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As we experience some of the most intense challenges our country has ever faced, students are watching. Now, educators across the US are tasked with explaining dramatic events as tensions unfold in real time. This article shares resources for how to navigate these issues and support your students.

The dramatic events of Jan. 6 and their continuing fallout demand sustained and careful classroom attention from teachers. But there is no complete roadmap available to them yet.

What makes teaching about the insurrection on Capitol Hill especially complicated is that it’s not a spontaneous event, but rather the product of multiple factors and trends: political polarization, a disintegrating news infrastructure and the rise of social media, a backlash to recent discourse about criminal justice, and racism, among many things.

Nor were the day’s events entirely without historical precedent. Disputed elections have occurred at several points in American history, and there has been at least one other attempted insurgency.

It’s OK not to have everything all figured out immediately, said Emma Humphries, the chief education officer at iCivics, the civics curriculum provider and advocacy group. At least in the beginning, teachers should trust their instincts and take steps to make sure students feel safe. But longer term?

Read this full article in EdWeek: How to Teach the U.S. Capitol Attack: Dozens of Resources to Get You Started

As we celebrate this unusual holiday season and prepare to welcome a new year, we are finding new, creative ways to virtually connect with our families, friends, and school communities.  The following survey shows that students are asking for more ways to connect with their teachers- and school leaders are listening.

Middle and high school students say that they’re not doing as well in school as they were before the pandemic, and that they want more opportunities for connection with their teachers, according to new research from the National Education Association and the National PTA.

The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in October, asked 800 public school students ages 13-18 about the academic, emotional, and economic effects of COVID-19 for themselves and their families. Researchers also conducted focus groups with the teenagers.

Read this full article in EdWeek: Students Want More Opportunities to Connect With Teachers During the Pandemic

Teachers are utilizing grief training to help students bearing tremendous amounts of grief and trauma.

During a standard history lesson this year, a student in Alexandra Hinkson-Dutrevil’s fourth grade class spontaneously burst into tears and revealed that his young cousin, who lived with him, was on a ventilator after having contracted Covid-19.

The student then revealed to the class on Zoom that he and the rest of his family had to leave the home they shared with the cousin in Frederiksted on the U.S. Virgin Islands to quarantine and that he wasn’t sure he would ever return to his home or see his cousin again.

Under normal circumstances, Hinkson-Dutrevil would have taken the child aside or referred him to another staff member so she could continue her instruction. Instead, she let the student finish, abandoned her lesson and began a discussion allowing other students to discuss their emotions about the pandemic.

It was a strategy she learned in a grief training program for teachers that she took a few weeks previously.

Read this full article on NBC News: How grief training is helping educators manage pandemic-related trauma in schools

 

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!