best support them as they navigate this complicated world around them. Shari Nacson, LISW-S, Child Development Specialist, and Advisor to Safe and Sound Schools weighs in with some helpful tips.
1. Development happens on a continuum.
Anna Freud called this the concept of developmental lines. It’s easiest to picture with an everyday task that babies can’t do, but adults have mastered — like eating. We’re fed soft things, then hard things, then we become able to feed ourselves, someday we shop and prepare meals.
When we consider the challenges that face our children — of any age — we need to think about where they are developmentally. Are they learning about something, wanting it done for them, emerging with mastery, or dancing in-between? When we think developmentally, we are able to honor what kids have mastered and then lay scaffolding for where they soon will be. This concept applies to all life skills: literacy, math, maintaining friendships, personal hygiene, time management … everything that we hope our kids will someday do independently and successfully.
With school safety, one might think about your child’s existing awareness, what information they might soon receive from elsewhere (and if they need to hear things from you first), what information intersects helpfully or unhelpfully with your own family values, issues, and strategies. Just like we do on a systemic level, assess the context, then act on what you know, and audit/reflect on how it went.
2. Some things are best heard from your parents. No matter how old you are.
While many schools have mastered the art of sharing difficult news and supporting the school community through related processes, kids of all ages still do best if they have been prepared at home. Talk together about community tragedies, school policies, and global issues that they might hear about at school. Do this in a developmentally and age appropriate way — so your child is more prepared should they hear something in a group or media setting. When we talk with our kids about these things, they feel respected and can manage any big feelings in the privacy of home.
The world comes at kids fast and furious; our job is to slow it down so their hearts and minds can process information in the healthiest possible way.
3. Do good together.
Volunteering together is one of the best ways to intentionally be together. It’s constructive, fun, creative, tech-free, and makes the world a better place. While volunteering, you interact in ways that no other activity provides. You transmit your own values and build special memories that are likely to inspire each of you. One of the keys to empowerment is shifting away from passive roles (the world happens to us) to active roles (we make things happen in the world around us). Volunteerism offers a platform where kids (and adults) can feel encouraged, empowered, and can directly see their impact on the world around them.
Volunteering together builds healthy neuropathways, supports conscience development, and increases resilience — for everyone involved. For older kids and teens, follow their lead in choosing volunteer opportunities.
All of the things that make our world a better place when done by adults — all of the engagement that makes our civic institutions and communities function in healthy ways — all of them require a foundation of engaged compassion.
4. Convey that you believe in your child.
Even with something that is tricky to master, we want our kids to know that we believe they will get there. We also want them to know that we trust them. Sometimes this may be more of a Jedi mind trick (“I know you’ll do the right thing” is often code for a worried parent trying to elicit a kid’s conscience), but it works better than shaming kids into compliance.
If your child has a track record of poor decision-making, you might need to be more concrete about the steps to good decision-making, all-the-while conveying that to err is human and that you know they will get to a place of self-sufficiency, even if the road is bumpy. Collaborate with helpers if your child has had difficulty making safe, smart decisions.
When kids know we believe in them, they feel empowered and make better choices.
5. Don’t wait for a crisis to happen.
Our fast-paced society doesn’t allow us the time to think, to be intentional. This is the one investment that can make the biggest difference in your parenting: dedicate time to think about parenting.
Every family should have a trusted someone — counselor, clergy member, pediatrician, educator, friend — who helps them think clearly about their kids. Take a moment right now to think about who your trusted someone is. Do you talk regularly? Do you only reach out when it’s a crisis? Think about increasing that contact — like the old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Each child is unique; the situations they encounter are complex. And just when they master something, development kicks-in and all the things that worked before will need to be recalibrated. We do best by our kids by embracing this part of life — this messy, bumpy, exciting, and thwarting part of life.
We don’t have to wait for our kids to be in grave distress before we ask for help. The day-to-day minutiae also warrants our thoughtful consideration; tending to it can sometimes prevent a larger crisis. Professionals who work with kids welcome your questions, about small and big things.
More than anything, find someone who helps you be the parent you want to be.
Shari Nacson, LISW-S, is a freelance writer, child development specialist, and nonprofit consultant in Cleveland, Ohio. As a public speaker, she enjoys helping busy parents become more intentional with their child-raising strategies.