Our mission, our focus, our commitment is to the safety of schools nationwide. In addition to the primary, middle and secondary-level schools we support, it’s important to also consider non-traditional and private educational situations. After-school programs, preschools, and religious classes all share similar challenges in protecting the safety and security of the students, teachers and staff.
If this isn’t evident to you, then certainly the recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers makes that crystal clear. While threats to date were not carried out, they are serious and harm the sense of security and safety our children feel in these educational environments. Dr. Melissa Reeves, president of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), says racism, discrimination, and prejudices harm students and their families. It can have a profoundly negative effect on school climate, a sense of physical and psychological safety, school achievement, social-emotional growth, and self-efficacy, according to Reeves.
“As school leaders and educators, it is imperative that we establish a climate of acceptance, facilitate positive discussions focused on understanding and celebrating differences, and help develop a future generation of citizens who make the conscious choice to focus on collaboration and cooperation, not divisiveness,” said Reeves. “Students, staff, teachers, and parents must feel safe at our schools and in our communities in order for learning to occur.”
Unfortunately, because they are not in a traditional “public school setting,” these other educational programs might not feel as connected to the important network of local safety experts.
We would be remiss if we didn’t offer some suggestions to help communities address the impact these threats have on our students in both traditional and non-traditional educational settings.
1. In December, we published a blog post that offers five suggestions to help ease concerns students may have about current events. These include making time for discussion, encouraging kindness, compassion and inclusiveness, teaching acceptance, being vocal, and seeking help. You can refer back to this post for more details, but these suggestions are absolutely relevant in this case, too, and may help remove some anxiety students might feel.
2. To help strengthen the safety network, broaden your partnerships to include local law enforcement. Sure, police departments play an important role in keeping communities safe as a whole, but they are also a positive force able to help keep schools safe. Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, says law enforcement can work with educators to collaborate on safe school crisis training, purposeful use of technology, and effective use of interagency partners. The organization’s comprehensive report, To Protect and Educate: The School Resource Officer and the Prevention of Violence in Schools, offers reference points school policymakers can use as they assess and plan to strengthen their safety.
3. Just as these situations have targeted religious institutions, we, too, can target our local religious organizations to remind them of the free resources and tools Safe and Sound Schools offers. The Straight-A Safety Improvement model works just as well for a synagogue, church, community center or mosque as they do for a traditional K-12 school. If you are part of a religious organization, please share our Assess, Act and Audit tools with your clergy or community leaders.
4. Finally, when talking with our children about any event that singles out a group of people, it is important to foster empathy. We talked with Rabbi Lisa Eiduson from a Jewish congregation in Massachusetts to get her perspective on these threats. She pointed to the idea that anyone targeted, whether bullied at school or receiving a threat, can feel like an outsider.
“When we look around and speak to people outside of our small community, we realize that we are in the company of many people and groups that likewise suffer from feelings of ‘being othered,’” Eiduson said. “Whether it is religion, skin color, nationality, sexual preference, physical or mental disability – even philosophical world-view – it is sobering to look beyond ourselves and see that there are many in our midst who also feel a bit like strangers in a strange land.”
We should talk to our students about this feeling of “otherness,” and by sharing this notion, we can come together and unify. Rabbi Eiduson says when we talk about this concept, we can pay closer attention to those who may feel pushed aside, listen to their stories with greater empathy, and “take action to strengthen ourselves so that we can strengthen others.”
Now more than ever, we need to come together to ensure the safety – emotional and physical – of our children. Threats are scary, real and harmful, but they don’t have to be the end of the story. From one-on-one talks to broader community conversations and partnerships, schools of all types have several tools available to help in the process. Let’s connect and work together to ensure community centers, after-school programs, pre-schools and other non-traditional learning environments are just as safe and secure as any other public or private school.
Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools
Mo Canady, Executive Director, National Association of School Resource Officers
Rabbi Lisa Eiduson, Massachusetts
Dr. Melissa Reeves, PhD
Recently, I received an email from a parent asking me, “What can I do to help Safe and Sound Schools? What can change to improve school safety?” It’s the same question that I receive from everyone I meet online and on the road – from parents to students to teachers to first responders.
As I think about this question, it brings me back to when Alissa and I first started Safe and Sound Schools. We never imagined that 20 beautiful and innocent young students and six dedicated school staff and teachers would lose their lives to a horrible tragedy on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. We never imagined that our own children, Josephine and Emilie, would be among the names of the children killed that day. We never imagined how much our lives would change, including those of our families and the world around us.
We just knew that after what happened, we had to do something. We had to make sure that what happened at Sandy Hook didn’t happen anywhere else.
In creating Safe and Sound Schools, Alissa and I believed that we needed to educate communities and empower them to make school safety a priority. But through our travels, we found out that school safety issues varied from state to state, city to city. Communities want resources. Students want to get involved in the school safety conversation. Parents want to know what steps and policies are in place to protect their children at school. First responders want to be prepared for any type of crisis that happens at a school. And we want everyone to be safe and sound. But how do we get there?
To provide more resources, get students involved, and continue the school safety conversation online and on the ground, we need your help. We cannot do this work alone. We need everyone to be a part of the Change for School Safety. By collecting loose change and saving it as donation to give on #GivingTuesday (November 29), you can make a difference in school safety.
- Continue to travel to communities and empower them to put school safety first;
- Develop and share student-centered programs that will encourage students to speak out and do something about school safety issues affecting them; and
- Connect with school administrators, mental health and emergency professionals, and parents with the resources they need to keep their schools and students safe and sound.
There is so much work to be done. But in the words of Richard Bach, we know that “a tiny change today can bring a dramatically different tomorrow.”
Will you be part of the change for school safety?
To find out more about being a part of Change for School Safety, click here.
Michele Gay, Co-founder & Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools
Earlier this month, Safe and Sound Schools participated in the Understanding the Digital Disconnect – Parents, Teens and the Internet Twitter chat hosted by stopthinkconnect.org.
Modern day technology has drastically changed the ways in which we consume and relay information. Today’s media and communication landscape is much different than what we experienced as kids. As a result, today’s parents are faced with the growing challenge of raising tech savvy kids in a digital world without having lived through a “connected” childhood themselves.
After a summer of reconnecting with my kids, I fear losing them again to the stresses and digital social lives that comes with back to school. Sure, the internet and the growing number of social media outlets provide our kids with an opportunity to explore the world and socialize with friends, but the thought of cyberbullying, predators, or losing interest in the real world is frightening for many parents.
The #ChatSTC provided some good insights, whether your kids are new to social/digital media, or if you just need a refresher after the summer. Key tips from the chat include:
- Talk to your kids. With the back to school season underway, a family tech talk discussion lends itself to perfect opportunity to remind your kids about the dangers of sharing personal information, location, and other types of content that may give predators insight into their life.
- Explain the “why.” Parents can help students understand the reasoning behind tech/digital rules and/or restrictions by maintaining open dialogue, explaining their rationale, and helping them see the consequences of certain actions with supporting online news stories, and periodically checking in.
- Involve your schools. Today’s schools can help children navigate the digital world safely by teaching healthy concepts of digital use and serving as a resource for parents who would like more information about the digital disconnect their child may be experiencing. Ask your students how they are using and talking about tech in the classroom. In addition, your child’s school counselor, psychologist, and tech specialist offer additional resources and insights to help bridge the digital divide.
You can browse below if you’d like to explore more content related to the Twitter chat.
Schools across the nation have spent the summer preparing for a safe school year. Among those preparations, many schools are examining and introducing new protocols such as those designed to protect students and staff in an active assailant (intruder or attacker) scenario.
Recently, a mother reached out for perspective following the introduction of active assailant training at her daughter’s middle school. This mother (we’ll call her Susie) is well-educated, informed on community and school issues, and lives in an excellent school district. She received an email from her child’s school about the new program and learned that school staff had already been trained and were prepared to introduce the program to students the next week. Although surprised at the quick turnaround, Susie recognized the threat of an active assailant at school as a rare one, but like most parents, she could not help but be concerned about the possibility.
When Susie’s daughter came home from school after the training, Susie asked her how it went. “Well, basically Mom, it’s every man for himself,” replied the young girl.
Determined to remain calm and objective, Susie took a deep breath and gently pressed for more information. “How did my daughter walk away with that idea?” she wondered. Susie knew one thing for sure: this was not what the school staff had intended.
We encouraged Susie to share this experience with the school to help staff better develop and deliver safety protocols, instruction, and training.
Throughout the process, Susie shared some key takeaways with us:
- Parent Education and Preparation: Susie first learned, via email, about the upcoming training only one week before introduction. Parent meetings, forums for discussion, and plenty of notice allow for questions, alleviate fears, and build community around new programs.
- Parent Support: The school’s initial email provided parents with some conversation starters to facilitate discussion at home. Susie found this helpful in preparing her daughter ahead of the training. Though afterward, Susie didn’t receive any follow up about how it went or how she could support this new learning at home. Follow-up conversation guides can help parents support student preparedness and monitor their child’s adjustment to new protocols.
- Opportunities for Discussion and Feedback: Susie’s daughter said the training made her feel better about getting to safety in an emergency; but, her daughter had lots of questions following the training. Inviting student (and parent) questions and observations following instruction and/or training is essential to any school-based programming.
- Student Support: Susie learned that teachers introduced the new program along with the school guidance counselor. This let Susie know that the school was attending to the social-emotional needs of students through the process. Guidance and monitoring from school-based mental health providers (i.e. guidance counselors, psychologists, and social workers) can help identify specific student and staff needs for such instruction and training.
We encourage schools to learn from experiences like these, keep parents and students actively involved, and continually examine programs and practices in order to move forward together for safer schools.
Check out these related resources for educators and parents:
The Lockdown Drill, Who Let the Dog In? and Police In Our School, children’s books by Deputy Becky Coyle
Safe and Sound Tools for Safety Education:
Developmental Levels of Safety Awareness
Hierarchy of Education and Training Activities
Stay Safe Choices
Best Practice Considerations for Schools in Active Shooter and Other Assailant Drills from NASP and NASRO
Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools
It seems like just yesterday we welcomed 2016 and yet here we are, several days into second half of the year. We kicked off the first quarter with a new website and several travels to various communities in the country, our second quarter has been no different. We’ve kept busy and true to our mission: empowering communities to improve schools safety.
In April, co-founder, Michele Gay, and speaker’s bureau member, Melissa Reeves, traveled to Virginia to hold reunification trainings with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Around the same time, co-founder, Alissa Parker, board member, Bob Martin, and speaker’s bureau member, Tau Braun, attended the Preparedness Summit in Dallas, Texas. April travels culminated in Massachusetts where Michele Gay spoke at the Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Conference.
Meanwhile, Safe and Sound Schools focused its online efforts toward school safety and autism awareness. For the blog, Michele Gay shared her family’s personal experience as an autism family while Lisa Borges, executive director of The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, shared safety resources and information for families with autistic children. Safe and Sound Schools also partnered with FEMA, to encourage families to participate in America’s PrepareAThon.
With May in full swing, Michele traveled to Oklahoma to revisit the students of Moore High School and closed out May travels with a visit to Palm Beach, Florida to keynote at the ASIS Law Enforcement Officer Awards.
In the social sphere, Safe and Sound Schools focused on mental health awareness, teacher appreciation week, nurse’s week, youth traffic safety month and EMS week.
As the end of the school year neared, Safe and Sound Schools turned much of its attention to school resource officers. In June, Safe and Sound Schools headed to Tennessee and Wyoming to hold all-day workshops and presentations. With the end of June approaching, Alissa Parker visited Sacramento, California to keynote at the California Department of Public Health’s 2016 Emergency Preparedness Training Workshop: Path to Preparedness. Safe and Sound Schools closed out the second quarter with a trip to Colorado to convene with SROs.
While the Safe and Sound family traveled, online efforts continued with a focus on SROs, national safety month, therapy dogs, allergy awareness month, and special message from Robbie Parker in honor of Father’s Day.
Now that we’ve reached the third quarter, we look forward to sharing some of our new initiatives that will take us into the fourth quarter, including student-focused resources. So, stay tuned for more updates by joining the Safe and Sound family and following us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
Sometimes as a father of school aged children I feel like I spend a lot of my time on the sidelines. Whether that is cheering them on at a sporting event, nervously watching them in a recital, or complimenting them about a school project I didn’t know was due last Friday.
I often wonder: Do my children know how much I care about them? And, what else can I do to be more involved in their lives? And how can I keep them safe when I am not present?
Of course these questions are natural for fathers. We, like our counterparts, are required to sacrifice so much for the overall benefit of our children. As a parent –a father–there is nothing more important than the well-being and safety of our family.
After my oldest daughter, Emilie, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary school, my wife Alissa and other grieving mothers from Sandy Hook met to support one another. As their relationships grew, so did their focus: ensuring the safety of children in school. The women started Safe and Sound Schools. I am so impressed with what they have accomplished.
Like many of the other fathers, I supported them–from the sidelines. That was until I realized that this is a game I can join. This is a game I need to join.
Our children spend about the same amount of time at school each week as we parents do at work. As fathers, our responsibility to ensure our children’s safety and well-being goes beyond the walls of our own home.
As I have met with teachers, administrators, safety and security experts, I have found a group of people who genuinely care about my children’s safety as much as I do. Together we have recognized problems and found solutions that have benefited thousands of children.
If you want to know how to be more involved in your child’s life, in their safety, explore the Safe and Sound School site to access free resources. Get involved, your children will benefit from your love and hard work…whether they know it or not.
Robbie Parker is husband to Alissa and father of Emilie, Madeline and Samantha. Robbie, is a Neonatal Physician’s Assistant, a contributor to Safe and Sound Schools and co-founder of the Emilie Parker Art Connection, founded in honor of Emilie’s love of art.