With the close of this year’s first quarter, we’re excited to share an update for January, February, and March.
We started the year with a visit to Westport High School in Massachusetts. During her visit, Co-founder Michele Gay shared her story and introduced the Safe and Sound Youth Council to students and staff. Later in January, Michele made her way to Pennsylvania to present for staff and shared Safe and Sound Schools’ resources and programs with the Hazleton Area School District.
Early in February, Michele traveled to Georgetown, South Carolina, where she presented first for students and staff and then for the community. Shortly after, she traveled to Wisconsin to present for the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association. In late February, Co-founder Alissa Parker headed to the Cincinnati area, where she shared her story and practical ways to improve school safety with community members. Soon after, Michele traveled back to South Carolina to attend the South Carolina Association School Administrators School Safety Summit, where she shared her story and lessons learned in school safety. February community visits concluded in Michele’s home state of Maryland, where she attended Howard County’s school safety community meeting to advocate for funding and improved safety measures and training. Finally, Michele conducted a nationwide webinar with School Messenger, citing the power of communication capability and planning for school-based crisis management.
March community visits kicked off with a visit to Little Rock, Arkansas, where Safe and Sound Speaker and Mental Health Advisor, Dr. Stephen Brock, presented on bullying and suicide prevention for the Arkansas Mental Health in Education Association (ARMEA). The following week, Alissa traveled to Arlington, Virginia to present at the National PTA Legislative Conference, while Michele gathered with Lisa Hamp, Virginia Tech Survivor; Dr. Melissa Reeves, School-Based Mental Health Expert; Dr. CJ Huff, former superintendent of the Joplin, Missouri Schools; Kiki Lebya, Columbine survivor and teacher; John McDonald, school security and safety expert; and Mac Hardy of the National Association of School Resource Officers to kick off the Maryland School Safety Initiative, sponsored by the Maryland Center for School Safety and The BFG Foundation of Maryland. This year’s theme, Recovering the School Community from Crisis, brought together inspiring stories of recovery and resiliency and was particularly timely in the wake of several national school-based crisis. Stay tuned for more travel and trainings across Maryland as part of this year’s Maryland School Safety Initiative.
Also in March, Raptor Technologies hosted Dr. CJ Huff once again in a nationally attended school safety webinar on called “Seven Leadership Lessons.” And the University at Buffalo hosted the 15th Annual Safe Schools Initiative Seminar, where Michele and Dr. Amanda Nickerson presented alongside Mo Canady, Safe and Sound Advisor and Executive Director for the National Association of School Resource Officers. While Safe and Sound speaker and Virginia Tech survivor, Lisa Hamp, spoke at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, Michele spoke in Wellesley, Massachusetts where she shared her story and invited community members to rethink school safety as a community. The following day, Michele traveled to Illinois to speak at the Illinois Fire Inspectors Association Conference, accompanied by Safe and Sound speaker and special advisor, Frank DeAngelis. Several days after this conference, Frank traveled to Georgia where he presented for the Eastside High School community. Later, Safe and Sound speaker Lisa Hamp traveled to Chicago to present her survivor’s story to Chicago area school leaders. The first quarter concluded with Michele and Dr. Melissa Reeves joining forces with Morris County, New Jersey school and law enforcement leaders to create a customized threat assessment matrix for assessing and managing threats to school safety.
Our first quarter was not only defined by the communities we visited and the relationships we forged during this period, it was also defined by the tragic events that took place during this time. We found ourselves deeply inspired by the student-led movements and took action to support the STOP School Violence Act of 2018. We also launched a national survey focusing on school safety perceptions and are currently analyzing the data to provide insights in the form of our first annual “State of School Safety” report to help school communities better tackle the myriad challenges of school safety. Stay tuned for our findings later in the spring.
To support Safe and Sound Schools and our mission, you can share our materials, donate, shop our School Store, or purchase an Inspire Change bracelet from Jammin Hammer Jewelry. Learn more about Jammin Hammer’s fundraiser for Safe and Sound Schools, here.
Now that we are well into the second half of the year, it’s time for a second quarter update, covering the months of April, May, and June. Feeding off the momentum we gained during our first quarter, we continued our efforts of empowering communities to improve school safety.
April was a particularly meaningful month with the release of co-founder Alissa Parker’s book, An Unseen Angel: A Mother’s Story of Faith, Hope, and Healing After Sandy Hook. With an emphasis on Alissa’s faith and spirituality, the book chronicles Alissa’s journey of finding peace and forgiveness after losing her daughter, Emilie Parker, during the Sandy Hook tragedy. An Unseen Angel introduces readers to a caring, wise, and emotionally sensitive little girl whose colorful spirit continues empower her family and many others.
While Alissa promoted her book in April, co-founder Michele Gay was joined by Safe and Sound Speaker, Frank DeAngelis in San Francisco, California. Michele and Frank presented on community collaboration for safer schools at the Sonitrol Gold Standard Safety Symposium.
In May, the Safe and Sound Schools Board of Directors convened in Boston, Massachusetts, to discuss strategy and upcoming projects. Community visits continued throughout May, with Alissa presenting in front of the Northwest Superintendent Organization in Grove City, Pennsylvania. Soon after, Mo Canady, Safe and Sound Advisor and Executive Director of NASRO, attended the Police Week Candlelight Vigil in Washington DC. Around the same time, Michele presented on reunifying the school community and shared her post-tragedy perspective at the 2017 Governor’s Safety and Health Conference Exposition in Kentucky. Soon after, Michele was joined by Safe and Sound Speaker, CJ Huff in Indiana. During their trip to the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy, CJ and Michele presented to over 900 educators and law enforcement officials, focusing their keynote on community recovery and engagement. In Oklahoma, new Safe and Sound Speaker, Lisa Hamp, attended Moore High School’s Prep Rally. Later in May, Michele resumed travels and was joined by Natalie Hammond and Dan Jewiss in Massachusetts to present for MASBO/CASBO on improving school community preparedness, response, and recovery. May travels came to an end with a trip to the Massachusetts Association of Crime Analysts 20th Annual Training Conference and a trip to a School Safety Conference in Mt Vernon, Virginia.
Although May was a very busy month, community visits continued in June. Frank DeAngelis presented at the Oklahoma School Security Conference and discussed school safety leadership. Soon after, Frank traveled to Wisconsin to present at a School Resource Officer Conference. Frank continued his presentations in New York for the New York City Public Schools. This time, he was joined by Michele Gay and John-Michael Keyes of the “I Love U Guys” Foundation. Soon after, Michele and Frank traveled to Iowa to present on their Sandy Hook and Columbine experiences for the Iowa School Resource Officers. June travels concluded in Washington DC where Michele presented at the GovSummit Public Policy Conference, an event hosted by the Security Industry Association (SIA) in cooperation with the Congressional School Safety Caucus.
While our team traveled from state-to-state, our online efforts focused on topics like sexual assault, summer camp safety, online safety, EMS, and celebrating America’s teachers. In June we launched our #100DaysOfSafety campaign for the second year in a row. You can follow the hashtag on our social media channels to receive daily safety tips all summer long.
As we continue to visit communities in the months to come and you prepare for back-to-school, there’s a new resource available for the students in your community: Safe and Sound Youth Council. This complete program for high school students allows them to join the conversation, and more importantly, take action toward creating safer schools. We hope you will share this new program with your students and encourage them to take part.
To keep up with Safe and Sound Schools on daily basis, connect with us on social media.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In recognition of mental health as one of the most important pieces of school safety today, we asked Safe and Sound advisors, Dr. Melissa Reeves and Dr. Stephen Brock to weigh in on what they see in our K-12 schools today.
Safe and Sound Schools: Drs. Reeves and Brock, what are the top 5 mental health issues and themes you see in our K-12 schools currently?
Drs. Reeves and Brock: It’s difficult to pick just 5, but these make up a great deal of the mental health work we are seeing in the field of K-12 School Safety today.
Two key mental health challenges our schools are facing are:
1. Suicidal ideation and behavior among students.
According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the CDC, rates have significantly increased since 2008 (after over a decade of decline). Nineteen states have passed laws requiring suicide prevention education for educators, the most recent being California. On September 26, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 2246 which requires all schools serving students from grades 7 to 12 to adopt comprehensive suicide prevention policies (that address suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention).
2. Increased anxiety due to demands and social pressures.
Academic demands continue to increase and students are feeling the pressures to take more challenging classes. Social pressures, the constant comparisons to others via social media, and readily available access to information for which children and youth may not be ready to comprehend and process, are all contributing to higher levels of anxiety. Schools are beginning to teach students anxiety management strategies to better cope with these stressors.
On the positive side, these are three trends we see schools taking to address mental health in schools:
1. Integration of mental wellness into the curriculum.
Social emotional learning (SEL) programs not only help to keep our young people psychologically well, they have been shown to improve academic performance and decrease referrals for negative behaviors.
2. Prompt identification and treatment of mental illness.
Half of all lifetime cases of mental illnesses emerge during the school years (by age 14). The school environment is the perfect setting for early identification. Universal mental wellness screenings should become as common as vision and hearing screenings.
3. Increasing mental health services and staffing in schools.
Research shows that mental health treatment compliance increases 21 times when it is provided in a school vs. in a community setting. School-employed mental health professionals can work directly with students to learn social-emotional skills that increase social competence and academic achievement, and decrease mental health challenges.
Dr. Reeves is President of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and speaker and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools. Dr. Brock is the former President of NASP and speaker and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools.
We asked Scarlett Lewis, mother of Jesse Lewis and founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation to share some reflections with us this month…
February is the month of love. When we think of love, we think about our families, friends, pets, flowers…the things that makes us smile. Love makes us feel good.
What’s more, you can choose love.
The first step is to begin to think about what you think about. Just be aware of the steady stream of thoughts going in and out of your mind. Research shows that in general, we have between 60 and 80,000 thoughts per day. The majority of these thoughts (70%) are angry, not productive and don’t serve us. Up to 90% of our thoughts are repetitive. They are the same thoughts we had yesterday, the day before, the week before, and sometimes even years before! We know that every thought we have impacts us on a cellular level and affects our general well-being. Knowing this, we realize the importance of choosing love!
Although we don’t often think about it, love is a conscious choice. We make this choice, or not, many times during the day. Every time we choose love, we benefit mentally by firing corresponding neurons in our brain, and releasing feel good neurochemicals. We benefit physically as well, by strengthening our immune system, lowering our blood pressure and improving heart health. Emotionally, we experience greater happiness, deeper meaning, and more satisfaction in our lives.
When you have a negative or angry thought, you can actually change it into a loving thought. A lot of times we use negative self talk. “I can’t believe how dumb I am.” “I am unattractive.” “I am unlovable.” Would you say these things to a friend? Of course not. You can change this negative self-talk to, “I will learn from my mistakes.” “My inner beauty is reflected on my outside as well.” and, “I am worthy of love.”
If you find yourself remembering something that made you angry in the past, ask yourself if it is worth negatively impacting your health or even empowering the person who might have made you angry? When we dredge up negatives from the past, our body responds as if it is happening right now. Our hearts beat quicker, our cheeks flush and we feel the same anger coming back. Stop there. Choose love. Take your power back and choose a different thought.
An easy shortcut to choosing love is to think of something you’re grateful for when you’re feeling angry or sad. It’s impossible to have a grateful thought and an angry thought at the same time.
Perhaps the best way to choose love is to do something for someone else. Research shows that doing for others promotes social connection and cultivates relationships. When we do something for someone else it counteracts depression, anger and anxiety. It increases our self-confidence and gives us a sense of purpose. In fact, studies have shown practicing compassion in action increases your lifespan. All the love and energy we give out, comes back to us, and the personal benefits are countless.
This is the perfect month to start choosing a loving thought over an angry thought. That is how the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement began. I found a message my six year old son, Jesse, had written on our kitchen chalkboard shortly before he was murdered in the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He wrote, “Nurturing Healing Love.” I knew if his killer had been able to give–and receive love–that this tragedy would never have taken place.
At Jesse’s funeral, I told the congregation that I believed the whole tragedy started with an angry thought. And an angry thought can be changed. I asked everyone to “think about what they were thinking about,” and choose one loving thought over an angry thought every day.
Some of those in attendance told me that this one simple act has transformed their lives. Choosing to change just one angry thought into a loving thought a day, will help you feel better, will benefit those around you, and through the ripple effect will help make the world a safer, more peaceful and loving place.
Learn more about the life’s work of Scarlett Lewis and the movement that her son Jesse has inspired at jesselewischooselove.org!
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.
Before 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.
The Safe and Sound Team has been busy this quarter. Guided by our mission of empowering communities to improve school safety, we’ve continued our travels, flying near and far to speak and work with communities and professional groups across the country .
July travels kicked off with a trip to Robertson County, Tennessee, where Michele presented to district staff preparing for the start of a safe school year. Then it was off to Littleton, Colorado, where Safe and Sound speaker, Frank DeAngelis, and co-founder Michele Gay attended The Briefings: A National School Safety Symposium, hosted by the I Love U Guys Foundation at Columbine High School.
On July 21, Safe and Sound board members convened in Boston, Massachusetts to reflect upon the progress and future plans for the organization. A couple days later, Michele attended the Campus Safety East Conference in Washington D.C., where Safe and Sound was represented along with several other school safety non-profits, thought leaders, and industry representatives. Soon after, Michele headed back to Tennessee to present to the Bledsoe County district staff, as they finalized preparations for the 2016-17 school year. July travels concluded with Michele keynoting for the Kentucky Firefighters Association, where she was able to spend time with many dedicated professionals and educators.
In August, Michele traveled to the Cypress-Fairbanks Schools in Texas and presented to a room full of district leaders and educators. Michele also traveled to the Maryland School Safety Center and Indiana Academy of Safety Specialists to present and teach. In Long Beach, California, board member, Bob Martin represented Safe and Sound Schools and spoke to an audience of emergency managers, educators, and safety & security professionals at the Campus Safety West Conference.
September brought the “official” start of school for many, beginning with visits to Virginia where Michele and Dr. Melissa Reeves, led two full day reunification workshops for area educators, safety directors, law enforcement and mental health professionals. Later in the month, Michele traveled to Columbus Ohio to present a webinar and hold a community forum sponsored by Status Solutions.
September ended with the addition of Natalie Hammond to the Safe and Sound Schools speaking team. Natalie presented for the Tennessee Department of Education’s “Creating Compassionate Schools” conference, sharing her perspective and personal journey as a survivor of the Sandy Hook School tragedy. She was very warmly received and praised by all in attendance. We are deeply honored to have Natalie with us, sharing her experience and dedication to safe schools.
The Safe and Sound team continued engaging the national community with #100DaysOfSafety, a summer social media campaign, aimed at providing online users with 100 safety tips over the course of 100 days. With the end of #100DaysOfSafety, Safe and Sound Schools launched #ChangeForSchoolSafety –a campaign aimed encouraging community members to collect loose change and donate their collections to Safe and Sound Schools this year on #GivingTuesday, November 29.
Perhaps the one of the biggest highlights of our third quarter was the addition of Status Solutions to the Safe and Sound community. Thank you to the Status folks for supporting and sharing our mission of safer schools nationwide. We look forward to working together to spread the word and empower even more school communities.
For day-to-day updates on all things Safe and Sound, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. For information on our current campaigns, visit our website to learn about #ChangeForSchoolSafety and #GivingTuesday. Be a part of the change for school safety!