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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.

Working for Safe and Sound Schools means meeting and working with a lot of amazing people, but the young people we get to work with through our Safe and Sound Youth Council may just be the most fun! We love our parents, teachers, mental health, police, fire, and safety professionals no less. But for this former teacher, it’s still all about “the kids.”

In January, I was invited to Westport, Massachusetts by Briannah, a high school senior looking for help with her senior project. The topic? School safety, of course. She could have picked a million different—and worthwhile–social concerns to focus on, but for her, it was important to give back to the community where she grew up by ensuring that it would be safe for classes to come.

Since founding Safe and Sound Schools, high schoolers like Briannah have reached out to us to learn how they can be a part of our mission. It should not have surprised us that so many young people across the country would take note and reach out to join in. Yet the wisdom of these young people still takes my breath away.

They get it.

School is for them and about them. They are leaders, thinkers, creators, dreamers and problem solvers. They are our future.

So why not give them a seat at the table and watch the magic happen? Every young person that has reached out to us over the years has had a hand in developing the Safe and Sound Youth Council.  For each of them and now beneficiaries like Westport High School students, we are proud to share the exciting growth of our program. Safe and Sound Youth Councils are gearing up in Massachusetts, Connecticut, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Maryland, Utah, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Ohio, California, Colorado, Louisiana, Texas and Florida!

As I shared my story at Westport High and talked about love, loss, and learning, I watched an auditorium full of middle and high school students follow me–kind of amazing as these folks can be a tough crowd! Yet there they were, every step of the way, eager to learn and then to find out how they can be part of the solution.

As I wrapped up my talk and finished with an invitation to join our Youth Council, I scanned the crowd of young faces to see who might step up. I saw ideas, enthusiasm, and energy throughout. I saw leaders, thinkers, and change-makers ready to get started. And I saw the adults—police, teachers, counselors, staff members, and parents ready too. Ready to make room at the table. Ready to share in this work. Ready to work together to keep their school safe and sound.

Thank you to Briannah and the staff of Westport High School for hosting Safe and Sound Schools! We look forward to working and learning with you!


Michele Gay, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools

Students make the best teachers. They are the eyes and ears of their schools…. the leaders of movements… and the galvanizers of change. In all the years I’ve spent traveling around the country, I’ve met some incredible students who are just as inspired as we are to create a nation of safer schools.

As excited as I was to meet these students, and thrilled that they understand the need for school safety, I felt frustrated that there wasn’t a way for them to turn their ideas into action. So fueled by their passion and bright ideas, we talked to our network of experts, students, teachers and administrators to build a new program: The Safe and Sound Youth Council.

The Safe and Sound Youth Council gives students a seat at the table and brings them into the national conversation of school safety. It is a leadership program, accessible to all, and gives students the support they need to assess their school’s safety, act with smart and sustainable changes, and audit their impact. At the same time, the Safe and Sound Youth Council provides them with a foundation of credibility to help bring their ideas to life.

We hope you will check out the program page to learn more about the Safe and Sound Youth Council. Please also share this program with your networks, especially any students. The faster we can get more Safe and Sound Youth Council chapters off the ground, the closer we’ll come to creating a nation of safer schools.

So thank you to Kaia, Noah, Trey, Makenzi, Colby, Anthony, John, Julia, Olivia, James, and the countless other students who helped bring to life this unique and empowering program. At Safe and Sound Schools, we will never give up, and thanks to the new Youth Council program, we can bring the students into the conversation and foster a new generation of champions who won’t give up, either.


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

 

In Part 1 of this two-part blog series, we discussed the popular Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why.” We concluded Part 1 by discussing the alarming statistics surrounding youth suicide, findings that have lead many schools to push for mandatory suicide prevention efforts and training in schools.

At the time of this writing, 26 states have passed legislation, either recommending or requiring suicide prevention training for school personnel. Training requirements vary, but the most accepted standard is:

  • One hour of training annually on the warning signs of suicide
  • School referral and support services for identified suicidal students

The majority of states have only addressed the need for training. However, a few states have also addressed the need for schools to have policies and procedures for suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. Several states have addressed the need to identify high risk youth for suicidal behavior, which include LGBT youth, homeless youth, children in foster care, and children living in a home with a substance abusing or mentally ill family member.

The Jason Flatt Act has passed in 19 states and extensive information is available at jasonfoundation.com. JF, a leader in the suicide prevention national movement, focuses on the need for suicide prevention training in schools. Every state that has passed the Jason Flatt Act can access free online trainings on their website. I am proud to share that with my colleague, Rich Lieberman, we have created five modules for the JF on the following topics:

  • Suicide and LGBT
  • Suicide and bullying
  • Suicide an and NSSI suicide
  • Suicide and depression
  • Suicide postvention

It is very important that school community members, such as administrators, counselors, school psychologist, nurses and social workers, familiarize themselves with the legislative recommendations and all requirements pertaining to their state. These key school community members need to make a commitment to stay current in the field of youth suicide prevention. One way to do that is to sign up for the free Weekly Spark from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. The Weekly Spark provides a summary of trends and research emailed on a weekly basis. School community members can also assist their community by collaborating with suicide prevention advocates, making sure to identify resources for prevention in their community.

If your state has not passed related legislation, then please be an advocate for suicide prevention in schools. If your state passed legislation, then ensure that the legislative initiatives for your state are followed at your school. One place to start is to ask your school for the formation of a suicide prevention task force.

The Jason Flatt Act has passed in the following states: Tennessee, Louisiana, California, Mississippi, Illinois, Arkansas, West Virginia, Utah, Alaska, South Carolina, Ohio, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Georgia, Texas, South Dakota, Alabama and Kansas.

States with legislation for suicide prevention in schools other than Flatt Act:Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Netflix’s program “13 Reasons Why” caused many schools to take action and alert parents of their many concerns regarding the show’s message and portrayal of suicide, but now it is time for schools to take action to prevent youth suicides by training school staff and developing suicide prevention plans.


Dr. Scott Poland is on the advisory board of Safe and Sound Schools and has a long background in schools and suicide prevention. He is the author and co-author of five books, from the 1989 book, Suicide Intervention in Schools, to the 2015 book, Suicide in Schools. He is the co-author of the Suicide Safer School Plan for Texas and the Crisis Action School Toolkit on Suicide for Montana. He can be reached at spoland@nova.edu

The very popular Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why” raised much needed discussion about youth suicide prevention in our schools last spring. Many schools responded by sending messages to parents, alerting them of the content of the show and encouraging them to either not let their children watch it at all or to watch it with their children.

Unfortunately, the show had many unsafe messages about youth suicide that many experts believe, will lead to suicide contagion.

At a presentation in Tampa, Florida, shortly after the Netflix’s show aired, a mental health specialist shared that immediately after the show, many adolescents were hospitalized for suicidal actions. Several had attempted suicide in the same manner as Hannah Baker, the suicide victim and show’s protagonist. Here are a few of the many unsafe messages in the show:

  • Suicide was portrayed as a logical outcome as a result of bullying.
  • Suicide was portrayed as an act of revenge.
  • The method of the suicide was shown in a dramatic and horrifying detailed scene.
  • Adults were not portrayed as helpful to teenagers and the majority were portrayed as non-existent or oblivious to what was going on in their child’s life.
  • The terms mental illness, mental health and depression were not mentioned in the show.
  • The school counselor in the show was depicted as non-approachable and non-helpful.
  • The most likable character in the show, Clay, stated after the suicide of his friend Hannah Baker, “we need more kindness in the world”. Kindness is certainly important, but is not enough by itself to help a young person struggling with mental illness.

That said, the beginning of the school year is an opportunity for schools to examine and improve their suicide prevention efforts. Unfortunately, youth suicide is at or near an all-time high. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents in America. It is important to note that the suicide rate for middle school-aged girls has increased more dramatically than any other group in America according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

To gain a better understanding of youth suicide, many school districts have participated in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBS) for high school students. Schools are encouraged to review their local and state data. The 2015 national YRBS results indicate the following:

  • 17.7% percent of high school students seriously thought about attempting suicide in the last twelve months.
  • 14.6% actually made a plan to do so in the last twelve months.
  • 8.6% actually attempted suicide in the last twelve months.

This means that in a high school of 1000 students, 86 students have made a suicide attempt within the last year. Those with previous history of suicide are the most likely to make a future suicide attempt. The volume of suicidal behavior for young people results in the necessity of schools providing suicide prevention training to all personnel who interact on a regular basis with students. In fact, there is a growing national legislative movement for suicide prevention in schools. In part 2 of this blog, we will take a deeper dive into the discourse and legislation surrounding suicide prevention as it relates to schools.


Dr. Scott Poland is on the advisory board of Safe and Sound Schools and has a long background in schools and suicide prevention. He is the author and co-author of five books, from the 1989 book, Suicide Intervention in Schools, to the 2015 book, Suicide in Schools. He is the co-author of the Suicide Safer School Plan for Texas and the Crisis Action School Toolkit on Suicide for Montana. He can be reached at spoland@nova.edu

This time of year I’m reminded of that Staples commercial that ran a few years back…

Celebrated nationally every May, Teacher Appreciation Week offers students, parents, and other school community members an opportunity to recognize teachers for the important work they do in contributing to the education and safety of our children. As professionals tasked with inspiring young minds and laying the foundation for future leaders and professionals, teachers often go above and beyond the call of duty. From spending lunch and after school time providing our students with extra support, to spending their own money on classroom supplies, to becoming emotionally invested in helping our students navigate school life, teachers have proven to not only be educators but also caregivers.

For these reasons and many more, we ask that you take this week to #ThankATeacher.

A heartfelt thank you note is always a welcomed gesture from both parents and students. Parents who have some free time can even consider volunteering in the classroom as another gesture of appreciation. If you are looking to help in other ways, you may also consider donating supplies to the teacher’s classroom, purchasing a gift card, organizing a potluck or catered lunch, or gifting spring blooms from your garden or local market.

Let us know how you are celebrating teachers this week. And if you are on social media, consider participating in the #ThankATeacher campaign.

Below are some statistics and facts that put the ongoing dedication of our teachers into perspective.

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.

Now that we are well into Spring and warmer days are upon us, more kids will be playing outdoors. Parents and guardians will find themselves frequenting public parks while teachers and administrators will find themselves keeping watchful eyes as students actively spend recess and/or lunch on the playground.

Since this week is National Playground Safety Week, it’s a good time to review safety tips, assess playground equipment, and talk to children about playground safety.  

Although playgrounds have certainly improved since our days, a recent study by the CDC found that emergency departments still see more than 20,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related traumatic brain injury each year. Below are some tips and suggestions schools can consider.

Tips for playground safety:

  • Actively supervise children at all times.
  • Encourage children to follow playground rules and play safely with other children. Shoving, crowding, and pushing should be discouraged. And although playfully wrestling may be fun for some children, these types of activities should be avoided while on top of a play structure.
  • Dress children appropriately for playground play. Avoid items that can cause strangulation like scarves, necklaces, purses.
  • Use playgrounds that are age-appropriate. Having separate age-appropriate areas can help prevent accidental injuries.
  • Take children to playgrounds with shock-absorbing surfaces like rubber, grass, sand, wood chips, or synthetic turf.
  • Conduct periodical assessments of playgrounds by following the S.A.F.E framework.

If you feel a playground is unsafe, report your concerns to the owner, park district, or school district. And remember to always keep a watchful eye on children.