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Safe and Sound Schools Co-founder Michele Gay catches up with award-winning school counselor and children’s author, Julia Cook.

In honor of National School Counselor’s Week, I sat down with my second favorite school counselor, Julia Cook (first being my dad, of course!) to talk inspiration, activation, and of course, school safety!  Here are the highlights of our conversation:

MG:  Julia, as usual, it has been too long since our last catch up!  And you have been busy speaking and writing.  I want to get to those projects in a bit, but let’s dive in on National School Counselor’s Week!  As you know, my dad was a middle school counselor, and a great inspiration for me as an educator. So much so, I almost became a school counselor myself. I saw firsthand how he changed the lives of the students he worked with by building meaningful relationships and programs to support their personal growth and development. What inspired you to become a school counselor?

JC:  I was a middle school math teacher for at-risk kids.  I wanted to get an advanced degree that would help me connect with my students more effectively. Shortly after completing my counseling training, we moved to a town that needed an elementary counselor.  I decided to try my luck and I ended up loving it!

MG: Over the course of my dad’s career, and then later through my career as a teacher, I watched the role of the school counselor change a GREAT deal.  As the needs of students increased, school counselor caseloads continued to grow. The also became responsible for managing multiple school-based programs and initiatives.  How did you experience this evolution as a school counselor?

JC: The role of a school counselor changes daily because our society changes daily.  We are in the people skill building business, and it seems to get tougher every day. The more technologically advanced our society becomes, the more we seem to be losing our “people trust and communication skills.”

I often read posts from school counselors expressing frustrations about being overloaded. Many school counselors have caseloads of 400-1000 kids, yet they are required to fulfill tasks that take away from contact time with the kids that need them. Our time is stretched so thin that it becomes impossible to invest the time needed for social skill classroom instruction, individual counseling, and small group counseling. As a result, we end up being more reactive than proactive in our day-to-day work with students.  My peers often express that the reason they got into counseling is not what the work looks like today. But if you were to ask any of us counselors why we continue to do the work we do, it is because it’s the most amazing profession on the planet!!! School counselors get to be life-changing, positive difference makers!

MG:  Well, you are certainly a difference maker. I’ve seen it firsthand.  Remember the day you came to my house?

JC:  How can I forget!  After Sandy Hook, I wanted to write a book to help teachers and parents know what to say to kids when disasters occur (The Ant Hill Disaster.)  Michele, you were kind enough to help me not only with the content, but you offered to write a powerful forward for the story that is just priceless.  When I planned to meet at your house one morning to discuss the forward it was a crazy day at your house. ESPN was filming a feature story about Joey, your family, and the Baltimore Ravens, but you were kind enough to fit me in anyway.  We were in your kitchen talking and I asked you if you had ever received the autographed copy Grief is Like a Snowflake book that I sent to you following the tragedy. You replied, “I’m so sorry, but I have a ton of boxes in the garage that have gifts from people from all over the world.  The boxes are so painful to go through that I haven’t been able to do it yet. I bet it’s in one of those boxes. One of your daughters perked up and said, “The tree book?  It’s up in my room.” “Where did you get it?” you asked. “It was in one of the boxes in the garage,” she answered. She brought it down to show us and opened it up to the page where the little trees have many different feelings /expressions and she said. “See mommy, I love this book because this is all the ways I feel.”  You took the book from her and turned it to the front and saw the inscription and my signature…and then we both started crying.

MG:  Now, I’m going to ask a tough one… What is one of the single-most rewarding interaction you ever had with a student?

JC:  I am so thankful every day to do what I do.  I feel like I am rewarded every time I get to read my books to kids and their eyes start to gleam. Last year, I was reading “A Flicker of Hope” to a group of 4th and 5th graders.  Right in the middle of the story, a 4th grade girl started sobbing.  I thought to myself “Oh no, maybe one of her family members had committed suicide and this book is just too real.” The counselor quickly ushered the child to her office.  The next morning, I received a call from the counselor. “Just wanted you to know what happened yesterday. When I got back to my office with that little girl, she reached into her pocket and pulled out 27 pills.  She told me she hated herself and she wanted to disappear. She had planned on ending her life that day after school by taking the pills. Then she said “But now I know if my flame goes out, I might not be able to relight it.  I don’t want my flame to go out. Can you lend me some of your light?”  The counselor continued, “I have several kids that are currently on suicide watch, but this is a child I would have NEVER expected to feel like this.  Thank you, Julia for writing A Flicker of Hope. Your book saved a kid’s life yesterday.”

MG:  Your story illustrates how very critical the role of school counselor is to the safety of students—from the inside out— and really the whole school community.  Connections, trust, and relationships are at the heart of all that we do to ensure that our schools are safe and our students have a safe place for ALL to learn and grow. And that means school counselors too!  What advice do you have for combatting fatigue, managing stress, and remaining present as a school counselor today?

JC:  Being a school counselor can be exhausting emotionally, physically, spiritually, and psychologically. Good counselors find a way to put work on the back burner when they leave school.  You must find ways to replenish yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually, and psychologically, so you can be energized for the next day. The glass of life is not half empty or have full… the glass is refillable…and you are the re-filler!  When my job as a school counselor was adding to my life, I always found ways to share that with my loved ones appropriately. However, on those days when it took from my life, I closed the door on work the minute I stepped into my house. If you want to be good at school counseling, you must be balanced in as many aspects of yourself as possible.

MG:  And that applies to all of us doesn’t it?  School counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, school resource officers, administrators, educators, support staff, facilities folks, parents, and students, and on and on.  We need to look out for each other and the school community.  It takes all of us.

JC:  Yes, we are better—and safer together!

MG:  Thank you, Julia!  And thank you to all of our school counselors this week and every week, for all that you do to keep our kids and our schools safe and sound!

Julia Cook is an award-winning children’s book author, with over 100 titles, translated into 9 languages, and over 2 million books sold.  Julia is a former teacher and school counselor, and a renowned international speaker.  

 

 

Safe and Sound Schools is proud to offer a team of speakers covering a wide range…

#100DaysOfSafetyHappy 4th of July. I hope you are reveling in the warm summer days. Whether you have just finished up the year, or are preparing to return, it’s never too early to think about how to do better in the next school year.

Our teachers are already thinking about new lesson plans and teaching strageties. Our parents want to help their students be more successful in the new school year. And our administrators are looking at ways to improve the educational experience and overall school performance.

Here at Safe and Sound Schools, we never stop thinking about ways to improve school safety. That’s why this summer, we’re providing daily tips to help provide you with some new ideas. Check out our #100DaysofSafety campaign on social media. It just takes one small idea to make a big difference.

During these few shorts weeks of summer, we wish peace and quiet, time with your loved ones, and an opportunity to rethink school safety and recharge for the year ahead.

Keep up with #100DaysOfSafety on our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

– Michele Gay

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Yesterday was National Teacher Appreciation Day, but the celebration continues all week. This year, National Teacher Appreciation Week is from May 2-6. Teacher Appreciation Week offers principals, parents, and students a special opportunity to recognize teachers for all the amazing work they do in educating and keeping our students safe and sound year round. Although teacher appreciation doesn’t have to be limited to one day or one week, Teacher Appreciation Week serves as a great reminder of teachers’ ongoing efforts. Here’s a list of fun and thoughtful ways you can celebrate teachers this week, or any week!

  • Download our Teacher Appreciation Certificate to recognize a teacher for their outstanding work.
  • Join the National Education Association and the National PTA in saying “Thank You” by participating in the #ThankATeacher campaign. Snap a picture of a teacher you you’d like to recognize with the hashtag #ThankATeacher and explain why you appreciate them. Click here to learn more.
  • Give teachers a break–a lunch break!  Consider packing or ordering a special lunch for your child’s teacher.  You’re guaranteed a smile!
  • Offer to volunteer.  Teachers can always use another pair of hands in the classroom or in gathering or preparing materials.
  • Donate to the classroom. Classroom donations in the form of gift cards are wonderful gifts as teachers often use their own money to pay for classroom supplies and materials. Staples and Target gift cards are a popular favorite.
  • Write a personalized note or card highlighting why you appreciate them.
  • Send flowers. Nothing says thank you like a burst of spring blooms from your own garden or local market.

Let us know how you are celebrating teachers this week. To add to our list of ideas, share them with our audience on our social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 10.23.19 PMWe are an autism family.  We will always be.  Our daughter’s short life on earth was a journey for our family—a journey through autism into faith, hope, and compassion.  Through Joey, we learned to look at the world differently, hold onto each other tightly, and love each other fiercely.  Although her journey through autism came to a tragic end on December 14, 2012, we are committed to sharing with others all that she taught us.  In her honor, we share our experiences and support other families on this journey through autism and work to keep ALL students safe in school.

Supporting Children and Families with Autism

Joey’s Fund is one way that we aim to support families and children living with autism.  We created Joey’s Fund in honor of our daughter’s generous and compassionate spirit.  While living with autism, our family relied on the support of many other families—some with autism and special needs children, and many on a more “typical” family journey.  Providing direct support for other families with autism is our way of giving back in Joey’s name and thanking the many people that supported us during Joey’s life and after her tragic death.  We chose the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism as the home for our daughter’s fund.  The Flutie family continues their journey through autism and supports many others along the way.  We are proud that Joey’s Fund is a part of their mission to serve some of the most amazing people in the world:  autistic children, adults, and families.  We are honored to remain a part of the autism community in this way.

Autism and School Safety

Our autistic children––with all of their gifts and challenges––are some of the most precious and vulnerable members of our communities.  Most parents find that sending their child off to school alone for the first time is a great challenge.  Imagine how it feels for the parents of an autistic child.  Like many children living with autism, our daughter could not speak for herself and could not communicate her needs without the help of caring adults and peers.  Our autistic children face all of the childhood challenges and dangers of their typical peers—and exponentially more, because of their autism.

We relied on a well-educated and highly trained school staff to keep our daughter safe on a day-to-day basis; but, it was up to us to ensure that her unique safety needs were provided for while she was in school.  Her physical safety on the playground, in the classroom, and in the cafeteria required constant supervision. Like many autistic children, she loved to wander, was attracted to water, and had complex dietary requirements.  Her social-emotional well-being depended upon the facilitation skills of the staff.  She needed trained, caring professionals to help her play and interact with her peers in order to develop relationships and friendships and help her communicate her ideas, needs, and wants.

And let’s not forget her peers. Joey was young and lucky enough to enjoy true friendships with many of her classmates. Friends like Emilie, Jessica, James (and too many others to name!) were the highlight of her school days. There are no words to express the gift that Joey’s friends were to her and the family that loved and protected her in this life. Yet even her exceptional peers needed a great deal of support to understand and safely play with Joey. The safety of her beloved friends required the support of an attentive and caring school community.

Not a day goes by that our family doesn’t think about Joey.  We consider ourselves blessed for the time we had with her and on our journey through autism.  We know we are blessed to have her inspiring us in our missions: Joey’s Fund and Safe and Sound Schools, working to improve the lives and safety of precious people like her.

Michele Gay, Executive Director, Safe and Sound Schools
Photo credit:  Cynthia McIntyre Photography

Blog - Begging the question - Optional 3

The Edvocate recently posted an article, School Security: Just Smoke and Mirrors?, that begs the question, “Does school security really increase safety?”

As the mother of a child killed at Sandy Hook, and a national school safety advocate, I believe that whether it does or not, depends upon a few more considerations.

Hardware, technology, and programs alone cannot improve safety and security.

It’s more than installing cameras and door locks. These pieces of hardware and technology are examples of valuable security tools available today. Security is actually a practice that requires not only tools, but education, plans, procedures and human involvement. As school security consultant Paul Timm, PSP teaches, “…products and systems play a complementary role to the real star of the show: people driven-solutions.” (School Security, How to Build and Strengthen a School Safety Program, 2015)

A locked front door combined with a buzz-in system can greatly restrict public access to vulnerable school occupants. But tools like this require a trained staff member on the other end to ensure that the door is securely locked, and to require identification and clearance of a visitor before granting access.

Just the same, cameras can serve as deterrents for negative behavior and even criminal activity in some communities, as Nancy La Vigne and her team found in a study with the Urban Institute. For many would-be perpetrators, a camera signals the risk of being caught or detected, either in the act, or in preparation; and it’s enough to change their behavior. In a recent article in Scientific American, Sander ban der Linden chronicles several scientific studies on the positive affect of merely perceived surveillance upon human behavior.

But cameras are undoubtedly more powerful with human involvement. A trained staff member to ensure the working order of cameras, monitor the live feed (or at least review it periodically), and report or address harmful or suspicious activity, can turn a camera into a tool of prevention rather than one of forensics.Blog-MicheleQuote-Option2

Programs, Staff Development, and Curricula can make all the difference.

Beyond hardware and technology are a wealth of tools in the form of safety programming, training, guidance and curricula. These tools support school safety and security through developing a mindset for safety and preparedness in the school community.

Just as hardware and tools require support to be effective, so do programs and curricula. The best reporting and threat assessment protocols cannot address harmful actions or circumstances without adults trained to monitor, respond, and provide intervention. Just like the best anti-bullying, social emotional learning, and emergency preparedness curricula carry little weight without support and reinforcement in the school community.

Below are a several school safety programs and curricula to explore.

School Safety Resources

For truly safer schools, we have to ask tough questions like the ones The Edvocate poses in order to find a way to work together toward thoughtful answers and use the tools available to us wisely. Otherwise, school security and safety really is just smoke, mirrors, and very expensive window dressing.

To view the chart above with hyperlinks to each resource click  this link: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/7223104-school-safety-resources. For more information and resources on school safety and security, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.

Michele Gay, Co-Founder/Executive Director, Safe and Sound Schools