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School’s out, sun’s out, and for many families, it’s time to gear up for camp…

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.

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.  

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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.

Q: I’m concerned about visitor management protocols at my child’s school. Yesterday, I went to pick my child up from school early. No one asked me to identify myself.  Surprised, I asked them if they needed to see ID. Although they looked at my ID, they didn’t verify whether I was one of the people authorized to pick up my child from school. What can I do to make sure the school is verifying visitors and asking for identification?

A:  Most schools at least require that visitors sign in and present ID in this situation.  Others take it a step further and verify your information with their records.  Still others, utilize “visitor management” technology to scan and even run a visitor’s ID through a database, which then supplies a badge or pass, if the visitor is approved.  

I recommend reaching out to the principal to share your experience (I am sure he/she will want to know) and reinforce your expectation for your child’s safety.  It could be that there is not an established protocol in place.  Unfortunately, lots of school communities feel that they don’t need to worry about this.  If this is the case, you might offer to help them think it through and toward a safer solution.  It could also be that the office staff was busy or you were dealing with a substitute. Either way, it’s important to figure out what is at the root of this safety issue.  If your daughter’s school has a school resource officer or police liaison, I would ask that that person join the conversation as well.  It is not easy to have to approach your child’s school about a problem you have found, but if you are able to come forward positively and ready to help, as well as firm about your expectation, you are likely to have success.  

Other resources you can reach out to in the school are the school counselor, and of course, your child’s teacher.  It may also be helpful to discuss this with other parents and/or members of the PTA/O.  I applaud you for speaking up in the moment, asking, “Don’t you need to see my ID?”  With this simple action, you communicated your expectation and actually changed the action of the staff member.  You are already moving things in a safer direction.  There is no firm requirement for schools to develop and implement visitor management protocols at this point.  It’s up to us to speak up and change that.  Please keep us posted on your progress and be ready to stick with it until you feel that your child is safe.  

– Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools

Update: Since the parent’s meeting with the principal, the school has improved their process, making sure school members are aware of new greeting and visitor management protocols. Visitors are now required to provide ID and share their visitation purpose. There is a sign posted on the door to remind visitors not to hold the door open for others. School members are required to verify whether visitors are authorized to pick up the child.


Submissions: If you’d like to submit a question, email us at info@safeandsoundschools.org or send us a question through our inbox on our social media platforms. Safe and Sound Schools is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

In today’s climate of fear and uncertainty, children need to feel a sense of security…

Our mission is founded on the principle that our children –the nation’s children–deserve to learn and develop in a safe and secure environment, surrounded by peers, educators, and staff that empower them to succeed.

As a rule, Safe and Sound Schools does not take a position on political topics. However, on the heels of a divisive and embattled election season, our nation is now faced with the task of restoring unity, stability, and a sense of safety. Our schools and our students are not immune to the current political climate.  They watch the news, engage in social media, and engage in the political process at home, on the bus, and at school.  

unknownUnfortunately, not all of these interactions are positive, respectful, and considerate.  In this climate, students have reported harassment, bullying, and even fear and uncertainty about their future and safety. Like most parents, educators, and community members, safety is our number-one priority. Here are five suggestions to help ease concerns with your students and help them make sense of the current post-election climate.

1. Make time for discussion. Chances are your student has an idea about the kinds of issues our country is facing. Whether they are getting their information from home, the news, social media, or their peers, they are subject to a lot of information and many opinions. Take this time to hold a family discussion. Ask your child about their day and address concerns they have about current events happening in their school, community, or in the news.

2. Encourage kindness, compassion, and inclusiveness. Violence, bullying, and harassment are not acceptable and cannot be tolerated.  By modeling kindness, teaching compassion, and encouraging inclusiveness for our children, we plant the seeds of hope among our nation’s youth and open the door to understanding and acceptance.

3. Teach acceptance. Our country is diverse and filled with people who come from all walks of life.  As the National Association of School Psychologists states, “American democracy is founded on respect for individual differences.” Teach children that people should be treated with dignity, fairness, and respect despite perceived race, appearance, language, orientation, affiliation, or religion. Model this behavior by remembering to embrace these values at all times.  

4. Be vocal. If your child has any concerns or has experienced any sort of violence or harassment at school, encourage them to speak up. Hold a meeting with their teacher or school principal to address the issue. Work together to find a solution so that your child feels safe at school. If your child is the one causing the trouble, work with your student, and the school if necessary, to ensure their behavior is respectful going forward. Remember that every child deserves to learn in a safe environment.

5. Seek help. Remind your students they can make use of their school community and its resources, and as a parent, you can too. School communities are comprised of mental health professionals, educators, administrators, school safety officials, and parent associations – connect with these resources. Support, understanding, and solace can often be found within these groups. You may even discover that other families are going through similar experiences. Safety and confidence can be restored when you address concerns, seek help, and work together as a community.

We realize that as a nation, our backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions may differ, and that is one of the things that makes our country special. One thing we can all come together around is the common goal of providing safe and secure schools for all our children.


Works cited

Promoting Compassion and Acceptance in Crisis, National Association of School Psychologists 

Social Media and School Crises: Facts and Tips, National Association of School Psychologists 

Scarlett Lewis, Founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, mother of Jesse Lewis, and Safe and Sound speaker/instructor, shares our dedication to the safety of children. Here she talks about her mission and Jesse’s legacy, teaching love and compassion to prevent violence and promote peace.

After the shooting death of my 6 year old son, Jesse Lewis, along with 19 of his classmates and 6 educators, two questions emerged from my shock and horror: How could something like this happen? What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

I watched as people began pointing fingers, first at the shooter, his mother, and then at guns, politicians, video games and media—all to no avail. When blaming and demanding that others fix the problem doesn’t work, what then?  We must take responsibility for what is happening to our children and in our society. We must be part of the solution. The truth is that every school shooting is preventable. Period.

nurturing-healing-loveBefore Jesse’s funeral, I found a message he had written on our kitchen chalkboard shortly before he died, “Norturting Helinn Love” (Nurturing Healing Love). Those three words are in the definition of compassion across all cultures. Love is as necessary to our healthy existence as food and water. This need unites and connects us all as humans. What if we could infuse our classrooms with love and teach all children how to give, and receive love?

The hard fact of the matter is, some children do not receive love at home and in their lives. I set out to figure a way to get Jesse’s message into classrooms with my understanding that if the shooter knew how to give, and receive love, our tragedy would never have happened. I found that this was already being done, through Social and Emotional Learning, “SEL”.

SEL has been around for decades and teaches children how to get along with one another, how to manage their emotions, have empathy for others and show compassion – basically how to be responsible and kind citizens. Children and adults without these skills suffer from feeling a lack of connection to others, impaired–if not disabled–ability to learn, increased physical and mental health issues, and increased rates of drug abuse and incarceration among other negative implications.

Studies show that children who receive SEL have better academic performance, more positive attitudes and behaviors, and experience less anxiety and depression. Long-term studies following kindergarteners who were taught Social and Emotional Learning skills into adulthood have found there were higher graduation rates and even less divorce rates among these individuals. In fact ALL the research on SEL shows that this is the most powerful and proactive mental health initiative we have, and cultivates safer and more positive classroom and school climates.

When I think about what we focus on in schools other than academics: anti-bullying, drug awareness, suicide prevention, sex education, it looks to me like we are teaching kids what not to do. Social and emotional learning teaches kids what to do by providing a positive focus on tools and skills that can help children feel good, about themselves and others.

Columbia University did a study recently that showed for every $1 invested in SEL programs there was an $11 return to the community. I can’t think of a better investment –in our children, in our safety, and in our futures. In fact, SEL has proven to be more important than academics, when determining future success. When children have these skills, personal and academic achievement follows.

The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement is committed to making sure every child has access to this life-changing and life-saving education. This fall we are piloting our signature Choose Love Enrichment Program, Pre-K through 12th grade, that includes SEL, Character Values, Positive Psychology, Neuroscience, Mindfulness and more. The Choose Love Enrichment Program teaches children a formula to choose love in every situation, based on Jesse’s message. This is offered online and is free at www.jesselewischooselove. org.


Scarlett Lewis, Founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, mother of Jesse Lewis, and Safe and Sound speaker/instructor

October 2016 is a special month and year, as it marks the 10th anniversary of National Bullying Prevention Month. We have seen a lot of progress in bullying prevention over these past 10 years, including the launch of stopbullying.gov (a federal government website dedicated to this topic) and the passing of anti-bullying legislation in all 50 states. On a personal level, 5 years ago I was honored to become the director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, a center with the mission of conducting research to better understand and prevent bullying and getting that information into the hands of people who can make a difference.

What do we know about bullying?4-dau-hieu-cho-thay-con-ban-dang-bi-bat-nat-tai-truong-1
  • Bullying is intentional aggression that can cause harm to the person being bullied. It involves a power difference (due to physical size, social status, race/ethnicity, and many other things) between the person bullying and the person being bullied. It usually happens over and over, as opposed to a one-time event.
  • Bullying can be physical (hitting, kicking), verbal (mean teasing, threats), indirect (spreading rumors, excluding), or cyber (through computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices)
  • About 1 in 3 children and adolescents are involved in bullying as a bully, a target, or both. Most of the time adults do not see it happening, kids do not tell it is happening, and peers see or hear it but do not try to stop it.
  • Bullying can be very distressing to all involved. The target of bullying can experience anxiety, depression, school avoidance, loneliness, suicidal thoughts, and low self-esteem. Students who bully may be involved in other risk behaviors (fighting, drug and alcohol use) and are more likely to have legal, criminal, and relationship problems as adults. Bystanders who see bullying happen also experience anxiety.
What can we do to help stop bullying?
  • Live the golden rule by treating others with the kindness with which you would like to be treated. We do not know what battles other people are facing or struggles they are having, so treating each person with dignity, respect, and kindness is the best way to prevent bullying.
  • Find ways to cope with frustration, anger, and other normal feelings that may make us want to hurt others. Some people talk to a friend, others write in a journal, and others work it off through physical exercise. Stopping to think and pausing to post before are good ways to prevent saying something that may hurt something else.
  • If you are being bullied, know that it is not your fault and you should not be treated this way. You have options, such as leaving the situation, being assertive that this is not OK, reporting it to a trusted adult, and surrounding yourself with safe people.
  • If you see someone else being bullied, don’t join in. Speak up if it is safe to do so. Sometimes this is hard to do alone, so it helps to band together as a group to say it is not OK. Reach out and let the person being bullied know they are not alone. Report the incident – it is not ratting or tattling (this is what we do when we are trying to get someone in trouble), but it is reporting or telling, which is what to do when someone’s behavior is unsafe.

If each person does their part, it makes it easier for schools, parents, and communities join together in these common goals to create a culture and climate of support where bullying is not tolerated. I hope in another 10 years we won’t need a Bullying Prevention Month because every day will be a day where we are committed to treating others with dignity and respect.

To learn more, please check out some of these resources:


Dr. Amanda Nickerson is a professor of school psychology and director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. She is a licensed psychologist, a nationally certified school psychologist, and a speaker for Safe and Sound Schools.

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM), an annual effort cofounded and co-led by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide everyone with the resources they need to be safer, more secure and better able to protect their personal information online. As our world becomes more connected, our children spend more time online and connect to the internet more often at home, at school and on the go. It’s crucial for kids to understand the importance of protecting their personal information and how they can be smart, ethical internet users. We all have roles to play in strengthening our cybersecurity and privacy. NCSAM is a great time for parents and teachers to talk to kids about online safety; here are a few tips to get you started.

  • It’s not about the technology – it’s about how it’s used. There can often be hysteria around the latest app or how young people use devices. It’s important, however, to focus not on the specific devices or apps but how they are used. For example, smartphones have cameras that can be used to spark and promote creativity, and apps may have functions that allow video chat or live streaming; however, they can also be used to send inappropriate images or create security vulnerabilities. Teaching kids to use the technology in their classrooms and at home appropriately and manage privacy and security settings will help everyone learn how to better protect themselves online.
  • Establish a safe environment for technology conversations. Although kids might not always come to parents or teachers for online advice, it’s important to be prepared to help them when they do. Work to create an environment of trust in which your child or student can comfortably talk to you about their experiences and issues without fear of punishment or blame, and consider asking kids to talk about their friends’ experiences online – they may be more comfortable discussing someone else’s experiences than their own.
  • Help kids help their friends. Friendships are key parts of kids’ development, and a recent NCSA/Microsoft survey revealed that 40 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds would turn to their friends first if faced with a serious problem online. Talk to kids about developing the tools and knowledge they need to protect themselves and advise their friends about online safety concerns. Help children understand their capacity for responding to issues and challenges online and encourage them to seek help from adults they trust if aced with problems that seem beyond their ability. Establish some parameters about when they should seek adult help, such as if a friend may commit harm to themselves or if the law has been broken.

Resources That Work

 


About the Author

Michael Kaiser joined the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) in 2008. As NCSA’s chief executive, Mr. Kaiser engages diverse constituencies—business, government and other nonprofit organizations—in NCSA’s broad public education and outreach efforts to promote a safer, more secure and more trusted Internet. Mr. Kaiser leads NCSA in several major awareness initiatives, including National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) each October, Data Privacy Day (Jan. 28) and STOP. THINK. CONNECT., the global online safety awareness and education campaign. NCSA builds efforts through public-private partnerships that address cybersecurity and privacy issues for a wide array of target audiences, including individuals, families and the education and business communities. In 2009, Mr. Kaiser was named one of SC Magazine’s information security luminaries.

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Teacher and StudentIt’s that time of year. Schools across the nation are opening their doors to greet millions of students whom are a reflection of the future of our country. It’s an exciting time of year that, in my opinion, can be described in one word…fresh.

New paint, waxed hallways, and eye-catching bulletin boards will welcome back anxious and excited teachers and, of course, anxious and excited kids. Walking into the physical environment of school on that first day is always a memorable experience.

The word fresh could also be used to describe the social/emotional environment of our schools on the first day back in the classroom. Front and center are the relationships, both old and new, that ultimately shape the learning environment of the school. Everyone (And I do mean everyone) from the bus driver who greets kids in the morning to the teacher and principals that say goodbye in the afternoon plays a role in the creation of the quality of the learning environment.

As the new year begins, it is specifically those relationships between children and adults that will ultimately define the quality of the educational experience for each child when the year ends. Therefore getting off on the right foot is so very important. Over the years I have observed a number of great strategies to build the kind of trusting adult/child relationships needed for real learning to occur. Below are three of my personal favorites.

Front Porch Visits: One of the most impressive relationship building strategies I have encountered as both a parent and school administrator is the utilization of “front porch visits” by classroom teachers prior to or shortly after the start of the school year. I love the terminology. Unlike a “home visit,” which can be intimidating and inconvenient for some families, the “front porch visit” is exactly as the name implies. The teacher schedules a time to drop by and have a visit sitting or standing outside the front door as opposed to going inside the home. This simple gesture of good will brings down barriers and gives teachers the opportunity to start building a relationship with the children and parents early. It also gives teachers a chance to see first hand where each child is coming from before entering their classroom each day. That experience alone not only builds relationships, but also provides perspective that can help in the development of everything from individualized instruction to discipline plans.

In School Mentoring: As a school wide initiative I have to give kudos to Eastmorland Elementary in Joplin, Missouri. A few years ago they realized that their kids needed adult relationships inside the school beyond just the classroom teacher. Eastmorland’s solution? They identified all the adults in the building (Cooks, counselor, nurse, secretary, remedial teachers, custodians, principal, etc.) and assigned each adult a small group of students to touch base with on a daily basis. If nothing else, just to say, “Hi! How are you doing today??” This proved to be a fantastic way to build a greater sense of community inside the school.

Student Empowerment: At the foundation of every relationship is trust. Some of the most effective schools empower students by giving them leadership roles to take on special projects and organize initiatives. One thing I have learned after 20 years in the education business, kids of all ages are capable of doing amazing things when given the opportunity. As adults, we all have a desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Children are no different. Whether it happens inside or outside the walls of the school, adults can serve as a facilitator of service learning activities that give students a chance to make a positive difference. Whether it be projects like Mexico, Missouri’s second grade popcorn project that raises funds to send special needs kids to summer camp or in Pea Ridge, Arkansas’s Pea Ridge High School “Can”struction project to collect canned food items for needy families, kids can make a positive difference when given the opportunity.

Regardless of your school community’s approach to building relationships with students, the important thing to remember is that those relationships most definitely matter. Today’s myriad of social and emotional challenges faced by our youth means we need far more adults involved in the lives of our children on a day-to-day basis. Taking an internal approach utilizing the human capital you have available inside your school can go a long ways towards filling that void and setting an example for the rest of the community to follow.


CJ Huff is the retired superintendent of Joplin Schools in Joplin, MO. He is recognized nationally in the field of community engagement and 21st century education programming.