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5 School Safety Tips to Kick Off the School Year

5 School Safety Tips to Kick Off the School Year

By: John McDonald, Executive Director for Security and Emergency Management, Jefferson County Public Schools, Colorado

Now that school is underway and teachers, students, and staff are settling into their new routines, educators have a responsibility to foster a proactive healthy awareness of school safety. From my years working in security and emergency management, particularly my years in the Jefferson County school district in Colorado, I have developed a quick back-to-school safety checklist. These are the first-five items we tackle at the beginning of every school year.

I hope they are helpful to you, as teachers, staff, and administrators, in setting the tone for the new year. And if any parents or students are reading this, I encourage you to share it with your school. I wish you all a productive, smart, fun, and safe school year.

 

  1. As soon as you can (as close to the first day as you can make it), every student needs to be taught what your emergency protocols are in the school. What is lockdown? Where is the evacuation area? What is expected? And if you are in a school where students change classes, you should review exits and protocols in every class as circumstances may change depending on the physical layout.

 

  1. Reconnect with your Police and Fire Department to talk strategy and expectations during emergencies. While you are at it, find a time for your local emergency management personnel to talk to the rest of the school and parent community, too.

 

  1. Challenge students to find one act of random kindness they can do. When you see something positive, find a way to reward them or lift their actions up. This sets the tone for a supportive and inclusive environment, which not only promotes learning, it makes our schools safer, too.

 

  1. Double check that every classroom is clearly numbered on the inside and outside. If you know where you, then first responders will more easily know how to get to you. Make sure you have a “go” bag of supplies in case you need to evacuate quickly. It’s also a good idea to restock some supplies in the unlikely event you need to shelter in place.

 

  1. Schedule – and then conduct – a lockdown drill in the first month of the school year. Take your time and do it right. Stop timing the drill. Use the time to train for success and survival. This is about your life and the life of students and staff. Make it count.

Hear more from John about his experiences in this video interview.

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Explaining School Violence to Children

Explaining School Violence to Children

While schools are among the safest places for young people in our society, the recent mass shootings and school shooting in Benton, Kentucky, can increase fears and safety concerns for children and parents.

While the odds of a child aged 5 to 18 years being the victim of a violent death at school are extraordinarily low, it can and does happen. Consequently, it is important for parents to have guidance on how to address such events with their children. Adapted from guidance we have developed for the National Association of School Psychologists, in this blog we offer some of our thoughts on how parents can support their children when they ask questions about school violence.

Develop and Foster Resiliency

Proactively developing resiliency can help your child develop resources needed to cope with trauma exposure. Internal resiliency can be promoted by:

  • Encouraging an active (or approach oriented) coping style (e.g., helping others, taking action to help yourself)
  • Teaching your child how to better regulate their emotions and solve problems
  • Providing your child guidance on positive, healthy ways of coping
  • Fostering self-confidence and self-esteem by building upon your child’s strengths
  • Validating the importance of faith and belief systems

External resiliency can be promoted by:

  • Facilitating school connectedness and engagement in school and community activities
  • Facilitating peer relationships
  • Providing access to positive adult role models

Provide a Safe Place to Talk

Next, let your child know you are willing to pay attention, listen, and without forcing them to do so, talk about school violence. Protect your child by answering questions truthfully and providing reassurance that adults will take care of him or her. When providing facts about school violence, avoid providing any unasked-for details that might increase fears and emphasize actions adults and their school are taking to help keep them safe.

Build Community Connections

Connect your child to others by engaging the assistance of your child’s teachers, a school psychologist, coaches/mentors, friends, and neighbors. Spend extra time with your child and encourage engagement in familiar routines and activities.

Take Care of Yourself

It’s important to be aware of your own emotions, and while it is okay to show some emotion, it is a problem when adults lose the ability to regulate their emotions or fears in front of children. Especially for youth in preschool and primary grades, this makes a situation seem more frightening. If you are struggling to cope with the reality of school violence, reach out to others with similar experiences, or seek professional help. Taking care of yourself, will help you to better care for your child.

Increase Self-awareness and Understanding

It is important for your child to learn how to identify and manage fear and anxiety related emotions. You might tell your child to listen to their body’s “alarm system.” Help them to understand that stress reactions can help to keep them safe from physical and emotional harm in a dangerous situation, but when danger is not present such stress is not helpful. Enlist the support of a school psychologist to help your child regulate emotions such as anger, anxiety, and fear.  Development of these skills empowers your child with knowledge that they have control over their emotions.

Build Confidence

Encourage positive messaging by helping your child to assert: “I am strong,” and “People care about me.” Help your child to understand that while they may not have complete control over their circumstances, they do have some control over how they respond to the situation and how they seek support. Review safety protocols their school has in place and what they can do to get to a safe location if there is a concern. Refer to Developmental Levels of Safety Awareness for information on providing such guidance.

Increase Empowerment through Engagement

Let your child know that his or her voice matters.  Help them find a way to be a part of the solution and a true stakeholder in safety.  Younger children may enjoy starting or joining a Safety Patrol at school, while middle and high school students may take a greater leadership role by starting or joining the Safe and Sound Youth Council  in their school.

Seek Help

If your child is distressed, keep in mind that recovery is the rule. However, if stress reactions do not begin to lessen after a week or more, consider seeking the help of a trained professional such as a school psychologist. This is especially important if your child has ever been directly exposed to an act of violence or has lost a family member.


Dr. Melissa Reeves is the Immediate Past President of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and a speaker and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools. Dr. Stephen Brock is a former President of NASP and speaker and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools.

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Youth Suicide Prevention: Part 2 of 2

Youth Suicide Prevention: Part 2 of 2

In Part 1 of this two-part blog series, we discussed the popular Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why.” We concluded Part 1 by discussing the alarming statistics surrounding youth suicide, findings that have lead many schools to push for mandatory suicide prevention efforts and training in schools.

At the time of this writing, 26 states have passed legislation, either recommending or requiring suicide prevention training for school personnel. Training requirements vary, but the most accepted standard is:

  • One hour of training annually on the warning signs of suicide
  • School referral and support services for identified suicidal students

The majority of states have only addressed the need for training. However, a few states have also addressed the need for schools to have policies and procedures for suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. Several states have addressed the need to identify high risk youth for suicidal behavior, which include LGBT youth, homeless youth, children in foster care, and children living in a home with a substance abusing or mentally ill family member.

The Jason Flatt Act has passed in 19 states and extensive information is available at jasonfoundation.com. JF, a leader in the suicide prevention national movement, focuses on the need for suicide prevention training in schools. Every state that has passed the Jason Flatt Act can access free online trainings on their website. I am proud to share that with my colleague, Rich Lieberman, we have created five modules for the JF on the following topics:

  • Suicide and LGBT
  • Suicide and bullying
  • Suicide an and NSSI suicide
  • Suicide and depression
  • Suicide postvention

It is very important that school community members, such as administrators, counselors, school psychologist, nurses and social workers, familiarize themselves with the legislative recommendations and all requirements pertaining to their state. These key school community members need to make a commitment to stay current in the field of youth suicide prevention. One way to do that is to sign up for the free Weekly Spark from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. The Weekly Spark provides a summary of trends and research emailed on a weekly basis. School community members can also assist their community by collaborating with suicide prevention advocates, making sure to identify resources for prevention in their community.

If your state has not passed related legislation, then please be an advocate for suicide prevention in schools. If your state passed legislation, then ensure that the legislative initiatives for your state are followed at your school. One place to start is to ask your school for the formation of a suicide prevention task force.

The Jason Flatt Act has passed in the following states: Tennessee, Louisiana, California, Mississippi, Illinois, Arkansas, West Virginia, Utah, Alaska, South Carolina, Ohio, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Georgia, Texas, South Dakota, Alabama and Kansas.

States with legislation for suicide prevention in schools other than Flatt Act:Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Netflix’s program “13 Reasons Why” caused many schools to take action and alert parents of their many concerns regarding the show’s message and portrayal of suicide, but now it is time for schools to take action to prevent youth suicides by training school staff and developing suicide prevention plans.


Dr. Scott Poland is on the advisory board of Safe and Sound Schools and has a long background in schools and suicide prevention. He is the author and co-author of five books, from the 1989 book, Suicide Intervention in Schools, to the 2015 book, Suicide in Schools. He is the co-author of the Suicide Safer School Plan for Texas and the Crisis Action School Toolkit on Suicide for Montana. He can be reached at spoland@nova.edu

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Youth Suicide Prevention: Part 1 of 2

Youth Suicide Prevention: Part 1 of 2

The very popular Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why” raised much needed discussion about youth suicide prevention in our schools last spring. Many schools responded by sending messages to parents, alerting them of the content of the show and encouraging them to either not let their children watch it at all or to watch it with their children.

Unfortunately, the show had many unsafe messages about youth suicide that many experts believe, will lead to suicide contagion.

At a presentation in Tampa, Florida, shortly after the Netflix’s show aired, a mental health specialist shared that immediately after the show, many adolescents were hospitalized for suicidal actions. Several had attempted suicide in the same manner as Hannah Baker, the suicide victim and show’s protagonist. Here are a few of the many unsafe messages in the show:

  • Suicide was portrayed as a logical outcome as a result of bullying.
  • Suicide was portrayed as an act of revenge.
  • The method of the suicide was shown in a dramatic and horrifying detailed scene.
  • Adults were not portrayed as helpful to teenagers and the majority were portrayed as non-existent or oblivious to what was going on in their child’s life.
  • The terms mental illness, mental health and depression were not mentioned in the show.
  • The school counselor in the show was depicted as non-approachable and non-helpful.
  • The most likable character in the show, Clay, stated after the suicide of his friend Hannah Baker, “we need more kindness in the world”. Kindness is certainly important, but is not enough by itself to help a young person struggling with mental illness.

That said, the beginning of the school year is an opportunity for schools to examine and improve their suicide prevention efforts. Unfortunately, youth suicide is at or near an all-time high. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents in America. It is important to note that the suicide rate for middle school-aged girls has increased more dramatically than any other group in America according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

To gain a better understanding of youth suicide, many school districts have participated in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBS) for high school students. Schools are encouraged to review their local and state data. The 2015 national YRBS results indicate the following:

  • 17.7% percent of high school students seriously thought about attempting suicide in the last twelve months.
  • 14.6% actually made a plan to do so in the last twelve months.
  • 8.6% actually attempted suicide in the last twelve months.

This means that in a high school of 1000 students, 86 students have made a suicide attempt within the last year. Those with previous history of suicide are the most likely to make a future suicide attempt. The volume of suicidal behavior for young people results in the necessity of schools providing suicide prevention training to all personnel who interact on a regular basis with students. In fact, there is a growing national legislative movement for suicide prevention in schools. In part 2 of this blog, we will take a deeper dive into the discourse and legislation surrounding suicide prevention as it relates to schools.


Dr. Scott Poland is on the advisory board of Safe and Sound Schools and has a long background in schools and suicide prevention. He is the author and co-author of five books, from the 1989 book, Suicide Intervention in Schools, to the 2015 book, Suicide in Schools. He is the co-author of the Suicide Safer School Plan for Texas and the Crisis Action School Toolkit on Suicide for Montana. He can be reached at spoland@nova.edu

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Celebrate America’s Teachers

Celebrate America’s Teachers

Celebrated nationally every May, Teacher Appreciation Week offers students, parents, and other school community members an opportunity to recognize teachers for the important work they do in contributing to the education and safety of our children. As professionals tasked with inspiring young minds and laying the foundation for future leaders and professionals, teachers often go above and beyond the call of duty. From spending lunch and after school time providing our students with extra support, to spending their own money on classroom supplies, to becoming emotionally invested in helping our students navigate school life, teachers have proven to not only be educators but also caregivers.

For these reasons and many more, we ask that you take this week to #ThankATeacher.

A heartfelt thank you note is always a welcomed gesture from both parents and students. Parents who have some free time can even consider volunteering in the classroom as another gesture of appreciation. If you are looking to help in other ways, you may also consider donating supplies to the teacher’s classroom, purchasing a gift card, organizing a potluck or catered lunch, or gifting spring blooms from your garden or local market.

Let us know how you are celebrating teachers this week. And if you are on social media, consider participating in the #ThankATeacher campaign.

Below are some statistics and facts that put the ongoing dedication of our teachers into perspective.

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National Playground Safety Week

National Playground Safety Week

Now that we are well into Spring and warmer days are upon us, more kids will be playing outdoors. Parents and guardians will find themselves frequenting public parks while teachers and administrators will find themselves keeping watchful eyes as students actively spend recess and/or lunch on the playground.

Since this week is National Playground Safety Week, it’s a good time to review safety tips, assess playground equipment, and talk to children about playground safety.  

Although playgrounds have certainly improved since our days, a recent study by the CDC found that emergency departments still see more than 20,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related traumatic brain injury each year. Below are some tips and suggestions schools can consider.

Tips for playground safety:

  • Actively supervise children at all times.
  • Encourage children to follow playground rules and play safely with other children. Shoving, crowding, and pushing should be discouraged. And although playfully wrestling may be fun for some children, these types of activities should be avoided while on top of a play structure.
  • Dress children appropriately for playground play. Avoid items that can cause strangulation like scarves, necklaces, purses.
  • Use playgrounds that are age-appropriate. Having separate age-appropriate areas can help prevent accidental injuries.
  • Take children to playgrounds with shock-absorbing surfaces like rubber, grass, sand, wood chips, or synthetic turf.
  • Conduct periodical assessments of playgrounds by following the S.A.F.E framework.

If you feel a playground is unsafe, report your concerns to the owner, park district, or school district. And remember to always keep a watchful eye on children.

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