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Alissa Parker Talks About Back to School & School Safety

Alissa Parker Talks About Back to School & School Safety

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 

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A Parent’s Guide to School Safety Support for a New School Year

A Parent’s Guide to School Safety Support for a New School Year

This time of year I’m reminded of that Staples commercial that ran a few years back—the one with the Dad joyfully skipping through the store, gathering school supplies with his children to the song It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  It still makes me chuckle.  As much as we all love the long, lazy days of summer together, many of us parents look forward to re-establishing routine–and yes, sending our kids back to school.

The start of school can bring on a little anxiety for both parents and students though, especially those starting school in a new building.  The K-12 school years are full of transition—preschool to elementary, elementary to middle, middle to high, and perhaps a few moves in between.  For families facing a transition year, it’s not only a new building to learn, it’s a whole new staff to meet.

Whether your family is well established or stepping into a new school, these are some of the folks you can work with for a safe school year:

Office Administrators

Often most familiar to parents and families, the office staff meets and greets visitors and students every day.  Answering questions and calls all day makes them expert sources for information and direction.  Take time to ensure that these staff members know you and have your family’s current contact and emergency information.  Learn from them about visiting, arrival, and dismissal procedures, as well as how to find important day-to-day and emergency information.

School Nurses

It’s not just about Band-Aids and bumped knees anymore.  Our school nurses have a hand in all things health and wellness in school. School nurses can be powerful experts and advocates for student and family needs in school.  Pay a visit to the nurse, introduce yourself, and offer support to start a relationship that will benefit your child and family for years to come.

School Resource and Security Officers

More and more schools are working to bring trained safety and security professionals on board.  These officers are a part of our schools to build strong, supportive relationships with students, provide safety and security education, handle crises, and advocate for the needs of the school community with local police, fire, and emergency responders.  Reach out to learn how you can support their work to keep students and staff safe in school.

School Counselors, Psychologists, and Social Workers

You’ll find that the door is always open to parents who want to support and learn about guidance and social-emotional programs, school climate and culture, and mental health resources.  Get to know these leaders in school safety to connect your child and family with resources for a safe and supportive school year.

School Administrators

You may already know the names and faces of your school’s administrative staff, but after the back-to-school busy-ness has subsided a bit, it pays to reach out to your school’s administrators to talk safety.  Simply communicating this priority to administrators is not only a powerful way to advocate for school safety, it’s also a great opportunity to listen, ask questions, and learn where you can become involved.

PTA/PTO Leaders

Organizing, campaigning, and fundraising for the needs of students and staff, school Parent Teacher Associations and Organizations offer great resources and opportunities for involvement.  Supporting your school’s PTA/O is a natural way to learn about and support the safety needs of your school community.

Club and Activity Advisors

From chorus and band teachers to sport coaches and club advisors, these adults are important links to the extracurricular lives of our children. Check in with these members of the school community to stay up to date on what happens after the bell rings. Connect with them to share concerns and inquire about any patterns.

Teachers, Aides, and Educational Assistants

Most schools offer numerous opportunities for parents and families to interact with their child’s educators.  From email communication and online portals to Back-to-School-Nights and volunteer opportunities, it’s often most easy to get to know these staff members.  While most of your conversations will naturally center on growth and academics, take time to talk safety with your child’s teachers throughout the year to learn how you can be supportive both in school and at home.

Of course, no one knows better than the students themselves. Your child will tip you off to many other dedicated adults in school that connect with and support their safety and well-being, such as cafeteria staff, custodians, librarians, and volunteers–to name a few.  Make it a point to connect with these folks too.  Your level of support and involvement says a great deal about how important your child’s safety is to you.


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

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Summer Online Safety

Summer Online Safety

Many of our Safe and Sound Schools are already out for summer and my kids are literally counting the days until school ends here.  I have just about finalized our summer trips, camps, and activities, but there is one thing that still has me panicked a little.

Free time.

Yes, I said it. And I’m not the only one thinking it.  Our lives are highly structured during the school year between school, sports, music, art, church, family and social obligations.  What will my family do with the gift of their free time this summer?

I am picturing berry picking, swimming, reading (actual books), and playing games together.  But the reality is that each one of us is likely to spend a great deal of this newfound free time with our smartphones, laptops, and gaming devices.  So how do I help my family make the most of their free time, balancing time online and off?  And how do I ensure that the time they spend online is safe as well as fun?

We reached out to one of our favorite online safety resources, the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) for a list of tips and helpful resources for fun and safe summer online…

 1. Develop a family contract for online and electronic use. While a safety contract is great for kids, it’s also helpful for parents. In fact, for each set of rules, parents will have to make a set of promises, too. We believe online safety is a partnership, and it works better when parents and their children are in it together.

2. Monitor online usage and contacts. It’s good practice to friend and follow your kids on social media, but don’t stalk them. You can still protect your kids from the harms of the Internet while respecting their online space.

3. Be a good digital role model. Kids learn a lot from their parents, so model the type of behaviors you’d like to see your kids pick up. Curb you own bad digital habits, know when to unplug and show your kids how to collaborate and create online.

4. Share the screen. Spend time online together learning what interests your child and talking about what you discover and want to avoid along the way.

5. Spot trolls and temptations. We are in trying times online. Bad behavior such as cyberbullying, doxing, swatting and online harassment have made headlines. Fake news stories are in the forefront and online trolls have become increasingly more popular. It is important to teach your kids how to spot these trolls and instances of fake news. Educate them on reliable news sources and have them understand that just because something is on the internet, doesn’t necessarily make it true.

Some resources to check out…


Learn more about FOSI
FOSI offers a range of resources including the 7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting, Three Teachable Moments and Cleaning Up Your Digital Footprint tools.

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Summer Camp Safety: Cover All Your Bases

Summer Camp Safety: Cover All Your Bases

School’s out, sun’s out, and for many families, it’s time to gear up for camp! For many parents, the carefree, fun-filled memories of summer camp are the kinds of gifts we dream of providing our children. Yet today, sending a child to camp raises new and important questions. Questions about safety. It seems there are ever more bases to cover before deciding on the right camp for your child.  So before you choose a program for your child, make sure to consider these important points:

Licensing & Accreditation. There’s a difference. While summer camps are often required to be licensed (depending on the state), accreditation is optional. Although licensing varies from state to state, it generally refers to the enforcement of regulations pertaining to sanitation and food services. In order to achieve accreditation, a program must not only comply with mandatory standards, but they must also comply with additional standards, often pertaining to program operational areas and quality. These additional standards are often government recognized best practices. A camp that is both licensed and has achieved accreditation, is a good sign that the program is committed to a safe environment for campers and staff.

Camp Site. A tour of the camp is a good start once you have found out if the camp is licensed and accredited. Ask about fire protection and camp maintenance. As you explore the camp grounds, pay attention to the sleeping areas (if applicable) and the bathroom facilities. You may also want to consider the eating facilities and areas of play or learning in evaluating camp safety.

Staffing. Certainly a topic to inquire about. After all, it’s good to know about the backgrounds of the people caring for your child. Consider asking about the hiring and screening process. How does the camp recruit, hire, and screen employees? Are staff subject to criminal background checks? Additionally, you’ll also want to ask about staff experience, qualifications, licensing, certifications, training, and counselor to camper ratio.

Safety Management. Become familiar with the camp’s safety procedures, plans, and practices. Don’t be afraid to ask about past emergencies or potential scenarios/circumstances. It’s helpful to understand prevention, management and recovery efforts when assessing whether you feel the camp is prepared to keep your child safe in the event of an emergency. Scenarios to consider inquiring about can be: how does the camp handle a lost or missing child, an unauthorized visitor, a hurt or ill child, a fire emergency, bullying, or an active assailant? How will the camp communicate with parents if there is an emergency?  Make sure you feel comfortable with safety and security regulations, as well as disciplinary procedures.

Health Care. Determine whether you are comfortable with their onsite healthcare offerings and off-site health care availability. What kind of health services does the camp offer? Is there an onsite health facility or nurse? If so, what kinds of emergencies and illnesses are they prepared to handle? If emergency attention and transportation is needed, where is the nearest hospital and how long would the ambulance take to arrive at the camp? If your child has special needs, communicate your concerns to help you determine if you feel confident in their management and accommodations.

Special Needs. What should you look for if your child has a disability? Ask about staff training and qualifications. Are there staff trained to work with campers who have special needs? How much experience do they have? What sorts of disabilities are they familiar with? Is the camp able to provide special accommodations if needed? If your camper needs to have medicine administered, who will be in charge? Like school, make sure you communicate all your concerns and needs with the camp director in assessing whether you feel safe entrusting your child to the camp.

Transportation & Field Trips. Like school, field trips may be an occurrence at camp. Learn about where campers will be going and what method of transportation will be used to get to and from the destination. If transportation is via bus or shuttle, you may even consider asking about the driver’s training and driving record, or how they were screened.

The best way to determine whether a camp is safe and right for your child is by asking questions and exploring the site. Don’t hesitate to cover all your bases, asking questions similar to the ones you would ask your child’s school.


 

References:

http://www.webmd.com/baby/features/keeping-kids-safe-at-summer-camp#1
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-l-pulido-phd/summer-camp-safety_b_1540437.html
https://travel.thefuntimesguide.com/kids_summer_camp/
http://www.acacamps.org/campers-families/planning-camp/preparing-camp/how-choose-camp-safety-tips

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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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An Unseen Angel: A Mother’s Story of Faith, Hope, and Healing After Sandy Hook

An Unseen Angel: A Mother’s Story of Faith, Hope, and Healing After Sandy Hook

What inspired you to write and share your story?

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School affected so many people, and I felt like there was this whole other side to the story no one even knows about. Losing my daughter Emilie completely paralyzed me. I felt such a great loss. In my search to find and understand my daughter’s “new life,” if you will, I was able to also find forgiveness and peace. Sharing that journey with the world was not an easy decision, but I felt like it was the right thing to do.

This book is incredibly personal, filled with private, painful, but also very precious memories of you and your family. Throughout the process of writing this book, what did you learn about yourself?

I learned a lot actually.  When I began writing, I had no idea what story I was going to tell through my experiences. I knew that we had had many unique experiences that were important our family and I wanted to record them for my young daughters. But as the story began to unfold on paper and I began to connect the dots, I saw for the first time the whole story. I was stunned.  The picture before me was so beautiful! To see how all the pieces connected together was amazing.  I felt very humbled by the many blessings our family had been given and how far we had come in the years following Emilie’s death.

In the book, we learn from Emilie that “Everything is connected!” This is one of the themes in your book. Can you talk about the connection between forgiveness and healing? What role has forgiveness played in your journey of healing?

In the beginning, forgiveness wasn’t even something I was thinking about.  I wanted to focus on my family and our healing, and the forgiveness part would come later.  But, of course that is not what happened. I found that healing and forgiveness went hand and hand and I couldn’t do one without the other.  

After Sandy Hook, you reveal that you struggled with your identity, the idea of being defined by tragedy. How important has this book been in helping you own your story, in helping you define you and/or your family’s identity?

Emilie was so much more than the tragedy at Sandy Hook.  Her life was full of color and light! I did not want her identity to be defined by someone else’s actions. This story gives people a look at the whole picture of what her life looked like, before and after.

You share many sweet stories of Emilie. It paints a colorful picture of Emilie’s personality. We learn that she was and continues to be a source of inspiration for many. How do you want your daughter to be remembered?

I guess I would want her remembered the way our family remembers her.  As a chatty, colorful, messy, caring, emotionally sensitive little girl that always put others before her.  She was a loving leader and playmate to her sisters, and an example of Christ-like love to my husband and me.  

How did you decide what stories you wanted to share and what stories you wanted to keep private for you and your family?

Oh, there is a whole additional book of stories we didn’t end up using for the book.  Some were by choice and some just didn’t fit the main thesis of the book. This is Emilie’s story and we had to use that as a guide to decided what stories needed to be told.  

For those who haven’t read the book, what are some of the themes readers can look forward to?

I hope people walk away understanding how connected we all are to the ones we love and that those connections are never truly lost. There is a lot of hope in knowing that. In the darkest of times, it can be hard to see the light. I learned through this experience that the light is all around us, we just have to choose to let it in.

What do you hope people will take away from An Unseen Angel ?

There is so much despair and darkness associated with the shooting at Sandy Hook and I hope this story will show people the other side. The side that can inspire us to look at the world in a different way… the way Emilie saw it. It’s a world full of color and hope and above all else, goodness.  

PURCHASE

Alissa Parker is the mother of one of the 20 children who died tragically in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. After Emilie’s death, Alissa began TheParkerFive blog as a tool to express the emotions she and her family experienced throughout the grieving process. She is also the cofounder of the Emilie Parker Art Connection, a charity helping local community arts programs for children, and Safe and Sound Schools, a touring national advocacy group that helps people take action to make schools safe.

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