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It took four months to plan, write, field, analyze and prepare the final summary, but through the hard work of students and faculty from Boston University, in partnership with our team, we are excited to share this report with you.

We can boil down the results of the State of School Safety 2020 survey and report to this: we are headed in the right direction.

When we first set out to report on the state of school safety in 2018, the world was a different place. In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, educators were grappling with safety threats but lacked resources, parents were hungry for details about plans, and students demanded to be heard. Communication about school safety was sparse, and parents and students were not confident in their schools’ safety preparedness.

In 2019, the State of School Safety report showed a continued disconnect among stakeholders about school safety. Educators felt more prepared than students and parents. Students still felt they did not have a voice in school safety decision making, and parents and students sought increased communication about plans and protocols. Parents and students were unsure how to access mental health experts in their schools. However,educators and parents both felt a sense of optimism that schools have the expertise to improve school safety, and educators showed a deeper understanding of the role mental health plays in school safety.
Results of the State of School Safety 2020 report indicate we have come a long way in three years. Not only have we increased understanding among all stakeholder groups, we have fostered a more proactive culture of comprehensive school safety awareness and saw educators enhance the safety of their schools through easily accessible improvements. While we love seeing the impact of our work, there is still much more to do.

As you dive into the report, you will see we delivered it to you in a more visual format, which we hope will make it more accessible to all members of your community. We also divided the results across our framework for comprehensive school safety, making it easier for you to parse out feedback for various members of your safety team.

The strides we’ve taken are worth recognizing, but we must stay vigilant in our cause – school safety is not an item you can ever cross off your to-do list. The more we learn and as threats continue to evolve, we must stay alert, committed, and invest in all areas of school safety.

Well, it’s certainly not the end of the school year that any of us imagined! As the mom of a graduating senior, I feel for the graduates, and so many others who won’t celebrate their milestones and accomplishments in the ways they had hoped.

As a former teacher, I feel for the classes missing end-of-the year picnics and field days, the little kindergartners dressed up for Kindergarten graduation, the rising middle schoolers and high schoolers closing another chapter and looking onto the next.

All across the country, our students have had to learn to take it all in stride and find ways to mark the end of another year and be grateful—and hopeful about the future. Schools and families have answered with creativity and generosity, planning one-of-a-kind celebrations for these important milestones in student and school life.

Here are a few of my favorites, shared by Safe and Sound community members:

  1. A surprise neighborhood parade – These started cropping up first as birthday and even wedding celebrations, but one neighborhood added a socially distant band performance of pomp and circumstance by elementary and middle school students for the high school grads on the street.
  2. Yard bomb celebrations – Many students are waking up to yards COVERED in signs, posters, balloons, streamers, and crazy inflatables.
  3. Drive-in (and through) ceremonies – Some schools have used drive in theaters, retrofitted parking lots, and athletic fields to gather carloads of families to celebrate safely together.
  4. Through-the-Years scavenger hunts – Families and neighborhoods have pre-planted clever series of clues, gifts, and cards, celebrating memories of students from early years through 2019-20.
  5. Big screen celebration slide shows – For friends, family, and neighbors to enjoy from their porches and cars
  6. Fireworks displays – Where allowed of course!
  7. Street-lining signage – for neighborhood-wide congratulations of students and grads driving by.
  8. Crazy car decorations – Bigger is better this year! In addition to the typical streamers and soap-written messages, cars stuffed with balloons and gifts from family and friends are a big hit.
  9. Decorate the door (or mailbox) –Invite friends and family to leave decorations for your grad to find “when the doorbell rings” or when they open the mailbox.
  10. Chalk the Walk – Invite friends, neighbors and family to decorate your walk or driveway with congratulatory messages.
  11. Tailgate to Celebrate – Family and friends gather to park their cars 6 feet apart, play music and bring their own picnic foods.
  12. Virtual Game Show – Take your Zoom celebration up a notch by organizing the group in a trivia game all about your grad.

Got more good ideas? Email them to us at info@safeandsoundschools.org and we’ll share the ideas on social for others to enjoy!!


Author’s Bio: Michele Gay is Co-founder & Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools. A former teacher turned school safety advocate, following the loss of her daughter in the Sandy Hook School tragedy, Michele speaks and travels to communities across the country on a mission: every school safe and sound.

Last year, Safe and Sound Schools launched The Good Days Tour, a nationwide contest to promote positive school culture in high schools across the country. We teamed up with teen actor Jeremey Ray Taylor and the band Chasing da Vinci to bring a live workshop and concert to the winning school.  

In February, we announced our first winning school–Hollister High School outside Springfield, Missouri! For their contest submission, Hollister students submitted two impressive videos about the importance of student involvement in school safety.  Shortly after announcing Hollister as the winner, our team, along with Jeremy and Chasing Da Vinci, flew out to the beautiful state of Missouri where we were warmly welcomed for a fantastic assembly with the students at Hollister. 

And they did not disappoint! The student energy and excitement was contagious! The assembly was filled with music, laughter, and hope – as we shared stories from Hollister students that have created “Good Days” through acts of kindness in their school.  My favorite moment was seeing Jeremy Ray Taylor instruct the students to turn on their cell phone flashlights to demonstrate the power of sharing kindness with others. I will never forget seeing the dark assembly room light up with the individual lights from each student. It truly touched my heart.  

 I flew home from Missouri the following day as our world was quickly changing. Social distancing, school closures, and stay-at-home orders emerged as COVID-19 spread throughout the United States. Suddenly the packed school assembly, the hugs and handshakes we received in Hollister all seemed like a distant memory.  

Despite the feelings of fear and anxiety, my heart, like in Hollister, was once again touched by the support and service seen from students across the country. This gave us an idea…Good Days are still on the horizon for our students and our schools, and we can look forward to those together.  

Today, Safe and Sound Schools is launching the “Good Days Ahead” Contest – a NEW virtual twist on our campaign, spotlighting the positive acts of kindness of our students and the impact they are having today to bring good days ahead in their communities.  Once again, we are teaming up with Jeremy Ray Taylor and the band Chasing da Vinci to bring students a truly memorable experience!  

Participation is easy! During the month of May, students will use the hashtag #GoodDaysAhead to post a video or picture on Instagram sharing how they are working to bring good days ahead through acts of kindness today. It can be as simple as planting positive yard signs, weeding a neighbor’s garden, sewing masks for healthcare workers, or tutoring a struggling student over Zoom. You can also nominate another student you have seen make a positive impact on others.

We’ll select three winners for a virtual “meet and greet” with Jeremy Ray Taylor, which will be announced during the “Good Days Ahead” Livestream on June 6, 2020.  Learn more about how to enter by clicking here to see full contest rules.   

We look forward to hearing your stories soon!


Alissa Parker, Co-Founder of Safe and Sound Schools

With the recent onset of Covid-19 both nationwide and globally, anxiety is on the rise. With so many unknowns, how do we help our kids navigate a new normal and keep their anxiety in check?

Here are a few tips that you may find helpful:

  • Know the signs of anxiety. When kids feel that they are out of control of their surroundings and their situations they may misbehave, have trouble sleeping, experience shortness of breath, and ask the same questions over and over again – in hopes of getting consistent answers.  They might also appear to have a lack of focus, experience cold sweats, dizziness, nausea, feelings of panic and even irregular heartbeats.
  • Teach your child to practice mindful breathing. Kids and adults tend to hold their breath or “breathe shallow” when they get uptight or feel scared.
  • Limit screen time and highlight offscreen accomplishments. Build confidence and positivity through activity!
  • Be sure you and your child are getting adequate sleep. Poor sleep can lead to irritability, increased anxiety and increased depression.
  • Be the person your child trust and can talk to. Every human relationship revolves around two things: trust and communication.  Be appropriately truthful with your child. If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know how to answer that question, but let me find out and we can talk about it later.”
  • Talk to your child about their feelings. Identifying feelings is an important first step for understanding their emotions. Though children experience feelings, understanding their emotions can be difficult.  A feelings chart can help parents help their child connect an abstract concept (feelings) with a concrete visualization (chart).  Check out the printable “Feelings Chart” Julia developed with Safe and Sound Schools here.
  • Listen to your child’s perceptions and gently correct misinformation. It’s always a good idea to listen to and understand your child’s perceptions before you tell them what you want them to know. This way you do not risk introducing new worries or information that your child is not ready to absorb.
  • Genuinely accept your child’s concerns. Every child needs to be seen, heard, and feel validated.  Listen carefully and validate what your child is saying. You might say, “I can only imagine how you must be feeling. Let’s talk through what’s in your head and we’ll work together to try to make some sense out of all of this.”
  • Focus on the CAN-Do’s and the GET-To’s. Nobody likes to be told what they have to do, but we all like to be told what we get to do. Even though our choices might be more limited than ever, we still have choices—and that can be empowering.
  • Limit your child’s media exposure – and yours too! It is very important to stay informed, but over-watching interferes with cognitive balance and coping abilities.
  • Establish a predictable routine at home and follow it. The inability to predict what might happen and feeling out of control of a situation can fuel anxiety.  Work with your children to establish a predictable routine at home.  The more involved your kids are in establishing the routine, the better!
  • Set expectations—and consequences. Don’t confuse anxiety with other types of inappropriate behavior.  Set limits and consequences so that you don’t allow anxiety to enable your child.
  • Do everything you can to NOT pass your fears onto your child. People are like snowflakes – we are all unique.  Every person deals with anxiety differently. Keep in mind–although you are your child’s expert, you are not your child.  Just because you feel a certain way, does not mean your child will feel the same way.
  • Designate a DAILY fun time that kids can anticipate and plan for. Planning for and looking forward to a “positive feeling” event is a great way to counteract the unsettling feelings of anxiety.

We are all currently sailing in uncharted territory with so many things to worry about. Now more than ever, it is important for you and your child to remember that together, we are strong!


Julia Cook
National Award-Winning Children’s Author/ Parenting Expert
www.juliacookonline.com

 

 

Like everybody else, I am working hard to adjust to the new normal to keep my family and community safe through the current crisis. “Stay Home,” “social distance,” “no-contact nods,” and near compulsive hand-washing are all a part of this strange, new normal.  

Somewhere between calls, virtual meetings, meal prep (and so much more laundry!) these past weeks, my kitchen counter was converted into an art studio.  I guess it’s a bonus that we can now help ourselves to snacks and meals–and arts and crafts–simultaneously? Yeah…

Under any other circumstances my kitchen-turned-art-studio would drive me nuts.  Right now, I recognize the counter space as a small sacrifice to keep my kids safe and sane under these extraordinary circumstances.  Come to think of it, I have noticed far less squabbling and far more healthy family chatter than I would have ever imagined.

We are all making sacrifices, discovering  unexpected benefits, and finding creative ways to stay connected.  Like so many of you, I find myself checking in on friends and family more often than ever–especially those living alone, or in nursing and retirement homes.  But what else can we do from a distance? I cannot help but worry about our elder friends and family, now more isolated than ever.

And I know I’m not the only one worried.  

Conversations with many of our Safe and Sound community members—parents, school leaders, educators, students, corporate partners, mental health and public safety folks– reveal common concerns about maintaining healthy connections, especially for our youngest and oldest populations.  

And that’s where this idea came from…let’s connect our students to our seniors to encourage and engage two groups in most need.

This time at home offers our homebound students a unique opportunity to serve our senior population, albeit from a “safe distance.”  It’s an opportunity to shift focus from so many difficult sacrifices––school, sports, prom, playdates, social outings, and more––toward the needs of others, painfully isolated from family and friends during this crisis.

Join us in connecting #StudentsToSeniors, a Safe and Sound initiative to engage students of all ages and encourage seniors at a time when both are in need of outside connection.  Safe and Sound Schools invites students to create encouraging artwork for collection and digital delivery to seniors across the nation.  

Artwork can be 2-D drawings, paintings, digital creations, or photos of 3-D artwork (like sculptures, models, or dioramas).  To learn more about how you can participate, visit https://www.safeandsoundschools.org/s2s/.

I, for one, have a kitchen counter full of art waiting to be shared…

So push up your sleeves, allow for a little creative mess, and support the health and wellness of both students and seniors with us!

Thank you for helping us work to keep everybody safe and sound through this extraordinary time.


Michele Gay, Co-Founder of Safe and Sound Schools

 

Safe and Sound Schools Co-founder Michele Gay catches up with award-winning school counselor and children’s author, Julia Cook.

In honor of National School Counselor’s Week, I sat down with my second favorite school counselor, Julia Cook (first being my dad, of course!) to talk inspiration, activation, and of course, school safety!  Here are the highlights of our conversation:

MG:  Julia, as usual, it has been too long since our last catch up!  And you have been busy speaking and writing.  I want to get to those projects in a bit, but let’s dive in on National School Counselor’s Week!  As you know, my dad was a middle school counselor, and a great inspiration for me as an educator. So much so, I almost became a school counselor myself. I saw firsthand how he changed the lives of the students he worked with by building meaningful relationships and programs to support their personal growth and development. What inspired you to become a school counselor?

JC:  I was a middle school math teacher for at-risk kids.  I wanted to get an advanced degree that would help me connect with my students more effectively. Shortly after completing my counseling training, we moved to a town that needed an elementary counselor.  I decided to try my luck and I ended up loving it!

MG: Over the course of my dad’s career, and then later through my career as a teacher, I watched the role of the school counselor change a GREAT deal.  As the needs of students increased, school counselor caseloads continued to grow. The also became responsible for managing multiple school-based programs and initiatives.  How did you experience this evolution as a school counselor?

JC: The role of a school counselor changes daily because our society changes daily.  We are in the people skill building business, and it seems to get tougher every day. The more technologically advanced our society becomes, the more we seem to be losing our “people trust and communication skills.”

I often read posts from school counselors expressing frustrations about being overloaded. Many school counselors have caseloads of 400-1000 kids, yet they are required to fulfill tasks that take away from contact time with the kids that need them. Our time is stretched so thin that it becomes impossible to invest the time needed for social skill classroom instruction, individual counseling, and small group counseling. As a result, we end up being more reactive than proactive in our day-to-day work with students.  My peers often express that the reason they got into counseling is not what the work looks like today. But if you were to ask any of us counselors why we continue to do the work we do, it is because it’s the most amazing profession on the planet!!! School counselors get to be life-changing, positive difference makers!

MG:  Well, you are certainly a difference maker. I’ve seen it firsthand.  Remember the day you came to my house?

JC:  How can I forget!  After Sandy Hook, I wanted to write a book to help teachers and parents know what to say to kids when disasters occur (The Ant Hill Disaster.)  Michele, you were kind enough to help me not only with the content, but you offered to write a powerful forward for the story that is just priceless.  When I planned to meet at your house one morning to discuss the forward it was a crazy day at your house. ESPN was filming a feature story about Joey, your family, and the Baltimore Ravens, but you were kind enough to fit me in anyway.  We were in your kitchen talking and I asked you if you had ever received the autographed copy Grief is Like a Snowflake book that I sent to you following the tragedy. You replied, “I’m so sorry, but I have a ton of boxes in the garage that have gifts from people from all over the world.  The boxes are so painful to go through that I haven’t been able to do it yet. I bet it’s in one of those boxes. One of your daughters perked up and said, “The tree book?  It’s up in my room.” “Where did you get it?” you asked. “It was in one of the boxes in the garage,” she answered. She brought it down to show us and opened it up to the page where the little trees have many different feelings /expressions and she said. “See mommy, I love this book because this is all the ways I feel.”  You took the book from her and turned it to the front and saw the inscription and my signature…and then we both started crying.

MG:  Now, I’m going to ask a tough one… What is one of the single-most rewarding interaction you ever had with a student?

JC:  I am so thankful every day to do what I do.  I feel like I am rewarded every time I get to read my books to kids and their eyes start to gleam. Last year, I was reading “A Flicker of Hope” to a group of 4th and 5th graders.  Right in the middle of the story, a 4th grade girl started sobbing.  I thought to myself “Oh no, maybe one of her family members had committed suicide and this book is just too real.” The counselor quickly ushered the child to her office.  The next morning, I received a call from the counselor. “Just wanted you to know what happened yesterday. When I got back to my office with that little girl, she reached into her pocket and pulled out 27 pills.  She told me she hated herself and she wanted to disappear. She had planned on ending her life that day after school by taking the pills. Then she said “But now I know if my flame goes out, I might not be able to relight it.  I don’t want my flame to go out. Can you lend me some of your light?”  The counselor continued, “I have several kids that are currently on suicide watch, but this is a child I would have NEVER expected to feel like this.  Thank you, Julia for writing A Flicker of Hope. Your book saved a kid’s life yesterday.”

MG:  Your story illustrates how very critical the role of school counselor is to the safety of students—from the inside out— and really the whole school community.  Connections, trust, and relationships are at the heart of all that we do to ensure that our schools are safe and our students have a safe place for ALL to learn and grow. And that means school counselors too!  What advice do you have for combatting fatigue, managing stress, and remaining present as a school counselor today?

JC:  Being a school counselor can be exhausting emotionally, physically, spiritually, and psychologically. Good counselors find a way to put work on the back burner when they leave school.  You must find ways to replenish yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually, and psychologically, so you can be energized for the next day. The glass of life is not half empty or have full… the glass is refillable…and you are the re-filler!  When my job as a school counselor was adding to my life, I always found ways to share that with my loved ones appropriately. However, on those days when it took from my life, I closed the door on work the minute I stepped into my house. If you want to be good at school counseling, you must be balanced in as many aspects of yourself as possible.

MG:  And that applies to all of us doesn’t it?  School counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, school resource officers, administrators, educators, support staff, facilities folks, parents, and students, and on and on.  We need to look out for each other and the school community.  It takes all of us.

JC:  Yes, we are better—and safer together!

MG:  Thank you, Julia!  And thank you to all of our school counselors this week and every week, for all that you do to keep our kids and our schools safe and sound!

Julia Cook is an award-winning children’s book author, with over 100 titles, translated into 9 languages, and over 2 million books sold.  Julia is a former teacher and school counselor, and a renowned international speaker.  

 

 

Last year, we released our first State of School Report, a national survey which aimed to shine a light on several school safety issues communities face. Our survey included perspectives from parents, students, educators (teachers, administrators, staff, mental wellness professionals, and SROs), and the general public.  

We found there was a sizable communication gap between educators and other stakeholders (parents and students in particular) and that students were dissatisfied with their school’s current safety conversations and actions. These findings helped initiate some very important conversations in our schools and we are eager to continue our discussion as we looked towards our follow-up survey conducted earlier this year.  

In the State of School Safety Report 2019, we followed up on the progress our school communities have made, but also aimed to discover new patterns that point to where we are falling short at the national level. We found there are still issues pertaining to the communication gap between educators and other stakeholders, with 60 percent of students feeling like their concerns and feedback are not being considered. Students also believe their school has an illusion of safety, which results in a false sense of security –with educators feeling largely split as to whether they agree or disagree with that assessment.

One of the most interesting findings we uncovered centered around the different perceptions between stakeholders, regarding mental health experts and education. We found that “80 percent of educators knew where to find mental health experts in their school, but only about 50 percent of parents and students did.” This statistic, and many others, indicate to us that there is still a lot to discuss when it comes to communicating with our school community about safety and resources. To read a summary of the research or the full report, download the report here: https://www.safeandsoundschools.org/research/.

We’d like to thank Bark for its generous donation that helped fund the Safe and Sound Schools team’s time to review results, coordinate external reviews, and prepare the final report.

Please share this report with your community to get the conversation started!

 

By Cameron Fox, Safe and Sound Schools Teen Ambassador

Through the Safe and Sound Schools Youth Council (SSYC), students can get the resources to easily create a school safety council within their own communities.  I recently started my own chapter- the Summerville Youth Safety Council at my school, Summerville High in South Carolina.

In our first meeting, we brainstormed issues and areas of importance to improve our school’s safety.  Many people believe that implementing more physical safety features such as cameras, windows, and locks, are the only ways that schools can become safer.  While physical safety measures are extremely vital to a safe and secure school, our council asked ourselves questions like, ‘What other methods could impact the feeling of safety?  What could the student body do to promote change?’  We came up with 4 ways students can make schools safer.

Build relationships between students and school staff

I believe that creating a familiarity with the school’s staff can encourage students to report safety concerns.  Many students that I have spoken with are more comfortable speaking to a teacher rather than an administrative officer.

The council members and I came up with the idea of a Teacher-Student Breakfast held at the high school.  The event will allow students to really get to know their teachers. This is important because the bond between teachers and students has a big impact on the safety of a school.

Know the difference between ‘snitching’ and reporting

Many students fear retaliation from peers, and become discouraged when it comes to reporting a threat.  However, they don’t understand the greater risk of not saying something about suspicious activity. Speaking up can impact everyone in the school community.  Students that report can save lives.  This aspect of school safety is extremely powerful, and helps prevent potential threats.

Get to know the physical safety measures & protocols at school 

My chapter realized that students within our high school don’t recognize the physical safety devices employed on campus.  It is important to make them more aware about what these devices are and how they are used. I believe that educating students about this equipment is a simple way to empower students, and evoke a better feeling of safety.

Taking the 2019 State of School Safety Survey 

Safe and Sound Schools has created a survey that allows students, teachers, and parents to share their thoughts on school safety.  This is an easy, yet important, method to encourage individuals to speak about how safe they feel.  This survey will gather your feedback and point out the topics that are trending across the nation. Just make sure you complete the survey here by Thursday, April 4, 2019!

I hope this blog post encourages other students to take action and be proactive to make their schools safer.  Click here for the step-by-step process to start your own Safe and Sound Youth Council chapter.


Cameron Fox attends Summerville High School in South Carolina.  She is a teen ambassador for Safe and Sound Schools and the reigning Miss Green Wave Teen 2019.  As a titleholder within the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization, her advocacy platform is “Feeling Safe and Secure in Schools.”  Cameron is an active member of the local Dorchester Task Force for School Safety, and her goal to ensure a safe learning environment for youth.  She works to inspire students to utilize their voices and become leaders in their school communities.

 

Lisa Hamp is a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting that took place on April 16, 2007. Today, Lisa speaks and writes about her experience surviving and recovering from the Virginia Tech shooting to help others.

I remember as a kid when I used to get excited for a new school year. I would look forward to back-to-school shopping, new clothes, and new school supplies. I would look forward to finding out my class schedule, and which friends I was going to have class with.

My heart aches for the students who aren’t going to have that this year. My heart aches for the students who have survived a school tragedy and don’t want to return to school. My heart aches for those who have witnessed school violence and are experiencing high anxiety as they are fearful to return to school this year.

I grew up in middle-to-upper class suburbia. Helicopter parents, and chain restaurants. Kids wearing Abercrombie and moms driving minivans. I felt safe all the time. But on April16, 2007, that sense of safety was stripped from me. I was sitting in class at Virginia Tech when I heard an unfamiliar popping sound. It sounded like gunfire. During the next eleven minutes, my classmates and I laid on the floor pushing the desks and chairs against the door while the gunman shot at our door and tried to push it open. In those terrible minutes, the gunman killed 30 students and professors in the building, and wounded and traumatized many more.

My recovery journey was far from perfect, but I eventually found my way through the fog. When I reflect on recovery, I realize I learned a lot about counseling, boundaries, confidence, self-care, and feelings. This stuff isn’t taught in school. You learn it by observing those around you.

For those of you who have survived a school shooting or witnessed school violence, I want to share with you what I learned as you return to the school this year.

First, going back to school was harder than I expected. I had a tremendous fear of a shooting happening again. Many people would tell me that it wouldn’t happen again, but I thought to myself, “they don’t know that.” I finally had to accept that there is no guarantee it won’t happen again.

Second, I learned to feel the uncomfortable feelings. I felt survivor’s guilt, fear, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness and self-doubt. I learned that these feelings were telling me something. They were telling me that I didn’t feel safe. Even though I hadn’t been shot, I had been hurt. As time passed, I was able to rebuild that sense of safety, and acknowledge my own wounds.

Third, I found good listeners. My recovery made great strides when I began connecting with others affected by school tragedy. These people helped me feel less lonely. We bonded. We connected on a level deeper than I connected with some of my closest family and friends.

If you have suffered a traumatic experience in school, getting back in the classroom may be one of the biggest challenges in your life. So here’s my advice: Trust your gut. Listen to your feelings. Write in a journal. Talk to your friends. Hug your friends. Trust yourself. Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. Ask to step out of class when it feels uncomfortable. You got this! And remember, you are not alone.


Lisa Hamp, is a survivor, a wife and mother, and national level speaker with Safe and Sound Schools. Learn more about her experiences and work with Safe and Sound Schools at http://www.kirklandproductions.com/lisa-hamp.html.

As summer draws to a close, the next few weeks are prime time to take your kids back-to-school shopping. Lunch boxes, binders, and classroom essentials like tissues and cleaning wipes are necessary purchases for parents to make before children start their first day back.

Although we assume that these common school supplies are safe for our children to use, there is still the chance that harmful ingredients can be present. Before you take your child shopping, keep these three ingredients in mind and make the conscious decision to purchase and inquire about healthier products.

1. Phthalates in plastic products

Phthalates are a class of chemicals used to improve the durability of plastic. They are found in a number of consumer goods including food & beverage containers, children’s toys, and even shower curtains. But, they are also widely present in school supplies such as lunch boxes, backpacks, and binders.

Phthalates are a known hormone disruptor, and multiple studies have linked exposure to developmental and reproductive concerns. Research has also suggested a risk of allergic diseases due to DEHP and BBzP phthalate exposure.

When you take your child shopping for supplies, consider purchasing eco-friendly binders made from non-plastic products such as cardboard or fabric. Avoid backpacks with plastic designs or exteriors as these likely contain phthalates. If you’re on the hunt for a new lunch box, choose cloth over hard plastic versions or check out independent reviews such as this one from Romper for phthalate and BPA-free options.

2. VOCs in classroom cleaning supplies

VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are a variety of chemicals released as gases from common cleaning products. Air fresheners, chlorine bleach, glass cleaners, and even wet wipes can contain these chemicals that are linked to a number of health issues. Exposure has been known to cause headaches, liver and kidney damage, and allergic skin reactions.

Oftentimes, teachers will ask students to bring in cleaning supplies for the classroom. Before you throw any brand into your cart however, check the label for VOCs. Benzyl alcohol, ammonia, and ethanol are three common ingredients to look out for, but consultCenter for Disease Control’s (CDC) list for others that may be present.

To err on the side of caution, choose eco-friendly cleaning supplies that will protect your children and the environment. If you’re still unsure about a product’s safety, look for buzzwords on the packaging like “harmful if swallowed,” “use gloves,” or “use in a well-ventilated area.” These phrases are usually good indicators that a product contains harmful chemicals like VOCs.

3. Glyphosate in School Groundskeeping Products

Although this ingredient isn’t one that parents will be able to directly impact, it’s still important to know the products that are being used to treat school grounds, sports fields, and playground areas.

Glyphosate is an active ingredient inherbicides, widely used by gardeners, homeowners, and farmers. In recent years however,lawsuits have alleged thatglyphosate is a carcinogen linked to cancers including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In fact, a school groundskeeper’s legal casehas been the first to move forwardafter years of exposure to the chemical during his time as pest manager for a San Francisco school district.

A study published in JAMA found that the prevalence of human exposure to glyphosate has increased by 500% in recent years. However, research is still being conducted to determine the human health effects of this exposure. Concerned parents should inquire with school administration about the products being used on school grounds, especially since the chemical’s safety remains under speculation.

Conclusion

Heading back to school is an exciting time, but don’t let the anticipation of a new academic year cause you to forget about your children’s safety. Take time to read product labels, inquire about the safety of your school’s groundskeeping efforts, and ensure that the items you send with your child into the classroom are safe and healthy for all.


Guest Author Bio:
Morgan Statt is a health & safety investigator who covers a number of issues including product safety and trending health news. With her background in strategic communication, she strives to educate readers on how they can make informed decisions about the products they purchase every day. In her free time, she can be found crafting the perfect Spotify playlist and supporting local businesses who share in her passion for quality food. Follow her on Twitter @morganstatt.

Editor’s Note:
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.