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Eight years ago, today, our lives were changed forever.  We readied our children for school without realizing these would be our last precious minutes together.

Yet here they are with us, safe and sound.

They live on in our hearts, our actions, and our mission.

They live on in the community we’ve created in their honor, the work accomplished in their names, and our collective determination to ensure that every school and every child is safe and sound.

As we remember today, we look to tomorrow with hope-filled hearts. We are inspired by our children, strengthened in our resolve, and grateful for each of you.

We invite you to remember today and work with us to build a safer tomorrow.

Please join us.


Michele Gay and Alissa Parker are the Co-Founder of Safe and Sound Schools

Over seven years ago – shortly after Emilie’s death – I had a sleepless night that would forever change my life. That evening, Michele Gay and I had been discussing the tragedy at Sandy Hook and how we desperately wanted other school communities to learn from our experience. That one idea – after years of countless hours and hard work –became what is now Safe and Sound Schools. From the beginning Michele and I both felt like we were called to do this work and knew there would be many uncertainties about where that road would take us. Now looking back at what we have been able to accomplish, I am so incredibly proud of our work both as an organization and as individuals. This journey has not only changed me professionally – but also spiritually, helping me along my personal journey through grief and into healing.

As I stand here today a different person, a stronger person, I feel a familiar pull. That pull that once called me to school safety is now pulling me in an entirely new direction. At first, I strongly resisted that feeling. Safe and Sound Schools has become my second family and I LOVE the work we do! How could I ever step away?

But the pull continued. Over time, through a lot of reflection, and many long talks, I have been able to open my heart and my eyes to see a new journey ahead. As I move forward on this new path, I will step away from an active role within Safe and Sound Schools. Change is always hard—especially on this scale! And if I am being honest, I am both nervous and excited about this new direction. I will be spending more time with my family and continuing to work on my own personal healing.

With Michele leading the way, I am confident that our mission and our organization are in great hands. She has done an incredible job over the years as our Executive Director and will continue to do amazing work. For over eight years she has been my partner, my confidant, my friend, and above all else, my sister. Our daughters brought us together and that connection has bonded us forever. I love her and our Safe and Sound family dearly.

Safe and Sound was our gift to Emilie and Joey and I am proud of the legacy we have created to honor both of their lives. And though I will step away from my role on the team, I will never be far! You will still see me cheering from the sidelines, occasionally popping in, and watching this important work continue to change school communities across the nation.


Alissa Parker is the Co-Founder of Safe and Sound Schools, a school safety advocate, and author of An Unseen Angel: A Mother’s Story of Faith, Hope, and Healing After Sandy Hook.

Listen to the latest episode of The Sound Off, Moving Forward: Alissa Parker’s Next Chapter.

On the morning of December 14th, 2012, we were simply parents — two stay-at-home moms who loved our children deeply. By that night, we were survivors of tragic loss. We sent our daughters, Emilie and Joey, to school that morning.  Only they did not come home. They had been killed in their first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary. Our lives would never be the same.

Before our worlds were turned upside down, neither one of us had ever dreamt of starting a non-profit organization. But in the face of unthinkable tragedy, we were moved to action. In 2013, we co-founded Safe and Sound Schools to honor the lives and legacies of our daughters and to change the conversation around school safety. Today we are 7 years into that mission of relentlessly advocating for the safety and security of every child, every day. We never could have imagined in 2013 that our message would reach over 32,000 schools, impacting nearly 17 million students worldwide through our presentations, trainings, and resources. 

On December 14th, 2012 we felt as though our worlds had come to an end. Looking back, we now realize that tragic day was just a beginning. We are changing the conversation. We see a renewed commitment to protecting our children and youth across our nation. And although there is much work ahead, we are excited about what the future holds for the children and youth of our nation. We know Emilie and Joey are proud as they look down upon our work from above. 

As we look to the future, we have set aggressive goals to increase our support of school communities nationwide.  We will grow our network of partners and subject matter experts, broaden our programs and training, and expand our curriculum and materials to keep even more schools and more students safe and sound.

This Giving Tuesday, we extend our gratitude, because these two moms could not have reached any of these milestones without your continued support and generous contributions. We thank you for supporting us and honoring our daughters through the mission of Safe and Sound Schools.

Please consider donating to our mission today!!

Alissa Parker & Michele Gay, Co-Founders of Safe and Sound Schools 

 

During the second quarter, the Safe and Sound team traveled to school and professional communities nationally–and internationally to South Korea and Canada–directly reaching over 22,500 people! Nationally, the team visited  31 U.S. cities, spanning 16 states. For a full list of community visits, scroll down. 

Below are some highlights from the second quarter. If you missed our first quarter roundup, click here

Second Quarter Highlights:

  • In April, Safe and Sound Schools hosted a briefing and panel discussion in cooperation with the Congressional School Safety Caucus. The discussion focused on “The Importance of Mental Health in Comprehensive School Safety and Security Efforts.” 
  • In late April, Alissa Parker traveled to South Korea to share A Parent’s Perspective. 
  • In May, Jammin Hammer Jewelry kicked off an end-of-the-school-year fundraiser for Safe and Sound Schools for the second year in a row. Since then, Jammin Hammer has graciously extended the fundraiser through September. Support our mission and purchase your Safe and Sound Schools bracelets here.
  • The Building for God Community Foundation also celebrated its second year of partnership with Safe and Sound Schools, renewing a $20,000 grant to benefit our Maryland school safety initiatives. 
  • During the month of May, John Hopkins University honored Michele Gay with the Champion in Education Award.
  • Also in May, Michele Gay joined the Department of Justice COPS Office and BJA panel on school safety. National school safety leadership gathered to discuss school safety, emerging issues, and promising practices. Michele presented Rethinking School Safety and later joined a panel of colleagues and partners in school safety from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO).
  • In June, Michele Gay worked with the FBI filming a new segment for two school safety documentaries. And later in June, the FBI hosted Michele Gay in Clarkburg, West Virginia to speak on preventing tragedy.

New Programs, Trainings, Resources, and Research

Media Highlights

  • Wall Street Journal – Rebuild or Remain? Columbine Revisits a Question It Thought It Had Answered
  • Delmarva Now / USA Today – School Shooting Foiled in Maryland but ‘There’s Still a Lot of Anxiety’ 
  • KLTV ABC 7Tyler ISD gathers for safety workshops lead by mother of Sandy Hook victim

To stay up to date on the latest resources and happenings, make sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our email list.


Collective Community Visits

April

  • April 1, PA – Michele Gay attends the Annual Conference in Philadephia to present A Parent’s Perspective
  • April 3, MA – Michele Gay presents for the 14th Annual New England School Safety Conference in Norwood  
  • April 4, FL – John McDonald presents Stop Justifying and No Higher Calling at the University of Central Florida in Orlando
  • April 8, NY – Alissa Parker shares A Parent’s Perspective for the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services in Rochester 
  • April 8, VA – Michele Gay and Lisa Hamp present for Roanoke County Public Schools
  • April 10, Canada – Frank DeAngelis presents at the Banff Conference
  • April 11, DC – Michele Gay represents Safe and Sound Schools and hosts a briefing and panel discussion in cooperation with the Congressional School Safety Caucus 
  • April 15, OH – Frank DeAngelis presents at the Cincinnati School Safety Conference 
  • April 17, IL – Michele Gay presents at the Illinois School Safety Conference in Bensenville 
  • April 18, TX – Alissa Parker presents for the Texas Police Chiefs in Galveston
  • April 24, South Korea – Alissa Parker travels internationally to present for the Seoul Foreign School 
  • April 27, OR – Alissa Parker shares A Parent’s Perspective for the Oregon PTA

May

  • May 1-2, VA – Michele Gay shares A Parent’s Perspective for Chesterfield Emergency Management
  • May 6, MA – Michele Gay presents for the Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School District in Wakefield 
  • May 16, MD – Michele Gay presents for Anne Arundel County Public Schools
  • May 22, MD – John Hopkins University honors Michele Gay with Champion in Education Award
  • May 23  – Michele Gay participates in panel for the COPS Office 
  • May 28, TX – Michele Gay, Jin Kim, Paul Timm, and Stephen Brock present at Tyler ISD
  • May 30, MA – Safe and Sound Schools’ board members convene in Boston to discuss the mission, progress and strategy of the organization

June

  • June 6, IL – Michele Gay shares A Parent’s Perspective at the  LUDA 2019 Spring Symposium
  • June 6, WV – Frank DeAngelis shares Lessons from Columbine at Walton Elementary and Middle School 
  • June 7, NC – Frank DeAngelis presents Lessons from Columbine for The Employers Association in Charlotte 
  • June 8, TX – Frank presents Lessons from Columbine for the Summer Leadership Institute at Texas A&M University 
  • June 11, NY – Michele Gay presents A Parent’s Perspective for the Axis School Safety Symposium at SUNY Purchase.
  • June 17, WA – Alissa Parker shares A Parent’s Perspective for the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office in Wenatchee
  • June 18, SC – Scott Poland presents Bullying and Suicide: Keys to Prevention and Resiliencyfor the South Carolina Association of School Administrators in Myrtle Beach. 
  • June 18, TX – Michele Gay shares A Parent’s Perspective for the National Fire Protection Association in San Antonio. 
  • June 19, WI – Michele Gay presents for the School Resource Officers Conference in Green Bay.
  • June 20, AR – Scott Poland presents Recovering from a Crisis at School at the Christian School Adminstrator’s Conference in Searcy
  • June 24, WA – Scott Poland shares Bullying and Suicide: Keys to Prevention and Resiliency at Eastmont Junior High School for the North Central Education Service District in Wenatchee. 
  • June 25 – Michele Gay welcomes the FBI to her home to film a documentary interview. 
  • June 25, TX – Natalie Hammond keynotes for the Texas School Safety Center in San Marcos. 
  • June 27 – Michele Gay and Susan Parziale attend the NASRO Coalition meeting.
  • June 28, WV – Michele Gay shares  A Parent’s Perspective at the FBI Conference in Clarksburg.

December 14, 2018

I still remember Emilie pacing back and forth through the endless, pink Barbie packaging that filled the aisle at Target. She couldn’t quite decide what to buy. She was picking out a gift for her sweet classmate, Josephine (Joey for short), for her seventh birthday party. Joey was autistic and apraxic, which meant she was non-verbal and limited in her ability to communicate. She was also loving, affectionate, and girly, very girly. Just like Emilie.

She was the perfect friend for Emilie, who loved having a captive audience to listen to her endless ideas and stories. Emilie and Joey had become dear friends during their time together in school. Emilie loved to tell me all the things she was learning about Joey and their every little interaction. Like when Joey would excitedly touch the puffy skirts Emilie would wear to school and the joy in her face when she would see Emilie’s Barbie backpack each morning. As Emilie continued pacing up and down the aisle, determined to find the perfect gift for Joey, she finally found it. A ballerina Barbie…tutu and all.

I will always remember the love Emilie and Joey had for not only each other, but for all their classmates, teachers, and friends. They loved their school! After their tragic deaths on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook School, Michele and I chose to honor their lives. We built a legacy unique to our girls, a legacy devoted to protecting the sacred environment all children need to learn and grow safely – and joyfully! A legacy devoted to safe and sound schools. Every speech we give, every workshop we deliver, every program we create has our girls’ fingerprints all over it.

Emilie and Joey live on in our work, inspiring thousands of parents, students, teachers, administrators, and mental health and safety professions in their efforts to make schools a safe place for all. This year, as we mark the 6th anniversary of the tragedy that took their lives, help us celebrate their light, love, joy, and hope–and their legacy of safe and sound schools.

Joey and Emilie, we love you forever.


Alissa Parker is mother of Emilie Parker, killed in the tragedy at Sandy Hook School on December 14, 2012.  Alissa co-founded Safe and Sound Schools with Michele Gay, mother of Josephine Gay. Alissa is author of An Unseen Angel and a nationally sought after speaker on school safety, hope and healing.

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