Headshot image of Sgt. Travis Mitchell followed by a quote on his reason for becoming a School Resource Officer.

It’s National School Resource Officer Appreciation Day and we couldn’t be more thrilled to join communities across the country in celebration of School Resource Officers (SROs)! As valuable and essential members in our school communities, we are honored to work closely with SROs from around the country. To kick off today’s festivities, we sat down for a little Q&A with our good friend, Sgt. Travis Mitchell of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, to chat about what the SRO role means to him and how SROs help keep our schools safe and sound.

 

Q: Let’s start off with you – your journey. What inspired you to become a school resource officer and how long have you been in this role? 

A: Having worked several years in patrol, I noticed a need for additional role models for the youth in our area. I wanted to help fill that void and expand the positive relationship between law enforcement and the community. I realized this could be accomplished by becoming a School Resource Officer. I have had the privilege of working within the School Safety Division for over 10 years.  

 

Q: In our research, we’ve found that there is often a communication gap between school and home. Sometimes it’s a lack of awareness in terms of the safety plans or resources available, and sometimes it’s confusion surrounding the roles of some of our school safety leaders. How would you describe your role and how does it impact/contribute to school safety? 

A: I am fortunate to help lead a team of amazing School Resource Officers, and we have a strong working relationship with our school community. We continually look for opportunities to build positive relationships through initiatives and programs that engage our school communities. Additionally, we work closely with our schools in emergency planning, preventative measures, threat assessments, exercises, communication of safety concerns, crisis response teams, after hours incident response and much more, all in an effort to help keep our schools safe.  

 

Q: Speaking of your role, what is one common misconception about SROs that you want to address?

A: Sometimes SROs are viewed as simply a physical security agent for their school. An SRO is so much more than this. SROs should become part of their school’s culture. At various times they may become heroes, coaches, mentors, friends, or informal counselors. One example comes to mind where one of our SROs became a hero to an elementary student. The student was playing outside during recess, when she returned inside she realized she lost a ring which had been given to her by her grandmother before her passing. The SRO was notified of the incident and helped look for the ring with no luck. The next day the SRO brought in his metal detector and searched the entire playground until he found the ring. This effort from the SRO not only positively impacted this little girl but also the school community.  

 

Q: Let’s bring it back to the impact. What is one instance where you felt your skillset and/or training made a difference? Perhaps in the life of a student or the greater school community. 

A: The ability to build positive relationships is a valuable tool. Through a coordinated effort with the schools, we were able to implement a Lunch Buddy program where Deputies, investigators, command staff and SROs simply go into elementary schools and interact with students and staff during lunch. The result of this helped build a relationship with the school community and the community at large. As a bonus, first responders who participated gained a better understanding of the school layout in the event of an emergency. 

 

Q: Before we get to our last question, let’s quickly talk about peaks and valleys. What is one thing you love about your profession and one thing that is challenging?

A: I enjoy seeing the impact of positive relationships. I feel the mutual trust we build with our community will help keep us safer, connected, inclusive and engaged for many years to come. One of the challenges we face is sometimes wishing we could do more. Knowing additional services could be beneficial to someone, and those services not being readily available, can be challenging.   

 

Q: Lastly, any words of wisdom or encouragement you would like to share with others who are looking to become school resource officers?

A: It’s about the children. Children generally don’t have control over their environment, so be mindful that what we see and experience around the kitchen table isn’t the same for everyone. Taking the time to learn others’ values is time worth taking. For me, becoming an SRO is one of the most impactful experiences of my professional life.

 

Headshot image of Sgt. Travis Mitchell followed by a quote on his reason for becoming a School Resource Officer.  



Molly Hudgens posing in front of the Sycamore Middle School campus. Molly is a school counselor, a national school safety expert and speaker, and the recipient of a Congressional Medal of Honor Citizens Honor for a Single Act of Heroism.

Happy National School Counseling Week! We recently sat down with one of Safe and Sound’s favorite school counselors, Molly Hudgens, to shine a light on the role school counselors play in supporting student success and safety. In addition serving as a school counselor at Sycamore Middle School, Molly is a national school safety expert and speaker, and the recipient of a Congressional Medal of Honor Citizens Honor for a Single Act of Heroism.

Q: What inspired you to become a school counselor?

A: In my first year of undergrad, a friend encouraged me to take a class called “Marriage and Family.”  Our professor was a mental health therapist who encouraged us to participate in activities that allowed us to practice the roles of both a counselor and a client.  At the end of the semester, he encouraged me to consider becoming a therapist.  In my second semester of graduate school, I took a class in child psychology that was taught by the head of the school counseling department. By that time, I was in my first year of teaching at Sycamore Middle School. He encouraged me to shift from mental health counseling to school counseling.  It was the best decision I could have made.

Q: Let’s talk about peaks and pits. What do you love about your job and what are some of the challenges?

A: The peak of my job is leaving each day knowing that I have helped at least one child to make a positive choice, to focus on his or her future, or to simply leave my office feeling better than he or she did when they came in.

The pit is knowing that I cannot save everyone or change every child’s situation to be positive.  It is most difficult knowing that when a child is not at school, I cannot control his or her environment or how the adults in his or her life will treat them.  I struggle with “leaving it behind” when I leave school each day.

Q: Can you share an experience that you’ve had as a school counselor where you felt your background, training, and/or skill set made a difference in someone’s life?

A: While my almost twenty-four years at Sycamore Middle School have been full of experiences that have challenged and blessed me. The averted shooting at our school on September 28, 2016 will always serve as my most memorable experience. After spending almost ten years researching school shootings and acts of violence on school campuses, I created a training about recognizing red flags that I presented for educators, law enforcement, and juvenile court personnel.  It was an in-depth psychological evaluation of over twenty school shooting events.  This was precipitated after the shooting at Columbine that happened in my first year of teaching.

Eight years later, a fourteen-year-old armed with a semi-automatic handgun, additional ammunition, and a plan to harm people on our campus, came to me in the counseling department at our middle school.  He told me that he came to me because he thought I would be the only person who could talk him out of it.  It would take ninety-minutes and ultimately praying on my knees beside him before he would relinquish the gun to me with no shots fired and no lives lost.

This is a story I am blessed to share through Safe and Sound Schools with those across the country who are invested in school safety.

Q: When it comes to school safety, many people’s first thoughts are technology and security tools – tangible assets if you will. But there’s a very real, very important, very human aspect to school safety that sometimes flies under the radar. How do school counselors help shape school safety?

A: School counselors have the unique role of being a trusted adult on campus who is not viewed by most students as an authoritarian or disciplinarian figure.  Students find in us a place to feel safe, to share deep hurts and trials, and to find direction when they are struggling. When students share their fears, oftentimes it involves issues that need adult intervention or mediation.  Once they develop a rapport with us, they are willing to then come back and share information, concerns, and issues that are brought to their attention regarding other students.  Since we know that most threats will not come from outside but rather from within, this gives us the opportunity to involve our threat assessment and safety teams to intervene with students who need our help.

Q: Any words of wisdom, words of affirmation, or final words for individuals looking to become school counselors?

A: School counseling is not for the faint of heart but rather for the big at heart.  Know that going into this profession you will not always know what to say or do, but your presence alone may be all a child needs to feel safe, comforted, or supported.  Know also that you will be blessed far more than you realize.  Every day brings the unexpected and I love what that entails.

School Counselor Molly Hudgens posing in her Sycamore Middle School campus office. Behind her are cabinets and a counter with fine china she uses to feed her students.

Molly Hudgens serves as a school counselor at Sycamore Middle School. She prides herself in providing real plates for students who visit her office to eat, so you’ll notice the set of china in the background.

A YouTube thumbnail image with the Safe and Sound Schools and Navigate360 logos, as well as the headshots of Thom Jones and Michele Gay.

Michele joins industry expert Thom Jones of Navigate 360 to take a look at how far we’ve come–and where we are headed–in school safety. 

The following conversation has been adapted from a previous interview and revised for clarity and readability. 

MG: Hello, Thom Jones. I’m excited to visit with you and catch up on all things school safety. It’s been a while.

TJ: It has been a while, Michele. We’ve all been moving non stop lately. There’s a lot happening in the world of school safety!

MG: Nonstop indeed.

TJ: As a former administrator, I used to say, “education is not a destination, it’s a journey.”  And after 10 years in school safety, I see the same path to progress– it’s “a journey” as well. 

MG: So true. Stepping into this field almost 10 years ago–about the time I met you for the first time–I was still in that mindset of “there’s a way that we can fix this.” I was looking for “a solution,”  a new approach or innovation. But I quickly learned that improvement is a process and real progress doesn’t happen overnight. There certainly have been great innovations in the field. However, it really all comes back to the fundamentals. Would you agree? Have the basics of school safety changed in the past decade?  

TJ: The fundamentals are still there, Michele. That is where I really applaud the efforts of  our schools and our school communities in school safety. Yes, we continue to see acts of violence occur in both our schools and our society. But, if you really study the data, schools are safer now than they have ever been. That is because our school leaders are working in partnership with law enforcement and mental health much more. I don’t think we give them enough credit. We don’t see these efforts portrayed in the media or on social media. Unfortunately, we will never rid the world of violence. That is why it is so important we do everything we can to prevent acts of violence from occurring and to be prepared as well. 

MG: Let’s talk more about that. Hard as it is to accept, the reality that we are not going to be able to “wave a wand” and make this world perfectly safe is something we have to remember to stay grounded in this work. It’s so easy to feel defeated when tragedies happen. We have to remind ourselves they have happened in the past, and unfortunately, we will continue to see tragedies and crises in our schools and our communities in the future. But the more of us that are dedicated to rising to these challenges – the better and safer our schools are becoming. It’s important that we stop to take stock of the progress our schools are making.   

MG: You and I have seen firsthand what happens when people do come together from all different disciplines. How do we get this message out to our communities that we are all working together to keep schools safe? 

TJ: One of the things I encourage when talking with school leaders is to share what you’re doing around school safety. This doesn’t mean you’re going to share security sensitive information, but you should be sharing all the positive things your school is doing around school safety. It builds confidence within your school community. If you have Safe and Sound Schools in for a presentation or training, share that with the community. By doing this, if an issue or incident occurs, your community has the confidence that you’ve prepared. There’s a plan in place. Also, share with your neighboring communities. Sometimes they are having the same issues your school district may be having. It’s great to know how they are handling the same situations and share resources.

MG: Exactly. Everyone should know all the good work that’s going on. Your community should know when your district has a student leadership program like our Safe and Sound Students or parent involvement like our Parents for Safer Schools. There are a lot of students and parents who want to be involved in school safety. Not everyone does, and that’s okay. But for the people who really do want a seat at the table, there are a lot of great ways to help. And it’s such a win when this happens. To gain student and parent insights and perspectives is invaluable.

TJ: It’s so important! Something I used to say as a principal when I walked the halls visiting with students was, “Hey Michele, how’s it going?” Then I’d ask, “whose responsibility is it for safety here?”  The students would point to themselves and say, “Wow, it’s mine. It’s yours. It’s everyone’s responsibility when it comes to safety.” I would have the same conversation with parents. On Parent Night, I would ask them, “whose responsibility is it for school safety?”  They knew school safety is everyone’s responsibility and that they were part of it. That’s how it should be. 

MG: Yes!  Too many times we see communities look at safety as someone else’s issue. It’s absolutely everyone’s responsibility. We really need to emphasize that it’s our shared responsibility. Again, back to the basics. Back to the fundamentals.

MG: I know we were just talking about how busy we all are in the field. You’re buzzing around the country just as much as I am. It has been a very busy time in our schools and communities. We’re seeing a lot of new thoughts and ideas trending in school safety. What are you hearing from schools and communities as you travel around?

TJ: It’s definitely been busy, Michele. In my role in Threat Detection and Prevention with Navigate 360, most of my work, which I love, focuses on the prevention piece. And there we are really seeing an increased interest in threat assessment. 

MG: Yes, our school communities are embracing this prevention and intervention process.

TJ: It’s a paradigm shift in school safety. It’s the understanding of the importance and power of a threat assessment process. It’s giving schools an additional tool they can put in their toolbox. I remember reaching out to you  in the fall of 2018 and asking what you thought about threat assessment. This was after [the] Parkland and Santa Fe [tragedies] and this shift was really beginning to take place. Texas was among the first states to pass legislation around it. It was at that time I began to understand just what an important piece of school safety threat assessments are. We are really seeing an increase in districts, communities and regional offices of education, reaching out to us, and asking about the various threat assessment trainings we offer. 

Another trend I see is ensuring that the threat assessment training gets to the building level teams. Those teams are the ones who are going to be on the ground dealing with these issues. What we see through our trainings is that we are able to provide an increase in confidence of these building level teams. There is also a realization that these threat assessments are not “one more thing I have to do” but they just fit in with what I am already doing. Educators are problem solvers. They are continually asking themselves “how can we help this youth who has a problem, who’s trying to solve the problem in a negative, potentially violent way? How can we help  get them on a  better path?”

Threat assessment interest is definitely something that just continues to climb.  It is so proactive.  “How can we catch these individuals earlier on when they pose that threat as opposed to when they make or carry out that threat? How can we look at this from a non-punitive perspective as well?”

The importance of early intervention is another “aha moment” for these districts I see.  When I share the findings from a recent study out of the University of Virginia  with Virginia Public Schools, folks are surprised to see that the peak grade level for threat assessments is the fourth grade, but those are low level threats that they’re dealing with. 

MG: That is what we want, right? We want to deal with low level threats in order to avoid high level threats. Why would we wait until it’s a burning building situation to address it?

TJ: No, we do not want a burning building. I typically ask, when I share that research with educators, “What do we know about reading and math intervention? Do we wait till they’re in middle school and high school to intervene? No, it’s important to intervene at the elementary grade level.” It’s the exact same thought when it comes to students who exhibit this type of behavior. We’ve got to identify and intervene. 

What I share when I am training is most of these students we identify at an early age, we can help. As a principal, working with staff and parents, we can get that student on a better path by providing support and addressing needs.

It’s so important though that we understand the key is that elementary level. It’s another aha moment. 

MG: I agree with you a hundred percent. I think for both of us as former educators, when we stumbled upon threat assessments as part of the solution, it was a big “a-ha” moment. For me it was around 2013. I began having conversations first with Gavin de Becker Associates and then developed a relationship with Gavin de Becker who wrote the, The Gift of Fear. I found this to be a great starting point for me. It was like a layman’s entry point to threat assessment and management. It’s learning to trust and listen to your gut when things don’t feel right. However, when the educator in me began to realize there is a process here. A kind of science behind prevention, it started clicking. This is what we do as educators all the time – we problem solve. When I began learning about threat assessment all those years ago, it was like a light bulb went off. It made sense. The assessment process runs parallel to what we do every day. As teachers we call it interventions. In this process, we are using interventions that we put in place to follow a child, or an individual in the community, to help them meet their needs and manage those issues so that they can be safe and everybody else can be too.

TJ: Exactly. Districts that implement threat assessment procedures are really increasing their standard of care, increasing safety, and decreasing liability as well. It also gives district leaders greater confidence.

One of the struggles we’re seeing with these teams is once they work through the process–the issue becomes how do we support students once we’ve identified needs? In order to help schools and districts, we provide a menu of options. About a month ago we brought a PBIS Rewards of Positive Behavior Intervention Supports program on board with us. I am super excited about this because we can offer districts PBIS opportunities. This will equip districts who are struggling with the management piece adding another powerful tool to the toolbelt for supporting students and managing their needs. I am super excited about it.

MG: I love that. It really is calling upon that comprehensive view of school safety that we advocate for at Safe and Sound Schools. Pulling in all of the disciplines, so to speak, of school safety. By bringing in initiatives like PBIS and anti-bullying campaigns together with our cyber safety and security teams along with school counselors, parents and peer support groups we are truly making a seat at the table for everyone. We never know who can hold the key piece of the puzzle that will make all the difference. 

I’m excited to learn more about that. And I’m all for more tools for our schools. Keep them coming, please! 

We know our schools continue to face a lot of the same challenges. And then every year–sometimes it seems like every month–new things come on the scene. Schools’ plates are full of challenges. In terms of challenges and solutions, what are some of the things you forecast on the horizon?

TJ: Yes, there are always a lot of challenges in the school safety world. One of those challenges we have seen is case management. Four years ago, you introduced me to Dr. Marisa Randazzo and her awesome team at Sigma. Working with her and her team, we built case management software for our schools. It has been great. Then our schools reached out and said, we love the behavioral threat assessment software, but what about suicide risk assessments? Since we know quite often there is a direct correlation between threat assessment and suicide risk, we partnered with Dr. Scott Poland and got permission from Columbia University to use their Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale. That’s become a powerful component of our case management software.

MG: How can we pull all the information we need together? So, we don’t have to say hold on let me look here or dig this file up. That’s certainly an issue for our busy teams. 

TJ: It’s one of the greatest challenges to the process. Whatever we can do to better support and equip our busy teams is imperative. Another trend we are seeing is districts wanting to bring in various data points from these assessments they are doing. Even though a school’s SIS (Student Information System) may house most of your student discipline, attendance, and academics, there is not a good way to really see a picture or trends of a student or group of students. 

One of the ideas we’re really looking at and investing a lot in now, is how can we assist districts when it comes to really analyzing data and identifying trends that can help us with early identification and interventions we can provide. In order to provide the interventions, we need to be able to identify as early as possible. If we can use the data to help use identify students earlier, then we can provide interventions earlier and get those students the help they need sooner. That’s one of the big projects that we’re taking on at this time. 

MG: I’m for better management of data! I think we’ve gotten pretty good as school communities in collecting a lot of data. However, if the data is not in a usable format from or coming from all these different sources, you’re drowning. You’re absolutely drowning.

TJ: Yes, you are. When I was a building principal. I always talked about being proactive. Reaching students before the issues became so big. My worst day as a principal is when I had to discipline a student. If I had to suspend a student or had to look at expulsion, it was a terrible day. I would always ask my staff, “How could we have prevented this? What could we have done differently?”

My staff knew I wanted to be proactive when it came to a student who was struggling. I encouraged them to let me know even if they felt a student wasn’t in “trouble” yet, but that things might be heading in the wrong direction. I would look at their grades, attendance and if I didn’t see any trends, I would ask different teachers and staff if they had any concerns. 

MG: Yes, teachers and staff, that’s another whole source. All those different people’s perspectives. It really is “next level” to be able to pull it all together to get and look at the big picture. We can save time and frustration. Most importantly, we’ll get to help kids a lot faster and a lot better! 

TJ: Exactly. And that’s the key. Helping kids a lot faster and a lot sooner! 

MG: I love it. Well, it is always a pleasure to catch up with you. We are really excited about what’s coming in the new year. Lots of new innovations, lots of new opportunities to serve. We are so grateful to be able to do it with you and our friends at Navigate 360. Thank you for joining me today. 

TJ: It’s always a pleasure. Thank you, Michele.






 

 



By: Michele Gay

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Anthony Seiler of Johnson Controls, a leading security industry firm, and proud supporter of our mission at Safe and Sound Schools, to discuss the current and future landscapes of school safety and security. Seiler shares insights and expertise on security, a back-to-basics approach, and creating safe and welcoming spaces for learning success.

MG: Anthony, thanks for sitting down with me to talk safety and security! I know how busy you are in your work and as part of a leading, international safety and security company. We really value your time and expertise in our mission at Safe and Sound Schools!

AS: Thank you! Campus health and safety is a passion of mine. Having two young elementary school daughters makes what I do have real meaning and immediate impact. And my role at Johnson Controls provides an avenue to bring safety to schools everywhere. I’m thrilled to chat with you today.

MG: As you know, the past 10 years have really brought school safety to the forefront in terms of mainstream awareness. I’d like to think a lot of that is due to the work of so many of us in the field, but it’s also clearly due to an increased awareness of risk, and unfortunately increasing violence across our country. These factors have really accelerated the pace of improvement efforts in our schools—which can be a good thing. But of course, there are many challenges as schools step up to address new safety and security needs, and out of their traditional comfort zone of education. How are you seeing it with the schools you serve?

AS: It’s a common theme we are seeing within districts everywhere. No two districts are exactly alike so there’s no one-size-fits-all. Inner city schools, rural schools, underfunded schools, and affluent suburban schools all face something different. The goal is a healthy and safe environment for all students and faculty. But between budget and priorities, how they get there can take many different paths and challenges. That can be challenging as we in the industry build and innovate solutions for education settings. But it also gives us an opportunity to build something very special and tailored. And when that comes together, it is a wonderful thing to see. One challenge we’re seeing is getting schools to start at the beginning. There is a lot of urgency on the part of schools to improve, but guiding educators to adopt more of a “walk-before-you- run approach” is critical to getting it right. If a district doesn’t have the basics, then even the latest and greatest recommendation will not work as intended. For example, installing artificial intelligence without simple access control [controlling who how people can get into the building] is an example of this. So, we ask schools to look holistically at the environment and implement solutions that meet a specific need and tie in existing resources. That helps them to make the most of their funding and build with a long term strategy in mind. We always try to understand the end goal and work backwards with that goal in mind.

MG: How do you and other physical safety experts serve schools?

AS: As experts in physical safety and security, we have a lot to offer. Most of us work in a variety of spaces—corporate, government, business, worship spaces, and of course schools. And many of us have families too, so building solutions for the most important people in any community is a personal passion for us. I’m lucky to work in an organization that takes a partnership approach to working with schools. Our approach is more like what my mother taught me years ago, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen!” So, spending a great deal of time listening to our schools is the first step the process. Understanding what they want to achieve, what they currently have and don’t have in place, and only then building into their areas of opportunity. We advocate that schools prioritize solutions that interconnect and are vendor agnostic. It saves a lot of time and money—two things schools are pretty short on–– and builds confidence and engagement. We engage our schools with walk-throughs and scenarios to pressure test situations to help see any area of threat; and we spend a great deal of time helping our schools find and navigate funding opportunities too. There are so many opportunities out there now that it’s a bit overwhelming for most schools and districts.

MG: Well, it is good news that we are in a time of funding for all things school safety, right? From mental health resources, to physical safety improvements, to support positions like nurses, SRO’s, counselors–our schools want and need help in all areas of safety. We’ve seen some great progress in terms of the standard of care that schools are setting for keeping students and staff safe as well.

AS: Yes, we sure have. We have seen an entire nation get behind school safety for kids everywhere. Today’s schools are open to suggestions and feedback on how to make their campuses safer and healthier. There is a receptive ear for listening and learning about how we can all do better by our kids. And certainly, the federal and state governments have increased support for schools. School safety grants are allowing schools to address longstanding issues and updates, and even bring projects over the finish line. I truly believe that student health and safety is the #1 priority shared by all today. And that gives us great hope to continue to make a difference together.

MG: Together. Yes! How do you see schools working smarter to increase safety without sacrificing the welcoming, comforting environment that is required for education? Are my teaching roots obvious here?

AS: Ha, yes! Many schools are working smarter to achieve the outcomes they want these days—and learning is the primary outcome after all. There’s always a worry that the improving safety and security could negatively impact culture and environment, but that doesn’t have to
be the case. I see districts exploring many avenues to increase safety but not forgo the welcoming environment. Campuses that look and feel safer are a big part of this. There’s an architectural design strategy called, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design that has helped many communities reduce crime and improve climate. Now it’s working in our schools.

CPTED is the effective use and design of the built environment to reduces the opportunity and fear of crime. For schools that can yield an improvement in the quality of the educational experience. There are many factors that go into this. But one example of this is limited and controlled entrance points. For example, at my daughter’s school, there are always two smiling teachers greeting students as they enter the one and only entrance. This lets staff better control and account for everyone–from students to visitors– in the building. Security layering, training staff, developing safety plans and practicing drills, are all examples of how to improve safety and reduce the opportunity for fear and crime. Schools have been utilizing stimulus funding to cover initiatives like these as they can directly impact the safety and in turn the quality of the learning environment.

I think schools are taking better advantage of supports from volunteers and free/low-cost local experts too. School Resource Officers and other public safety servants are more involved in many school communities. Many Governors are offering state-led assessment teams to uncover areas of threats and close the gaps. Also there has been a clear and steady rise in full time positions for chartering security. Less and less is falling under facilities folks to shoulder alone. We are seeing many schools double down on safety by hiring Directors of Security and Public Safety. This is accelerating a lot of improvements in K12 schools.

MG: What are some of the exciting things on the horizon in terms of supporting school safety?

AS: So one of the most exciting things about my job is research and development. Basically, I get the privilege of constantly dreaming about K12 safety and all the ways we can better support safe learning environments for our schools. We literally get to imagine what an ideal campus could look like from a safety and comfort standpoint (because you need both). This is how we give the breadth and scope of possibilities, and then help schools move strategically to their ideal. It’s a fabulous approach that combines dreaming, listening, and adapting for each unique community.

Another exciting thing to watch is how artificial intelligence can shape school safety. The things we can do to automate, simplify, and reduce the burden on busy staff are only getting better and better. I don’t want to get too SiFi here, but there’s some pretty cool technology already in use in businesses, workplaces, and out in the community that’s finally making its way to our schools, where our most precious people are every day.

One last piece of encouraging news for schools is the ability to leverage economies of scale to make solutions more affordable. Pricing models and subscriptions have helped reduce the capital expenditures of large projects for our schools. For example, SaaS allow schools everywhere to utilize security offerings without having to receive large bonds or exhaust a budget. There is so much instore for schools in the area of improved campus safety. And it’s never been more critically important.

MG: If you could give our schools your top 5 areas to focus on to support a safe and secure learning environment, what would those be?

AS: That’s a great question. Here are my suggestions to 5 focus areas to kick start campus
safety.

  1. Have a plan and get some trusted help. No one can do this alone and there are plenty of experts to help in the process. And if you don’t know where to start, look to your neighbors! Plan with nearby schools, districts, and public safety folks.
  2. Understand your current state. What technology you have and don’t have. Know your security measures and designated stakeholders. If you don’t know, that’s your current state and that’s okay too. Just get started.
  3. Get a risk assessment and site walk through completed. The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) and the Department of Education’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) both have free resources for schools.
  4. Remember the “walk-before-you-run” approach. Starting at the basics and working upstream is the best way to have a comprehensive plan and roadmap. We like Safe and Sound’s Layers of Security toolkit tool too.
  5. Designate a team, training or all students and faculty, and test regularly what you have in place. Additional walk throughs are always recommended to adapt and refine.

There you have it, in no particular order, but some best practices we see to kick start any district at any level. I get great fulfillment in creating ways to partner with school districts large and small. Each have a different vantage point, competing initiatives, but when we get campus safety across the finish line, there’s a sense of accomplishment for all.

MG: It’s been lots of fun digging into all of this with you today. I always learn something new when we sit down with one of our experts. We’re so grateful for your insight and expertise, and for the work that Johnson Controls does to bring it all to our schools and communities. We see you out there in the world, in the corporate, bank, business, and other sectors, but school and community safety is at the heart of the matter for us. We’re glad it is for you too!

It’s Friday and who doesn’t love a feel good post to kickstart the weekend! After receiving a donation in the mail without a cover letter, we did a little digging and found that the donation came from a fourth grade class at Erdenheim Elementary, PA. After reaching out, we learned the following:

“After being so affected by the Uvalde shooting (after so many others) our 4th Grade Team met and discussed what we could do. We are sensitive to the fact that we teach a grade level that not all parents/guardians have discussed details about these events with their children. One teacher suggested having students hand make items to “sell” to each other and all sales could go to charity. The students loved this idea and were super excited to create items and participate. 

We called this Market Day for Charity and notified families with a digital flyer that included a link to [the Safe and Sound Schools] website. I came across your non-profit while searching for a place to donate! We felt your mission of supporting schools and students was something we could discuss with fourth graders in an age appropriate way and that all families could support and get behind your important mission. Students made games, bookmarks, art projects, stress balls and more and had so much fun shopping for charity! I have attached pictures of my students’ shops and the picture of a portion of our 200 fourth graders holding a “check” for Safe and Sound Schools.”

The Erdenheim Elementary community is committed to creating opportunities and modeling the importance of giving back. Thank you to the fourth grade students, parents, and staff who made this fundraiser possible, and thank you for choosing Safe and Sound Schools as the recipient of your creative fundraiser!

Erdenheim Elementary fourth grade student body proudly showing off a large fundraising check they presented Safe and Sound Schools with.

Three Erdenheim Elementary fourth grade students selling handmade items for charity.

One Erdenheim Elementary fourth grade students selling handmade items for charity.

Two Erdenheim Elementary fourth grade students selling handmade items for charity.

One Erdenheim Elementary fourth grade students selling handmade items for charity.

One Erdenheim Elementary fourth grade students selling handmade items for charity.

 

Observed every June 1-7, CPR and AED Awareness Week spotlights how learning CPR can save lives. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, it can double or even triple a person’s chance of survival. Just last month, a neighbor performed life-saving CPR on a 4-year-old boy with autism who wandered into his apartment complex and jumped in the pool. Kudos to the 12-year-old who witnessed the incident and immediately ran to alert his father.

So this week, we invite you to help us celebrate CPR and AED Awareness Week by learning Hands-Only CPR. It only takes two simple steps and adults and teens alike can easily learn.

  1. Call 9-1-1
  2. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest until help arrives

Wondering if you’re doing it properly? Make sure you’re pushing on the chest at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute. Many people find that learning Hands-Only CPR is easier if they learn it to a song that shares the same number of beats per minute. Examples include: 

  • “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees
  • “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z
  • “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira
  • “Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash

Share your favorite song that helps you perform Hands-Only CPR by tagging us on social media.

And remember, CPR training is not mandatory for teachers in every state. Similarly, not all states have laws in place that require students to learn CPR before they graduate high school. So, it’s important to encourage your school community to get involved…especially when every second counts!

Our hearts are broken. We grieve for the families and victims of the tragic school shooting at Robb Elementary School and send our love and support from all corners of the country.

Safe and Sound Schools is proud to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week – an opportunity for communities to come together to recognize the important work teachers 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. So join us in celebrating these heroes. Here’s a list of fun and thoughtful ways you can celebrate teachers this week, or any week!

  1. Donate to the classroom. Classroom donations in the form of gift cards are wonderful gifts as teachers often use their own money to pay for classroom supplies and materials. Target and Office Depot/Max are crowd favorites!
  2. A heartfelt thank you note is always a welcomed gesture from both parents/caregivers and students. Write a personalized note or card highlighting why you appreciate them.
  3. Give teachers a break, a meal break! Consider packing or ordering a special lunch or breakfast for your child’s teacher. You’re guaranteed a smile!
  4. Offer to volunteer. Teachers can always use another pair of hands in the classroom or in gathering or preparing materials. 
  5. Send flowers. Nothing says thank you like a burst of spring blooms from your own garden or local market.
  6. Shine a light on your favorite teacher! Snap a picture (with their permission) and explain why you appreciate them. Tag us on social media and we’ll share their story with our community. 
  7. Participate in the National PTA’s annual #ThankATeacher campaign. Access fillable cards, a poem activity, coloring pages, certificates, and fillable fliers to help make this week special.

If you have other ideas, please let us know and we’ll share them with our community. 

Cheers to all the teachers inspiring students and working toward safe schools and bright futures!

Recently our Co-Founder, Michele Gay, sat down for a Q&A session with Chris Noell, Senior Vice President of Product and Engineering for Raptor Technologies to discuss the many cybersecurity challenges schools face today. The following is an abridged version of the conversation.

Michele: Thanks for joining me today, Chris. I’m eager to hear your expert perspective on this often-overlooked aspect of school safety. Now that we find ourselves working, teaching, and learning in the cyber world, schools are dealing with significant challenges in cybersafety and cybersecurity. Some schools are sounding the alarm bells, others watching and waiting, and some are thinking, “Do I even need to worry about this?” What are your thoughts, Chris?

Chris: That’s a great question. I usually start with, “Are schools being attacked?” Unfortunately, the truth is that they are. In December 2020, the FBI, CISA–and a host of other leading organizations that monitor cybersecurity threats–published a statement warning K-12 schools of three major threats:

  • targeted ransomware attacks
  • theft of data, and
  • disruption of distance learning services.

To your point, schools are more online–and more reliant on technology than ever. Hackers are aware of that and now taking advantage of this new vulnerability. Experts have warned that incidents could increase 86% over this academic year. Even by standards in cybersecurity, that’s pretty astonishing and potentially devastating. So, whether your community has been hit or not, it’s time to take action to protect your school.

Michele: Unfortunately, for a lot of our school communities, it doesn’t become a pressing issue until it is already upon them. Of course, then they’re in a reactionary position. What resources are out there to help schools prepare for and prevent these kinds of threats and attacks?

Chris: The K-12 Cybersecurity Act of 2021 instructed CISA to study the risks that will impact K-12 school districts and develop cybersecurity guidelines and online training. You can visit CISA.gov to explore these resources.

As part of the security industry, we [Raptor Technologies] continually monitor the federal guidance, and then anchor the solutions and resources that we develop on those. While these guidelines are not mandatory—at the moment– it’s almost certain that they will become a standard of care.

 Michele: What are some of the practical things that schools can be doing to protect themselves? School leaders? Students, teachers, and staff members and so on?

Chris: We all have a role to play in securing our organizations. For the IT folks in the audience, I would say it starts with just understanding what you have in your district. What hardware do you have? What software do you have? What vendors have access to your network/do you rely on? Who do you share data with? It sounds really basic, but if you can’t answer those questions, you really can’t protect your environment. So start with that inventory.

 Any organization, especially an organization that may not have a lot of IT resources, should look to make this someone else’s problem as much as possible. What I mean by this is simply, wherever possible use software from reputable vendors whose products and services come with the highest levels security.

Michele: That’s really important for our school communities. IT resources are limited if present at all. And this kind of expertise is not readily available in house. I mean, our schools are run by educators!

Chris: You’re absolutely right. Another important thing for school leaders to consider about cybersecurity (as opposed to physical security) is that technology and related threats evolve at a much more rapid rate, meaning we have to update our tools and measures at a more rapid pace. With cybersecurity, there are tens of thousands of new vulnerabilities discovered every year. So just because it was secure yesterday doesn’t mean it’s going to be secure tomorrow. That really is the biggest headache and concern.

Michele: Truly. But our schools house some of the most precious data, about the most precious people that we have in our communities–in our country–so these issues are not to be ignored.

Chris: For sure. I think at the end of the day, you’re never going to have 100% security. The NSA, the CIA, even they don’t have 100% security. The reality is, once you have a computer, you have a risk. So, it’s really about how you manage that risk, just like all the other risks in life.

Michele: Not being afraid to face–and talk about–those risks and vulnerabilities is important too. I think some of our school communities tend to want to keep those things quiet, but we really need to shine a light on these issues if we are to be proactive. Right?

Chris: Absolutely. And although it can seem a bit overwhelming, I’ll refer back to something I’ve heard you say many times before, “It’s not rocket science.”

I think a lot of people look at security like it’s some kind of dark art. As though it involves some kind of mystical expertise. But it’s just basic blocking and tackling, an operational IT discipline, just like managing availability and performance is an operational IT discipline. So I would encourage people to be open about where they’re at and make steady progress over time.

Michele: Good advice. We’re not going to be perfect. When I talk about school safety, I emphasize that practice makes progress—not perfection.

And how about our kids–our students? They’re now major users of technology, of online education, of social media, all those things. So how about education for our students? I see that as a valuable way to help protect our schools and our children.

Chris: That’s a fantastic point because there are multiple values there. Educating students in cybersafety not only protects the institution, but certainly extends protection over our students when they leave the campus, go to their home networks, and interact online. They’re exposed to all the same sorts of attacks off campus as they are on campus.

Michele: So just like we talk about life skills of safety in the broader context of school safety, it’s the same thing here, right? We want our students, we want our staff and community members to have those life skills, not just for safety within the building and on campus, but as they go out into the world, as they go home, as they go into the workplace.

Chris: Yes, these are the new realities of keeping our schools and communities safe in a digital world.

Michele: Chris, I so appreciate you taking some time to share your professional perspective with us.

Chris: Yes, thank you. I’m glad that we could take some time today to talk about a really important topic.

Michele: Thank you for all that you do. And thank you to Raptor for letting us borrow you today! We are grateful for the support you all provide to of so many of our school communities and our mission at Safe and Sound Schools.

We are thrilled to feature this blog from one of our favorite writers!  Jeff Snyder is a neurodiversity advocate, speaker, and writer who shares his personal journey and experiences as a person with autism.  This eye-opening piece from Jeff teaches about the challenges of participating in school safety drills as a person with autism and provides advice on “being your best advocate,” as well as practical accommodations for students with sensory processing issues.


Let’s be real…fire drills are very bothersome and disruptive to autistic people. In fact, when I was in school, fire drills and other loud noises that are part of school life bothered me greatly. To be real, fire drills are important because their purpose is to prepare students and teachers, or anyone for that matter, for what happens when there is a real fire.

But I had a safety net when it came to the drills. It was put in my IEP that I would be taken out of the building before the fire alarm was pulled. This gave me the chance to get to know my town’s fire department on a personal level.

Now, while I had this safety net in place throughout my education, some others did not, either because the schools felt that the student needed to be prepared along with the rest of the school or maybe because some autistic students weren’t bothered by the loud noise.

For those who are bothered by fire alarms, they have a very good reason. Some indviduals are diagnosed with what is known as Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD, which makes it difficult for them to process loud noises or other uncomfortable situations.

But, it’s not just the noise.

There is also the matter that fire drills happen right out of the blue. Some autistic people like myself like to know when things are going to be happening, such as fire drills so we can mentally prepare ourselves for when it arrives. If you want to know if there is a fire drill scheduled, just say to your child’s teacher or principal that you just want a heads up for any scheduled fire drills.

If you feel that the student needs to go through the drill, teachers should have noise cancelling headphones on standby to reduce the noise level. This also applies to other situations where loud noises occur, such as with school assemblies. I will talk about this in the next blog!

It’s also worth noting that fire drills can happen in the workplace too, so if you wish to get an accommodation from your employer to get a heads up too, by all means request the accommodation.