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While virtual learning has kept our school communities safe amid the coronavirus crisis, a new study points to the impact that remote instruction takes on students’ and their families’ mental health.

Virtual instruction may pose more risks to the mental health and wellness of children and parents than in-person learning, according to a study published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More support may be needed to deal with the effects of the pandemic.

Parents whose children received virtual instruction or a combination of virtual and in-person instruction were more likely to report increased risk on 11 of 17 indicators of child and parental well-being, according to the new CDC study. The agency’s researchers looked at survey responses from October and November 2020 from 1,290 parents with children ages 5 to 12 years old.

Nearly 25% of parents whose children received virtual instruction or combined instruction reported worsened mental or emotional health in their children, compared to 16% of parents whose children received in-person instruction.

Read this full article in CBS News: CDC Study: Virtual School Can Be Damaging To Children’s Mental Health

The pandemic has put a strain on all of our school communities.  Public health measures have transformed the educational experience to protect our kids from the virus.  But amid virtual classes and isolation from peers, concerns are growing over a crisis that’s not so obvious- our students’ mental health.  

If you or a loved one need help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800)273-8255. For more information on suicide prevention, please visit Safe and Sound Schools’ resource library.

The sounds in her home can become unbearable some days. Heather Wendling will sometimes hear the footsteps of her sons walking in the dining room and think it’s her daughter. She will hear the front door creak when her husband comes home after work and wonder whether it’s her daughter. She will hear the phone ring and know it’s not her daughter, but perhaps another friend or volleyball parent calling to offer condolences or help.

When it all becomes too much, Wendling will sometimes head out to the backyard and sit on the swing set her daughter, London Bruns, used to play on as a little girl. “You can feel her energy there,” Wendling said, and when she is rocking back and forth, she wrestles with the questions of how London could have taken her own life at her home in Ridgefield, Wash., in the early morning hours of Sept. 21. She was 13 years old.

Read the full article: Washington Post: A Hidden Crisis

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Teachers are utilizing grief training to help students bearing tremendous amounts of grief and trauma.

During a standard history lesson this year, a student in Alexandra Hinkson-Dutrevil’s fourth grade class spontaneously burst into tears and revealed that his young cousin, who lived with him, was on a ventilator after having contracted Covid-19.

The student then revealed to the class on Zoom that he and the rest of his family had to leave the home they shared with the cousin in Frederiksted on the U.S. Virgin Islands to quarantine and that he wasn’t sure he would ever return to his home or see his cousin again.

Under normal circumstances, Hinkson-Dutrevil would have taken the child aside or referred him to another staff member so she could continue her instruction. Instead, she let the student finish, abandoned her lesson and began a discussion allowing other students to discuss their emotions about the pandemic.

It was a strategy she learned in a grief training program for teachers that she took a few weeks previously.

Read this full article on NBC News: How grief training is helping educators manage pandemic-related trauma in schools

 

As Election Day approaches, Dr. Scott Poland answers questions for families on how to handle anxiety around politics.


How is election stress affecting not only parents and caregivers, but children?

There is considerable stress right now for parents and caregivers due to the pandemic, racial strife, and a contentious election. The result is many parents and caregivers are feeling overwhelmed and suffering from what we might term a low grade depression. One of the most significant factors for overall well-being is simply getting the proper amount of rest but that has been difficult in these recent months. I have responded to many traumatic situations that have affected children and one of the things that I think is very important is for children to be given permission for their own range of emotions and have opportunities to express those emotions if they wish through talking, writing, music, artwork or projects.

Children, especially younger ones take their cue from adults to see how upset to be about something. My thoughts are that younger children should generally not be included in lots of discussions about the election unless they asked to be. However, older students are likely to be very interested in understanding the election process and it may even be a part of their school assignments, for example, in a government class.

How can we approach political issues and other complex topics with our younger children?

I believe strongly with young children, we should provide opportunities for them to share their thoughts with us and it is often done the best when there is a shared activity such as playing a sport or baking a cake. The questions they ask should be answered developmentally in the way they understand. Adults are cautioned not to provide more information than the child is asking for at this particular time. Young children may have witnessed some of the election ads on television that have very strong messages that might be worrisome to them. In general it would be best for younger children not to view those election ads as many of them are filled with incorrect information provided in an overly dramatic manner.

One of the most significant factors to a child’s well-being is the modeling of coping and optimism from their parents and feeling like whatever is happening they are secure with their parents. This means that if we have strong feelings, reactions and worries related to the election we should share those with other adults in our life not with younger children. They should be assured that they will be cared for and safe at all times.

What is your advice for families that are grappling with political differences among friends and family?

There are very diverse opinions in families about the presidential election in particular. It is almost as if family members are existing in a different universe with regards to the information they receive and their belief about which candidate should be our president. I think all of us have a good sense of who we can have a reasonable, but spirited, discussion about politics with and what family members we cannot. If there are family members we cannot have a civil political conversation with then, it’s really as simple as, they’re in our family, and we love them, but do not agree with their political views and politics are simply not a subject we will be discussing with them.

What are some ways to help children deal with stress during these uncertain times?

All of us including children need self-care plans at this difficult time. Even small children are encouraged to draw out a self-care plan with pictures of themselves getting proper rest, eating healthy foods, getting exercise and doing nice things for others. One of the things that helps all of us deal with stress during difficult times is simply being that kind and compassionate person who does something nice for others. We should be grateful and acknowledge all the positive things that are going on in our life and not only focus on the stressors.

How can we prepare our kids for the results of the election?

It is not going to be helpful for us to spend valuable time with our families if we are moaning and complaining about the election results. The message to our children should be we are the United States of America and although many people appear to be far apart right now politically – America has always come together as a country. This is the time for parents and children to find those shared activities that they truly enjoy together and for parents to let children know they are cherished, loved and will be cared for and their parents will keep their world secure.


About the Author:

Dr. Scott Poland is a Licensed Psychologist, Nationally Certified School Psychologist, Professor at the College of Psychology and the Director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Dr. Scott Poland is also the Past President of the National Association of School Psychologists and a part of the Safe and Sound Speakers Bureau. 

To book Dr. Scott Poland for a training, workshop, or keynote presentation, click here

 

It took four months to plan, write, field, analyze and prepare the final summary, but through the hard work of students and faculty from Boston University, in partnership with our team, we are excited to share this report with you.

We can boil down the results of the State of School Safety 2020 survey and report to this: we are headed in the right direction.

When we first set out to report on the state of school safety in 2018, the world was a different place. In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, educators were grappling with safety threats but lacked resources, parents were hungry for details about plans, and students demanded to be heard. Communication about school safety was sparse, and parents and students were not confident in their schools’ safety preparedness.

In 2019, the State of School Safety report showed a continued disconnect among stakeholders about school safety. Educators felt more prepared than students and parents. Students still felt they did not have a voice in school safety decision making, and parents and students sought increased communication about plans and protocols. Parents and students were unsure how to access mental health experts in their schools. However,educators and parents both felt a sense of optimism that schools have the expertise to improve school safety, and educators showed a deeper understanding of the role mental health plays in school safety.
Results of the State of School Safety 2020 report indicate we have come a long way in three years. Not only have we increased understanding among all stakeholder groups, we have fostered a more proactive culture of comprehensive school safety awareness and saw educators enhance the safety of their schools through easily accessible improvements. While we love seeing the impact of our work, there is still much more to do.

As you dive into the report, you will see we delivered it to you in a more visual format, which we hope will make it more accessible to all members of your community. We also divided the results across our framework for comprehensive school safety, making it easier for you to parse out feedback for various members of your safety team.

The strides we’ve taken are worth recognizing, but we must stay vigilant in our cause – school safety is not an item you can ever cross off your to-do list. The more we learn and as threats continue to evolve, we must stay alert, committed, and invest in all areas of school safety.

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

 

 

Remembering Red Lake: Missy Dodds, Former Teacher and Survivor of the Red Lake High School Tragedy, Remembers 3.21.05

This past week has been a roller coaster. On Monday, I sent my kids to school. By Wednesday, they were home–likely for the rest of the school year. When I picked them up from school on Tuesday, I was sad. I empathized with the teachers and staff as they said goodbye to their students, not knowing when they might see them again. My heart hurt for teachers who did not get to finish the school year as they had planned. My eyes welled with tears as I heard my own kids say to their friends, “See you in eight days.” I have not found the guts to tell my kids it will be longer than eight days.

My heart truly hurts for all teachers, students, and families as schools shut down across America. I know the feeling of “losing school.” It’s not easy when the place that is the center of your world –school– is ripped away without any notice. It’s painful and unfair.

Fifteen years ago this week, Monday, March 21, 2005, my world was ripped apart. A former student shot his way into my classroom at Red Lake High School. He killed five of my students and a co-worker, wounded four students, and left the rest of us with scars yet to heal. I know the feelings of having one’s world shattered in seconds. We “lost school” as we knew it.

Fifteen years later; we, the survivors and the community, are still adjusting to our new normal. We are walking a path never imagined.

The same is true for students and teachers across the country today.

I have found myself struggling with the same questions this week as I have the past 15 years: Who? How? Why? What? When? In today’s COVID-19 crisis, the answers can be framed with science. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of a school shooting, the answers are not as simple. Like many mass shooters, my former student fell through the cracks. This does not excuse his actions. Instead, it reveals that mental health is a huge component in school safety. The significance of mental health in schools can no longer be overlooked.

I see this as my own kids adjust to their new normal right now. I see the impact of “losing school” on their mental health. I see frustration and anger in my 1 st graders. The center of their world is gone for now. I see my 3 rd grader struggle with the loss of her social community. I see how my children’s mental health depends on school.

If there is anything we have learned as a nation this week, it is the importance of schools. Our schools are the heart and soul of our communities. They provide far more than education to our children. They provide food, friends, structure, and purpose. Our schools support our families. Our schools are the pillars of our communities.

Today’s COVID-19 closures are temporary. Normal school life will resume. When it does, I ask you to remember and advocate for the mental health supports that our schools provide. Please support your school’s mental health programming, staffing, and advocacy for all students. Like me, and like my Red Lake school community, all too many others know how mental health matters. When it comes to the safety of our schools and communities, our ability to meet the mental needs of our students and families can make all the difference.


Missy Dodds is a former high school math teacher and school safety advocate. She is a survivor of the Red Lake High School shooting. Missy serves as a National Parent Ambassador for Safe and Sound Schools. Her email is missydoddsparentcouncil@gmail.com and her Twitter @DoddsMissy

Last year, we released our first State of School Report, a national survey which aimed to shine a light on several school safety issues communities face. Our survey included perspectives from parents, students, educators (teachers, administrators, staff, mental wellness professionals, and SROs), and the general public.  

We found there was a sizable communication gap between educators and other stakeholders (parents and students in particular) and that students were dissatisfied with their school’s current safety conversations and actions. These findings helped initiate some very important conversations in our schools and we are eager to continue our discussion as we looked towards our follow-up survey conducted earlier this year.  

In the State of School Safety Report 2019, we followed up on the progress our school communities have made, but also aimed to discover new patterns that point to where we are falling short at the national level. We found there are still issues pertaining to the communication gap between educators and other stakeholders, with 60 percent of students feeling like their concerns and feedback are not being considered. Students also believe their school has an illusion of safety, which results in a false sense of security –with educators feeling largely split as to whether they agree or disagree with that assessment.

One of the most interesting findings we uncovered centered around the different perceptions between stakeholders, regarding mental health experts and education. We found that “80 percent of educators knew where to find mental health experts in their school, but only about 50 percent of parents and students did.” This statistic, and many others, indicate to us that there is still a lot to discuss when it comes to communicating with our school community about safety and resources. To read a summary of the research or the full report, download the report here: https://www.safeandsoundschools.org/research/.

We’d like to thank Bark for its generous donation that helped fund the Safe and Sound Schools team’s time to review results, coordinate external reviews, and prepare the final report.

Please share this report with your community to get the conversation started!

 

My heart is heavy. After learning about these recent suicides, I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m sharing my story, but maybe I’m not sharing it with the people who need my help the most.  If you haven’t been impacted by a shooting, it’s natural to wonder, how did this happen? Why didn’t they seek mental health resources? The answer is not so simple.

As a physically uninjured survivor from the Virginia Tech shooting, I’m often told that I’m lucky. “Lucky” totally resonates with me. I feel lucky that I walked out of Norris Hall on April 16, 2007 unharmed. But it is important to recognize that “lucky” doesn’t correspond to an easy recovery journey.

It feels very selfish to ask for mental health resources when others were killed or wounded. But the truth is, physically uninjured survivors need help. Often, we as physically uninjured survivors, are in denial that we need resources or recognition. We have trouble raising our hands and advocating for ourselves. After trauma, it is so difficult to see clearly.

The psychological impact from mass shootings is difficult to measure. It can’t be measured quantifiably, like the number of gun shots fired. The psychological impact from mass shootings is close to impossible to see. We can’t see mental health the same way we see physical wounds and injuries. Mental health is something we feel.

For many shooting survivors, the feeling of safety in public is stripped the instant the gun shots are fired. It usually takes years to rebuild. In the interim, it is replaced with terror, sadness, loneliness and self-doubt. Survivors have to figure out how to deal with these feelings while regaining a sense of safety. We have to deal with anniversaries that evoke intense emotion and bring back traumatic memories from the tragedy. The thought of “moving forward” can be overwhelming and feel impossible.

It is common for survivors to create hierarchies of pain in their minds. Individuals who lost family members at the top, followed by physically injured survivors. We put ourselves, physically uninjured survivors, at the bottom. We start to think we don’t need resources, because others are experiencing more pain than we are. We start to think we should just suck it up and move on.

But what we need is quite the opposite. We need to feel validated that something traumatic happened to us. We need therapy dogs to pet and shoulders to cry on. We need good listeners. We need each other – fellow survivors.  We need our families and friends. It requires a village to get through recovery after a traumatic event. But so often, we don’t have that village. Most people will return to their daily routines and try to forget the horrific events of the past. But we as survivors, we will never forget.

By now, there are thousands of survivors of mass shootings, parents who lost loved ones, and law enforcement officers and medics who responded to these tragic events. These people may think for a long time that they weren’t impacted by the event. But while they may have escaped physical wounds, the mental wounds run deep. They may walk wounded for months, sometimes years, before realizing the impact the shooting had on them.

The most recent and public losses of survivors in Parkland and Sandy Hook remind us all that this road is long and it takes strong support and connectedness to survive the mental injuries of tragedy and loss. Our hearts and prayers are with these victims and their families today and always.


Author

Lisa Hamp, Virginia Tech survivor and Safe and Sound speaker

This week school communities and safety professionals across America celebrate Safe Schools Week and we at Safe and Sound Schools invite you to take this opportunity to rethink school safety.

Our work with schools, community members, and professionals across the country, is greatly enriched by many and varied perspectives on school safety. Despite many different ideas and views on the issue, we’ve learned that it’s an issue that unites us all. We all want our schools–our children and loved ones to be safe to learn and work at school. But what does school safety mean to you? The truth is that it depends on your lens. Are you a student? A parent? An educator? School staff? A mental health professional? An administrator? A safety professional?

What does school safety mean to you?

Depending on who you are, where you are, and what your experiences have been, you may be concerned with any number of issues from gang violence and bullying, to active shooter and natural disasters. School safety covers a lot of topics–more than ever today. So how do we make sure that we cover all the bases and still keep an eye on the big picture? How do we ensure a truly comprehensive approach? We bring it all together.

We developed a Framework for Comprehensive School Safety Planning and Development just for this purpose. We like to call it the Big Six. Six key categories, or pillars, that all together support school safety.

(1) Mental & Behavioral Health: Here threat assessment teams and professionals and and school-based mental health providers such as school psychologists, counselors, and social workers work together to develop the programs, plans, services, and resources that support prevention and intervention for the safety of individuals and the community.

(2) Health & Wellness: From allergy and trauma care; to spotting signs of abuse and neglect; to nutrition and physical activity; and stress management and self care, tending to the health and wellness needs of our school communities helps foster a successful and safe learning environment.

(3) Physical Environment: Elements of architecture, design, CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design), security, tools and technology help to create and enhance our schools in order to naturally provide for a safe and supportive learning environment.

(4) Culture, Climate & Community: Fostering a safe and welcoming school culture is a fundamental part of school safety. How does it feel to be in school? Do students, educators, staff, and volunteers feel safe and comfortable enough to learn and grow? Here we explore programs and resources that help develop a positive culture and climate, and educate and activate the whole community for the benefit of all.

(5) School Law, Policy & Finance: There are federal, state, and local codes and laws that schools must abide by to ensure the physical safety and civil rights of students and staff. Then there’s the funding and financial planning required to provide for the trainings, tools, programs, and physical improvements that support our school safety efforts. These are the rules of the road and the tools to plan for the journey.

(6) Operations & Emergency Management: From everyday operations such as transportation, arrival and dismissal to emergency operations such as evacuation and reunification, school communities must examine the full spectrum of crisis prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery operations and the people involved to ensure safety for everyone, every day.

We created this framework to help you rethink school safety, and help you realize how you and so many others are a part of it. Where do you fit? What can you offer? Where will you start? Who will you invite to join you in working for a safer today and tomorrow?

As you rethink school safety, you will have many more questions than answers. Though one thing is for certain, it takes all of us together to ensure that our schools are truly safe and sound.


Safe and Sound Schools