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Safe and Sound Schools, in partnership with Region 4 Education Service Center, is proud to announce the inaugural National Summit on School Safety.

Join us March 28-30, 2019, in Houston, Texas, for an intensive and interactive, two-day conference focused on comprehensive school safety. The National Summit on School Safety is ideal for educators, administrators, safety and security professionals, mental and behavioral health practitioners, solution providers, community members, and leaders.

The National Summit on School Safety is designed to provide a hands-on learning experience and will feature national and regional experts such as:

  • CJ Huff, Former Superintendent of Joplin Schools and Special Advisor for Education and Community Leadership to Safe and Sound Schools
  • John Michael Keyes, Founder and Executive Director of I Love U Guys Foundation
  • Frank DeAngelis, Former Columbine Principal and Special Advisor for Education Leadership to Safe and Sound Schools
  • Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools
  • Alissa Parker, Co-founder and Director of Safe and Sound Schools

With deep-dive breakout sessions, workshops, leadership round tables, inspirational keynotes, and dedicated networking, attendees will add to their school safety toolbox to better meet their community’s school safety needs. Conference sessions will cover the six key components of our Framework for Comprehensive School Safety Planning and Development:

  • Physical Environment
  • Operations and Emergency Management
  • Mental and Behavioral Health
  • Health and Wellness
  • Culture, Climate, and Community
  • School Law, Policy and Finance

Stay tuned for updates on more speakers, sponsors, and the summit agenda. To keep up with all things Safe and Sound, connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. And to keep up with Region 4 Education Service Center, like them on Facebook and follow them Twitter.

Sponsorship

Sponsorship opportunities are available at a variety of levels. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, contact Rania Mankarious at raniamankarious@me.com.

Dates

  • Thursday, March 28, 2019 – 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm: Meet & Greet
  • Friday, March 29, 2019 – 7:30 am – 4:30 pm: Keynote Speakers & Breakout Session
  • Saturday, March 30, 2019 – 7:30 am – 2:30 pm: Leadership Forum & Closing

Location

Join us at the Region 4 Education Service Center: 7145 W Tidwell Rd, Houston, TX 77092

Registration

Early bird tickets are available through December 31, 2018. Register with our partner, Region 4 Education Service Center.

 

 

See you there!

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 SupportWe 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 info@safeandsoundschools.org.

 

This can be one of the true stressors of childhood.  A few days before your birthday and all eyes are on you.  Everyone is tuned in to your needs and your wishes.  It’s something that only comes once a year and the pressure of getting it all right starts to press down on your delicate shoulders.  Determined you stand upright defying that invisible force as you declare what meal will be eaten regardless of anyone else’s preferences.  An itinerary of who will participate and what activities will happen forms first in your mind then starts to take shape with each discussion between you and your mom.  Months of subtly dropping hints in stores and eying inventory from catalogs start to penetrate the minds of your parents and you dare to hope…

My daughter, Emilie, loved birthdays.  Every birthday, not just hers.  It was not important if it was Madeline’s, Samantha’s, Mom and Dad’s or even Jesus’s birthday.  Emilie realized and understood that birthday’s were a special time to celebrate each other—together.  Her joy in honoring the lives of those closest to her was infectious.  The effort she put into planning a fun and exciting birthday for her family members far surpassed the time and energy she put into her own.  The thrill she genuinely expressed for others had the power to even make a 30th birthday party as enjoyable as a 6 year olds.

May 12th will mark the 5th year that Emilie will not be able to help us plan a party.  Another year of not fretting what to request for dinner, who to invite or what presents to hope for.  Five years later it is a punishing task to figure out how to best celebrate her life and what she means for our family.  As her parents we are supposed to know her best and to be perfectly honest—we don’t anymore.  We can’t anticipate what food she would like, what friends she would have and what presents she would want.  Her twelve-year-old self would be a Ship of Theseus from the six-year-old we did know.  Five years later she would still be Emilie, but almost every aspect of her from her likes, dislikes, friends, passions and even the cells in her body would be slowly replaced one by one with new ones.

So how do we celebrate the birth of someone whose life changed ours so powerfully?  Someone that in six years of living continues to impact and inspire us five years later.

I do have an idea, if I may be so bold as to make a birthday wish on Emilie’s behalf?  I do know that she always did and continues to love her family and supports what is important to them.  Over the last five years our family has advocated for children’s safety and well being by starting two non-profit organizations.

On the day Emilie died there was a birthday party invitation on our fridge.  It was for Josephine “Joey” Gay.  Those two friends died together in the same classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Now Emilie’s mom, Alissa and Joey’s mom, Michele have created Safe and Sound Schools.  The only non-profit initiative in the after math of Sandy Hook to focus solely on School Safety.

We also created the Emilie Parker Art Connection which focuses mainly on embodying Emilie’s love of art to connect children suffering from trauma, abuse and neglect to art therapy as a way of healing.

If you would like to join us in celebrating Emilie’s 12th birthday please do so because she loved a party!


Robbie Parker, Father of Emilie Parker 

Earlier this week, I had the amazing opportunity to speak at the National PTA Legislative Conference in Arlington, Virginia. I was invited to speak during the opening session with U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

The attendees gathered were state PTA representatives from every state in the country. The theme of this year’s conference was to “Get in the Game”, to inspire advocates into action.

The PTA has touched my heart in a deep way. The PTA is made up of parents and educators who volunteer their time for the sole purpose of benefiting the youth in our communities. These are the real change-makers!  I was honored to share with them my own personal journey from a stay-at-home mom to a school safety advocate. It was never a path that I anticipated or would think to take, but our lives have a strange way of changing course when we least expect it.

Over the last couple of months, I have seen a major shift in the conversation surrounding school safety. Communities are ready to take actions to ensure that tragedies like Sandy Hook and Parkland don’t happen again. Our goal as an organization is to help educate school communities in how to get started today. Change is possible. We can make schools safe when we work together.

Join the movement today. Begin the school safety assessment process by downloading our free Straight-A Safety Toolkits, launching a Safe and Sound Youth Council, or simply sharing our materials with your community. Together we can make our school safe and sound.


Alissa Parker
Mother of Emilie Parker
Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools

Back-to-school is an important event every year in my home. It represents so much more than just back-to-school. It means my kids are getting older and naturally that I am getting older as well. There will be new teachers, new clothes, new school supplies! Summer wanes, fall creeps in and life takes on a familiar routine. Of course, for me another topic on my mind when school rolls around is safety. Even when our girls were young my husband and I spoke openly and frequently about safety rules and guidelines. We have had these talks so often over the years that our girls are now able to mimic our “discussions” verbatim any chance they can.

Talking about safety at school has been one of the newer additions to our list of safety conversations. After losing my oldest daughter Emilie to a school shooting, how could it not? This year, our safety conversation was initiated by my youngest daughter Samantha, a soon to be 3rd grader, while shopping for new school clothes.  “Mom, can I tell you something,” she began.  “Did you know there are drills at our school where we have to go outside?!”  I smiled and asked her if she could tell me why they would need to go out of the school for a drill. She explained to me not only why they would need to evacuate their school, but how all the other drills at her school work. Samantha loves an audience and I love seeing her repeat all the safety information she has learned both at home and at school.

When we talk to children about school safety, it can often feel intimidating. However, like most things, the more we practice the better we get. In that one conversation while shopping, my daughters covered not only safety drills but also discussions about bullying and what to do if you find yourself surrounded by strangers. Seeing Samantha take our safety talks to another level and become the teacher herself was amazing. Safety is an empowering tool for children. Having safety rules and boundaries gives them a sense of security and control.  So, if you haven’t already started those conversations with your kids, start now! You will be amazed with the ideas they will share with you and the questions and conversations that will follow. Hopefully, someday soon they will become your teacher as well!


Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools 

Now that our first quarter has come and gone, we’re excited to provide you with an update of our travels and ongoing projects from January through March.

Co-founder Alissa Parker kicked off January travels with Safe and Sound board member Bob Martin and Safe and Sound advisor Tau Braun, at the Violence Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Symposium in Corpus Christi, Texas. Shortly after, Safe and Sound Schools, in partnership with the Maryland Center for School Safety, launched the Maryland School Safety Initiative. At this three-day event, co-founder Michele Gay held school safety trainings alongside Safe and Sound advisor Bill Modzeleski, Connecticut law enforcement expert Dan Jewiss, and NASP lead psychologist Ben Fernandez. Meanwhile, in the online social sphere, Safe and Sound schools discussed The Role of Technology In Today’s School Safety Landscape and ended the month with a blog inspired Emilie Parker and her love of art.

With February in full swing, Michele traveled to Illinois to meet with leaders from Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS). Following this trip, Michele headed east to Needham, Massachusetts to present on Developmentally Appropriate Safety Education before the Early Childhood Council. During the second half of February, Michele accepted a leadership award at the NASP President’s Awards and later reunited with Safe and Sound speaker Dr. Melissa Louvar Reeves to present at the 2017 NASP Conference. Shortly after, on February 25, Michele and her husband Bob attended the Champion of Life Gala in Baltimore, Maryland, hosted by the BFG Community Foundation (Safe and Sound Schools is a former recipient of the the Champion of Life Award). February travels concluded with a trip to New Jersey, where Michele presented to law enforcement leaders at the Law Enforcement Against Drugs Conference.

Other key highlights from February include the various #LoveSafety themed blog posts that captured the spirit of love, safety, and kindness. Scarlett Lewis, Safe and Sound speaker and founder of Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, shared a blog about what it means to #ChooseLove. Mills Pond Elementary Library Media Specialist, Louise Prescott, shared a blog on kindness literature. Safe and Sound Schools closed the month with a blog dedicated to sponsors.

March may have been the busiest month this quarter. March travels began with a trip to Howell, Michigan where Michele and Dr. Melissa Reeves held a reunification workshop sponsored by Safe and Sound sponsor Raptor Technologies. On March 10, Michele spent time in her home state of Maryland to present to a room full of Howard County school resource officers and administrators. A couple days later, on March 14, Safe and Sound sponsor Status Solutions hosted a school safety webinar featuring Michele Gay. Later that evening, in Westerville, Ohio, Status Solutions hosted a community event, School Safety Solutions, where Michele presented to an audience full of community members, educators, administrators, law enforcement and safety professionals. The next day, in Colorado, Safe and Sound speaker Frank DeAngelis presented on resiliency and recovery at Adams State University. Soon after, Michele was back in Massachusetts for a “School Threat Assessment and Response System” Rollout presentation hosted by the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC). On March 22, Frank DeAngelis and Kristina Anderson, founder of the Koshka Foundation, traveled to New York to present to a room full of students and faculty at SUNY Oswego. Next, Michele headed to Pennsylvania to present to school safety leaders in the Upper Saint Clair School District. The event was sponsored by Safe and Sound sponsor NaviGate Prepared. Meanwhile, Safe and Sound speaker Dr. Scott Poland also visited Pennsylvania to present at the Safe Schools Speaker Series. March travels concluded with Michele traveling back to Pennsylvania to attend the Safe Schools Symposium in Chester County.

While Safe and Sound leaders traveled to communities throughout the country in March, the communications team announced a new program for high school students, the Safe and Sound Youth Council. This program will allow Safe and Sound Schools to directly connect with high school students around the country, helping students become school safety leaders in their respective communities.

March online efforts continued with a blog celebrating Social Work Month, a blog shared in response to Jewish Community Center bomb threats, and a blog discussing school visitor management.

Safe and Sound Schools looks forward to visiting more communities in the months to come. For day-to-day updates on all things Safe and Sound, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

What inspired you to write and share your story?

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School affected so many people, and I felt like there was this whole other side to the story no one even knows about. Losing my daughter Emilie completely paralyzed me. I felt such a great loss. In my search to find and understand my daughter’s “new life,” if you will, I was able to also find forgiveness and peace. Sharing that journey with the world was not an easy decision, but I felt like it was the right thing to do.

This book is incredibly personal, filled with private, painful, but also very precious memories of you and your family. Throughout the process of writing this book, what did you learn about yourself?

I learned a lot actually.  When I began writing, I had no idea what story I was going to tell through my experiences. I knew that we had had many unique experiences that were important our family and I wanted to record them for my young daughters. But as the story began to unfold on paper and I began to connect the dots, I saw for the first time the whole story. I was stunned.  The picture before me was so beautiful! To see how all the pieces connected together was amazing.  I felt very humbled by the many blessings our family had been given and how far we had come in the years following Emilie’s death.

In the book, we learn from Emilie that “Everything is connected!” This is one of the themes in your book. Can you talk about the connection between forgiveness and healing? What role has forgiveness played in your journey of healing?

In the beginning, forgiveness wasn’t even something I was thinking about.  I wanted to focus on my family and our healing, and the forgiveness part would come later.  But, of course that is not what happened. I found that healing and forgiveness went hand and hand and I couldn’t do one without the other.  

After Sandy Hook, you reveal that you struggled with your identity, the idea of being defined by tragedy. How important has this book been in helping you own your story, in helping you define you and/or your family’s identity?

Emilie was so much more than the tragedy at Sandy Hook.  Her life was full of color and light! I did not want her identity to be defined by someone else’s actions. This story gives people a look at the whole picture of what her life looked like, before and after.

You share many sweet stories of Emilie. It paints a colorful picture of Emilie’s personality. We learn that she was and continues to be a source of inspiration for many. How do you want your daughter to be remembered?

I guess I would want her remembered the way our family remembers her.  As a chatty, colorful, messy, caring, emotionally sensitive little girl that always put others before her.  She was a loving leader and playmate to her sisters, and an example of Christ-like love to my husband and me.  

How did you decide what stories you wanted to share and what stories you wanted to keep private for you and your family?

Oh, there is a whole additional book of stories we didn’t end up using for the book.  Some were by choice and some just didn’t fit the main thesis of the book. This is Emilie’s story and we had to use that as a guide to decided what stories needed to be told.  

For those who haven’t read the book, what are some of the themes readers can look forward to?

I hope people walk away understanding how connected we all are to the ones we love and that those connections are never truly lost. There is a lot of hope in knowing that. In the darkest of times, it can be hard to see the light. I learned through this experience that the light is all around us, we just have to choose to let it in.

What do you hope people will take away from An Unseen Angel ?

There is so much despair and darkness associated with the shooting at Sandy Hook and I hope this story will show people the other side. The side that can inspire us to look at the world in a different way… the way Emilie saw it. It’s a world full of color and hope and above all else, goodness.  

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Alissa Parker is the mother of one of the 20 children who died tragically in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. After Emilie’s death, Alissa began TheParkerFive blog as a tool to express the emotions she and her family experienced throughout the grieving process. She is also the cofounder of the Emilie Parker Art Connection, a charity helping local community arts programs for children, and Safe and Sound Schools, a touring national advocacy group that helps people take action to make schools safe.

This last week I was invited to speak at the Violence Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Symposium in Corpus Christi, TX by Coastal Bend.  I always love going to Texas, the people there are so warm, friendly and make me feel like family.  I was really looking forward to speaking with this audience in particular because of its unique makeup.  Usually at a conference, you get a gathering of individuals that all work in the same field.  This group, however came from a wide array of professionals.  We had first responders, medics, school administrations, business owners (i.e. movie theater owners) and so on.  The team at Coastal Bend intentionally invited all these different groups together because they all had one thing in common, gatherings of large groups in their community.  They understood the benefit that their community would gain by learning to be prepared for the unthinkable. I spoke alongside Dr. Tau Braun, violence prevention specialist and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools, and Robert Martin, expert in threat assessment and Safe and Sound Schools board member.  I’ve presented with them previously.  They always share invaluable information.  Having such a variety of different groups in the audience allowed for the most amazing and diverse questions!  It was an honor to speak in Corpus Christi and learn so much from all who attended.  I am so proud of the work they are doing to ensure their community is prepared when tragedy strikes.


Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools

From as early as I can remember, my daughter Emilie had crayons in her hands because she LOVED to color! I remember getting frustrated when I would clean our van and find melted crayons all over the floor. Crayons were her constant companion. Every year at Christmas, we would buy a Costco size stack of construction paper to work through for the year to come. As the piles of papers would stack up, I usually found a place to stash them for the time being. She couldn’t stand to throw any of her art away and I didn’t know what to do with it all.

After she died, the crates of drawings I have from Emilie have been such a treasure. As I looked through them, I realized they were a gift for me to see the world through her eyes. I saw her version of the events of her life, the good and the bad. I took all those drawings and compiled them into scrapbooks. When I need a reminder of good in this world, I turn to these drawings and see the bright colors of life in them.

Art for Emilie was a way to express herself. Since her death, my husband Robbie and I wanted to take Emilie’s love of art and pay it forward to those who need it the most. So we began The Emilie Parker Art Connection. Through the Art Connection, we have been able to give resources and opportunities for the art community in honor of Emilie’s memory. One program in particular we have been working with is Art with Heart. An organization who uses art to help children overcome trauma through creative expression. This is something that we have seen personally help our own children in their grief for the loss of their sister.

As we look to continually improve our schools, we have found art to be an incredible resource. When art is used to decorate the halls and rooms of our schools, we are able to increase the connections our children feel to their environment. They gain a sense of increased ownership and pride with their school. This has been proven to decrease vandalism and destruction of property in our schools.

Art is a very powerful tool. It connects us to each other, to our community and schools. Most importantly, it can connect us to our own hearts.  When that connection is achieved, lives are changed forever. Personally I have been touched by the healing power of art. It has allowed me to heal. When I see that same healing power touch the children we have come into contact with, it warms my heart. Emilie would be so proud to know that her love is being shared and is helping others.

The morning of December 14th, 2012, my world was shattered, forever changed. An armed attacker broke into my daughter’s school. He took my daughter’s life and the lives of many other children and educators that day.

Like so many others in our little community, I was instantly devastated. The actions of one man had changed my life forever. I had no idea how to move forward or make sense of anything anymore. Yet, two days later, I would speak for the first time to a person who would again change my life forever, Michele Gay, Josephine’s mother.

Our daughters, sweet friends in this life, lovers of all things girly and fancy, had left this world for the next–together. Michele understood my pain and sorrow–and my desire to make meaning of it, to use this pain for a purpose. Together we made a choice. We chose to be inspired by our daughters. We would let them lead the way.

We focused on the world they shared together, the place where they made friends, shared laughter and learned together –school. This place was so special to our children and our families. It was the heart of our community. In honor
of our girls, we decided to help others protect this special place in their own communities. We made it our mission to ensure that every school is the safe, warm, welcoming place that every child deserves.

Together we created Safe and Sound Schools. With the help of an ever-growing, nationwide community of dedicated parents, educators, law enforcement, community members, and safety, emergency & mental health professionals, we have been able to create something to make our daughters proud.  Something that over the last four years has helped the communities close to us and all over the country. Together we have created a change that is working, inspiring others to work hard and work together for the safety of schools. We are honored to share the inspiration and spirit of our daughters to help other communities, and honored again and again to see this inspiration bring positive change to so many school communities.

On this fourth anniversary of our tragic loss, we choose again–to remember our daughters and their friends & beloved educators for the positive forces they were and continue to be. We marvel at the inspiring work of so many, work that makes our children and our schools safer.

There is much work to do, but we will never stop or give up.  We invite you to join us in remembering our daughters and carrying on their legacy. A legacy of helping others, connecting with people, working hard, and doing better–together.  

We thank you for your support of our families and our mission for Safe and Sound Schools.

#CelebrateEmilie #CelebrateJoey 

– Alissa Parker