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Ensuring the safety of a school community is a tough job under normal circumstances–and these past 6 months have been anything but normal. As we look ahead to a new school year, the job is more challenging and more important than ever. For months now, our school communities have continued the heroic work of providing for the basic and educational needs of children, youth and families through the COVID-19 crisis. And as the year began to draw to a close, school district leaders began “sharpening their pencils” to plan ahead for a very uncertain school year.

Then the tragic death of George Floyd shifted conversations in communities, large and small, across the country to the role of police in our schools and the programming needed to overcome long-standing race and equity issues in our nation.  Another defining moment in our history emerged – one that will shape future generations. The role of our schools in the collective efforts of our progressing nation cannot be emphasized enough.

Only a month earlier, Safe and Sound Schools had initiated a series of focus groups to discuss the reopening of schools this fall across the country. Through these discussions we were able to offer support through these crises and gather data to inform our summer webinar series, “Return to Learn With Safe and Sound Schools” set to kick off on July 7th.  For the past several months we’ve heard from parents, teachers, school social workers, counselors, psychologists, nurses, principals, superintendents and yes… students as they shared their hopes, fears, concerns and challenges as they think about the upcoming school year.  In some ways, the focus groups felt like virtual support groups as peers from across the country quickly found they shared much in common.

Although the data collected exceeded our expectations, it was the sincere passion and love for our children that we wish we could pass on to each person reading this blog. As one teacher put it, “I don’t know what I will do if I don’t get to see my kids this fall.” That is the inspiration behind our Safe and Sound “Return to Learn” webinar series! We hope you can join us to make the hope of that joyful reunion of teachers and students–in whatever form it takes–a reality this fall.

Well, it’s certainly not the end of the school year that any of us imagined! As the mom of a graduating senior, I feel for the graduates, and so many others who won’t celebrate their milestones and accomplishments in the ways they had hoped.

As a former teacher, I feel for the classes missing end-of-the year picnics and field days, the little kindergartners dressed up for Kindergarten graduation, the rising middle schoolers and high schoolers closing another chapter and looking onto the next.

All across the country, our students have had to learn to take it all in stride and find ways to mark the end of another year and be grateful—and hopeful about the future. Schools and families have answered with creativity and generosity, planning one-of-a-kind celebrations for these important milestones in student and school life.

Here are a few of my favorites, shared by Safe and Sound community members:

  1. A surprise neighborhood parade – These started cropping up first as birthday and even wedding celebrations, but one neighborhood added a socially distant band performance of pomp and circumstance by elementary and middle school students for the high school grads on the street.
  2. Yard bomb celebrations – Many students are waking up to yards COVERED in signs, posters, balloons, streamers, and crazy inflatables.
  3. Drive-in (and through) ceremonies – Some schools have used drive in theaters, retrofitted parking lots, and athletic fields to gather carloads of families to celebrate safely together.
  4. Through-the-Years scavenger hunts – Families and neighborhoods have pre-planted clever series of clues, gifts, and cards, celebrating memories of students from early years through 2019-20.
  5. Big screen celebration slide shows – For friends, family, and neighbors to enjoy from their porches and cars
  6. Fireworks displays – Where allowed of course!
  7. Street-lining signage – for neighborhood-wide congratulations of students and grads driving by.
  8. Crazy car decorations – Bigger is better this year! In addition to the typical streamers and soap-written messages, cars stuffed with balloons and gifts from family and friends are a big hit.
  9. Decorate the door (or mailbox) –Invite friends and family to leave decorations for your grad to find “when the doorbell rings” or when they open the mailbox.
  10. Chalk the Walk – Invite friends, neighbors and family to decorate your walk or driveway with congratulatory messages.
  11. Tailgate to Celebrate – Family and friends gather to park their cars 6 feet apart, play music and bring their own picnic foods.
  12. Virtual Game Show – Take your Zoom celebration up a notch by organizing the group in a trivia game all about your grad.

Got more good ideas? Email them to us at info@safeandsoundschools.org and we’ll share the ideas on social for others to enjoy!!


Author’s Bio: Michele Gay is Co-founder & Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools. A former teacher turned school safety advocate, following the loss of her daughter in the Sandy Hook School tragedy, Michele speaks and travels to communities across the country on a mission: every school safe and sound.

With the recent onset of Covid-19 both nationwide and globally, anxiety is on the rise. With so many unknowns, how do we help our kids navigate a new normal and keep their anxiety in check?

Here are a few tips that you may find helpful:

  • Know the signs of anxiety. When kids feel that they are out of control of their surroundings and their situations they may misbehave, have trouble sleeping, experience shortness of breath, and ask the same questions over and over again – in hopes of getting consistent answers.  They might also appear to have a lack of focus, experience cold sweats, dizziness, nausea, feelings of panic and even irregular heartbeats.
  • Teach your child to practice mindful breathing. Kids and adults tend to hold their breath or “breathe shallow” when they get uptight or feel scared.
  • Limit screen time and highlight offscreen accomplishments. Build confidence and positivity through activity!
  • Be sure you and your child are getting adequate sleep. Poor sleep can lead to irritability, increased anxiety and increased depression.
  • Be the person your child trust and can talk to. Every human relationship revolves around two things: trust and communication.  Be appropriately truthful with your child. If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know how to answer that question, but let me find out and we can talk about it later.”
  • Talk to your child about their feelings. Identifying feelings is an important first step for understanding their emotions. Though children experience feelings, understanding their emotions can be difficult.  A feelings chart can help parents help their child connect an abstract concept (feelings) with a concrete visualization (chart).  Check out the printable “Feelings Chart” Julia developed with Safe and Sound Schools here.
  • Listen to your child’s perceptions and gently correct misinformation. It’s always a good idea to listen to and understand your child’s perceptions before you tell them what you want them to know. This way you do not risk introducing new worries or information that your child is not ready to absorb.
  • Genuinely accept your child’s concerns. Every child needs to be seen, heard, and feel validated.  Listen carefully and validate what your child is saying. You might say, “I can only imagine how you must be feeling. Let’s talk through what’s in your head and we’ll work together to try to make some sense out of all of this.”
  • Focus on the CAN-Do’s and the GET-To’s. Nobody likes to be told what they have to do, but we all like to be told what we get to do. Even though our choices might be more limited than ever, we still have choices—and that can be empowering.
  • Limit your child’s media exposure – and yours too! It is very important to stay informed, but over-watching interferes with cognitive balance and coping abilities.
  • Establish a predictable routine at home and follow it. The inability to predict what might happen and feeling out of control of a situation can fuel anxiety.  Work with your children to establish a predictable routine at home.  The more involved your kids are in establishing the routine, the better!
  • Set expectations—and consequences. Don’t confuse anxiety with other types of inappropriate behavior.  Set limits and consequences so that you don’t allow anxiety to enable your child.
  • Do everything you can to NOT pass your fears onto your child. People are like snowflakes – we are all unique.  Every person deals with anxiety differently. Keep in mind–although you are your child’s expert, you are not your child.  Just because you feel a certain way, does not mean your child will feel the same way.
  • Designate a DAILY fun time that kids can anticipate and plan for. Planning for and looking forward to a “positive feeling” event is a great way to counteract the unsettling feelings of anxiety.

We are all currently sailing in uncharted territory with so many things to worry about. Now more than ever, it is important for you and your child to remember that together, we are strong!


Julia Cook
National Award-Winning Children’s Author/ Parenting Expert
www.juliacookonline.com