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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.

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.  

unknownUnfortunately, 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.


Works cited

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.

img_1414
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!”

img_1411It 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