Safe and Sound Schools
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Highlights from the National PTA Legislative Conference

Highlights from the National PTA Legislative Conference

Earlier this week, I had the amazing opportunity to speak at the National PTA Legislative Conference in Arlington, Virginia. I was invited to speak during the opening session with U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

The attendees gathered were state PTA representatives from every state in the country. The theme of this year’s conference was to “Get in the Game”, to inspire advocates into action.

The PTA has touched my heart in a deep way. The PTA is made up of parents and educators who volunteer their time for the sole purpose of benefiting the youth in our communities. These are the real change-makers!  I was honored to share with them my own personal journey from a stay-at-home mom to a school safety advocate. It was never a path that I anticipated or would think to take, but our lives have a strange way of changing course when we least expect it.

Over the last couple of months, I have seen a major shift in the conversation surrounding school safety. Communities are ready to take actions to ensure that tragedies like Sandy Hook and Parkland don’t happen again. Our goal as an organization is to help educate school communities in how to get started today. Change is possible. We can make schools safe when we work together.

Join the movement today. Begin the school safety assessment process by downloading our free Straight-A Safety Toolkits, launching a Safe and Sound Youth Council, or simply sharing our materials with your community. Together we can make our school safe and sound.

Alissa Parker
Mother of Emilie Parker
Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools

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.

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 

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

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.

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.