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.
Our mission is founded on the principle that our children –the nation’s children–deserve to learn and develop in a safe and secure environment, surrounded by peers, educators, and staff that empower them to succeed.
As a rule, Safe and Sound Schools does not take a position on political topics. However, on the heels of a divisive and embattled election season, our nation is now faced with the task of restoring unity, stability, and a sense of safety. Our schools and our students are not immune to the current political climate. They watch the news, engage in social media, and engage in the political process at home, on the bus, and at school.
Unfortunately, not all of these interactions are positive, respectful, and considerate. In this climate, students have reported harassment, bullying, and even fear and uncertainty about their future and safety. Like most parents, educators, and community members, safety is our number-one priority. Here are five suggestions to help ease concerns with your students and help them make sense of the current post-election climate.
1. Make time for discussion. Chances are your student has an idea about the kinds of issues our country is facing. Whether they are getting their information from home, the news, social media, or their peers, they are subject to a lot of information and many opinions. Take this time to hold a family discussion. Ask your child about their day and address concerns they have about current events happening in their school, community, or in the news.
2. Encourage kindness, compassion, and inclusiveness. Violence, bullying, and harassment are not acceptable and cannot be tolerated. By modeling kindness, teaching compassion, and encouraging inclusiveness for our children, we plant the seeds of hope among our nation’s youth and open the door to understanding and acceptance.
3. Teach acceptance. Our country is diverse and filled with people who come from all walks of life. As the National Association of School Psychologists states, “American democracy is founded on respect for individual differences.” Teach children that people should be treated with dignity, fairness, and respect despite perceived race, appearance, language, orientation, affiliation, or religion. Model this behavior by remembering to embrace these values at all times.
4. Be vocal. If your child has any concerns or has experienced any sort of violence or harassment at school, encourage them to speak up. Hold a meeting with their teacher or school principal to address the issue. Work together to find a solution so that your child feels safe at school. If your child is the one causing the trouble, work with your student, and the school if necessary, to ensure their behavior is respectful going forward. Remember that every child deserves to learn in a safe environment.
5. Seek help. Remind your students they can make use of their school community and its resources, and as a parent, you can too. School communities are comprised of mental health professionals, educators, administrators, school safety officials, and parent associations – connect with these resources. Support, understanding, and solace can often be found within these groups. You may even discover that other families are going through similar experiences. Safety and confidence can be restored when you address concerns, seek help, and work together as a community.
We realize that as a nation, our backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions may differ, and that is one of the things that makes our country special. One thing we can all come together around is the common goal of providing safe and secure schools for all our children.
Promoting Compassion and Acceptance in Crisis, National Association of School Psychologists
Social Media and School Crises: Facts and Tips, National Association of School Psychologists
On December 14, 2012, I came home from a long day at high school only to find my mother crying in front of the TV. It was my senior year. I didn’t need any other stressors in my life. I was in the process of sending college applications and writing essays.
I asked my mother what happened. “Que paso?” She told me that 26 people were shot at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. “Twenty of them were just babies. Little kids,” said my mother as she sobbed and pointed at the TV.
I stood there motionless staring at the television. A million thoughts ran through my mind. How could this happen? Why did it happen? Who would take the lives of innocent children at an elementary school? What steps did the school take to protect to the students? Was I even safe in my own school?
I found myself frustrated and angry. I wanted to do something, but what could I do? I was just a senior in high school.
Four years later, I found myself a Boston University College of Communication student as a PRLab account executive for Safe and Sound Schools. Maybe it was destiny, it was my opportunity to finally do something about school safety.
Using my skills and knowledge of public relations, I worked with my PRLab team, Yunong Song and Xiangyi Zhao, to find creative ways to spread the word about school safety. When we heard about Safe and Sound’s #givingtuesday fundraising campaign, Change for School Safety, we knew that we had to get everyone at COM involved.
We first presented to the entire PRLab agency of a 100 students. As we explained why we as an agency need to get involved, we heard the many stories of students recounting where they were the day of the Sandy Hook tragedy. They told us how they felt unsafe returning to school after it happened and revealed their standing concern for their young siblings, nieces and nephews. PRLab accepted to be a part of the #ChangeforSchoolSafety.
Eager to get a head start, every PRLab student dropped their spare change in our Change for School Safety jar –a jar that students have access to in our meeting room, so they (and their clients) can drop off change anytime.
We didn’t stop there. On November 7, we challenged the AdLab agency to be a part of the Change for School Safety. As we left the presentation, the entire AdLab class yelled at us. “You guys are going down!”
It was a good feeling. It was also good to hear that one of the AdLab students, Emily Hartwell, was going to make her own jar. “I am really happy that PRLab challenged us to participate in Change for School Safety. I am also participating at home by making my own school safety jar for my house.”
As BU students, we want to know our campus and every other campuses throughout the nation is safe. Every child in America deserves to learn in a safe environment. Every parent in America deserves to know that their child is safe at school. We need to rethink school safety. We can’t wait for someone else to make that change. You have to be the change you want to see in this world.
Our team is working hard to get Boston University students involved in the Change for School Safety by talking to people, putting up flyers around campus, and getting people to understand why school safety should not be taken for granted. I just hope that by talking to at least five students a day, we can get other students from other colleges and universities to participate. I hope it encourages them tell five others and so on –family, friends, coworkers, professors, anyone. School safety should be on everyone’s mind. It needs to be a priority.
Will you take the challenge and be a part of the change to make schools safer for all students?
Maria, PRLab student at the Boston University College of Communication
Scarlett Lewis, Founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, mother of Jesse Lewis, and Safe and Sound speaker/instructor, shares our dedication to the safety of children. Here she talks about her mission and Jesse’s legacy, teaching love and compassion to prevent violence and promote peace.
After the shooting death of my 6 year old son, Jesse Lewis, along with 19 of his classmates and 6 educators, two questions emerged from my shock and horror: How could something like this happen? What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
I watched as people began pointing fingers, first at the shooter, his mother, and then at guns, politicians, video games and media—all to no avail. When blaming and demanding that others fix the problem doesn’t work, what then? We must take responsibility for what is happening to our children and in our society. We must be part of the solution. The truth is that every school shooting is preventable. Period.
Before Jesse’s funeral, I found a message he had written on our kitchen chalkboard shortly before he died, “Norturting Helinn Love” (Nurturing Healing Love). Those three words are in the definition of compassion across all cultures. Love is as necessary to our healthy existence as food and water. This need unites and connects us all as humans. What if we could infuse our classrooms with love and teach all children how to give, and receive love?
The hard fact of the matter is, some children do not receive love at home and in their lives. I set out to figure a way to get Jesse’s message into classrooms with my understanding that if the shooter knew how to give, and receive love, our tragedy would never have happened. I found that this was already being done, through Social and Emotional Learning, “SEL”.
SEL has been around for decades and teaches children how to get along with one another, how to manage their emotions, have empathy for others and show compassion – basically how to be responsible and kind citizens. Children and adults without these skills suffer from feeling a lack of connection to others, impaired–if not disabled–ability to learn, increased physical and mental health issues, and increased rates of drug abuse and incarceration among other negative implications.
Studies show that children who receive SEL have better academic performance, more positive attitudes and behaviors, and experience less anxiety and depression. Long-term studies following kindergarteners who were taught Social and Emotional Learning skills into adulthood have found there were higher graduation rates and even less divorce rates among these individuals. In fact ALL the research on SEL shows that this is the most powerful and proactive mental health initiative we have, and cultivates safer and more positive classroom and school climates.
When I think about what we focus on in schools other than academics: anti-bullying, drug awareness, suicide prevention, sex education, it looks to me like we are teaching kids what not to do. Social and emotional learning teaches kids what to do by providing a positive focus on tools and skills that can help children feel good, about themselves and others.
Columbia University did a study recently that showed for every $1 invested in SEL programs there was an $11 return to the community. I can’t think of a better investment –in our children, in our safety, and in our futures. In fact, SEL has proven to be more important than academics, when determining future success. When children have these skills, personal and academic achievement follows.
The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement is committed to making sure every child has access to this life-changing and life-saving education. This fall we are piloting our signature Choose Love Enrichment Program, Pre-K through 12th grade, that includes SEL, Character Values, Positive Psychology, Neuroscience, Mindfulness and more. The Choose Love Enrichment Program teaches children a formula to choose love in every situation, based on Jesse’s message. This is offered online and is free at www.jesselewischooselove. org.
Scarlett Lewis, Founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, mother of Jesse Lewis, and Safe and Sound speaker/instructor.