Tag Archive for: school safety

School-age children often spend up to a third of their day in school, but while they run, play and learn, hidden toxins and chemicals could be impairing their health and development. Schools are meant to help teach our children about the world around them, but they also have a duty to keep kids safe. In honor of National Poison Prevention Week (March 18–24, 2018), it’s important to keep in mind that poisons come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from environmental toxins to the chemicals used to clean the floors.

Janitorial Supplies

It takes a lot of work to keep a school building clean, but the cleaners and solvents used to keep people healthy can cause a variety of problems as well, ranging from headaches, nausea and dizziness to chronic issues like asthma. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an astounding 1 in 11 U.S. children have asthma, resulting in more than 10 million absent days from school.

Cleaning supplies, including air fresheners, rug cleaners and floor polishes, may contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and have been linked to respiratory problems. Recently, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted an evaluation of 21 school cleaning supplies and found that nearly 30 percent of them released at least one asthma-causing toxin into the air. Even common cleaners are capable of causing damage. For example, if cleaners containing ammonia and bleach are mixed they create chloramine gases that cause coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain.

It’s important to encourage the use of green cleaners to prevent germs and keep people healthy. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that being greener may improve overall student and teacher health, reduce absences, save money and even extend a facility’s lifespan.

The Air Around Us

 Green cleaning practices go a long way toward keeping us safer, but no amount of scrubbing can change the environment that children, teachers and other faculty find themselves in each day. Older schools, particularly those built prior to the mid-1970s, run the risk of containing lead and asbestos, which are both known to cause severe health problems, but are almost entirely avoidable.

Although there are regulations in place for schools that maintain their own water supplies, the vast majority are unregulated and are simply encouraged to perform voluntary testing. Children are estimated to absorb four to five times the lead as adults are, and lead poisoning may result in mental and developmental disabilities, anemia and hypertension.

Asbestos was used in hundreds of building materials throughout the early- and mid-20th century, and can be found in schools across the country. When materials containing asbestos incur wear and tear and, fibers are released into the air and, and once inhaled or ingested, can possibly result in one of several types of cancer called mesothelioma.

The air around a school is also capable of causing respiratory problems for children and teachers. A recent investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity suggested that nearly 8,000 schools currently sit fewer than 500 feet away from a major roadway, exposing children to a wide array of carcinogens capable of causing asthma attacks, weak lung growth, and hamper a child’s ability to learn.

Toxic School Supplies

 We tend not to think about the items our children use in schools as dangerous, but crayons, glues, and even lunch boxes can contain chemicals. For example, some dry-erase markers contain methyl isobutyl ketone, a solvent capable of causing dizziness, nausea and headaches. Newer markers contain a much safer alcohol-based formula.

Other everyday items found in schools, like backpacks and lunch pails, could contain phthalates, which are used to make plastics softer, but have been linked to dangers including early onset puberty, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and even cancer development. For parents interested in avoiding vinyl and PVC products, they can purchase items that are made without phthalates and look for recycling symbols alerting customers of PVC.

Parents concerned about their child’s school and art supplies should look for products with the phrase “conforms to ASTM D 4236” or labels from the Art and Creative Materials Institute. These products meet federal regulations and are labeled with messages about any health hazards they may cause.

What Does The Future Look Like?

 The truth is that no matter how hard we try to control for every chemical and toxin, everyone is still going to be exposed to them in some amount throughout the course of their lives. With that said, there are plenty of things we can do to limit exposure to these toxins.

Green cleaners and safer practices will help reduce cases of asthma, while taking a more conscious approach to school shopping can keep PVC items and phthalates out of the classroom. Our environments can also be kept safer by improving air quality through the use of air-cleaning plants, more efficient air purifying systems and by voluntarily testing water for harmful contaminants.

In many cases, chemical exposure is almost entirely avoidable by simply being more mindful of the products they use and the environment they’re learning in. Taking a few small steps today can ensure our kids have a bright and healthy, future.


Emily Walsh is the Community Outreach Director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance (MCA) where her advocacy work helps people become aware of what toxins they are exposed to and how to make simple changes for a healthier life. Emily’s main focus is spreading the word about asbestos to all vulnerable communities to make sure they are aware of the material’s potential health impacts. You can follow MCA on Facebook or Twitter

Safe and Sound Schools wants to hear from you about the state of school safety in your community. We are launching a national survey to measure perceptions of school safety among parents, students, and educators. We hope you will take a few minutes to complete the survey by Friday, March 9. The survey only takes 5 minutes, and your responses will be anonymous. The survey can be found here (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/572KSWJ).

Safe and Sound Schools will publish a report on the survey findings in the spring. We hope the insights gained from this research will help school communities better tackle the challenge of school safety. As you well know, this is an issue that affects our entire country, and with your help, we can make a difference. And please, if you care about this issue, please ask your friends, family, and school communities to take this survey as well. The more people who participate, the better, as we’ll have an even-more clear look at the state of school safety.

Thank you for your time.

Michele and Alissa

As we look forward to continuing our work and mission in 2018, we’d like to share a look back at our work in the last half of 2017.

We kicked off the month of July with Michele delivering a keynote and afternoon workshops in Philadelphia for the Independent School Safety and Security Summit. Then it was off to the Campus Safety East Conference where co-founder Michele Gay presented alongside Lisa Hamp, Virginia Tech survivor and Safe and Sound contributor. Following this conference, Michele headed to Massachusetts to present to the Massachusetts Association of Superintendents in Cape Cod, reconnecting with many of our Massachusetts school communities and meeting many more. On the same day, speaker Frank DeAngelis presented on leadership lessons in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The end of the month took Michele back to the the National Heritage Academies’ School Safety Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As the end of the month approached, Michele and Safe and Sound Speaker Lisa Hamp joined NASRO and attended the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. where Michele was honored to read the names of fallen school officers at the National Law Enforcement Memorial. It was a truly beautiful ceremony with many of our SRO friends from across the country in attendance. July travels concluded in California where Michele Gay, Kristina Anderson of the Koshka Foundation, and Safe and Sound board member Bob Martin spoke and networked with school safety leaders on the west coast.

In August, co-founder Alissa Parker attended the 2017 School Administrators Emergency Training Summit in where she presented and visited local leadership. Michele headed back to Massachusetts to present for the Westerly Public School staff and safety leadership.  

Community visits picked back up in September with Michele presenting at the IMF Women’s Security Awareness Training in Washington, D.C. She then traveled to Illinois to speak to Illinois Fire Service Administrative Professionals. Soon after, Safe and Sound speaker Frank DeAngelis traveled west to Sierra Vista High School in California to speak to school staff about his personal story and leadership lessons learned. In the east, Alissa traveled Massachusetts to share her story of faith, hope, and healing. She then traveled to Springfield, Illinois  to attend the Illinois Association of School Administrators Conference to speak on school safety. Meanwhile, Michele headed to Canada to attend the Ottawa Area Safe Schools Network Summit. September community visits concluded with a trip back to Illinois where Michele Gay presented for the Valley View School District School Safety Conference.

Although September was an exciting month due to all the community visits, perhaps one of the biggest highlights of September was the launch of the Safe and Sound Youth Council. In only a few short months, we are proud to report that this program has been delivered to more than 23 states. Our students are stepping up for the safety of their schools and communities. To learn more about the Safe and Sound Youth Council program, click here.

In October, Alissa hit the road again, traveling to Wyoming with Safe and Sound Advisor, Paul Timm, PSP for the Wyoming School Safety Summit. Sandy Hook survivor, Natalie Hammond traveled to Missouri for Safe and Sound to keynote and lead a workshop on school safety team building for the Missouri Center for Education Safety. Her presentations were very well received by all in attendance!  

Later in the month, Alissa traveled to Pennsylvania to present at the Delaware County Safe Schools Summit. Her visit was so successful that we are already planning a follow up workshop in the near future. Soon after, with sponsorship from Status Solutions, Safe and Sound Schools was able to attend the 2017 National Resilience Institute Summit in Chicago where Michele presented a keynote and participated in a panel discussion with national leaders in resilience. A couple days afterwards, Michele presented for the Axis School Safety Symposium in Minnesota with Safe and Sound Advisor and Contributor, Paul Timm, PSP.  Michele then headed to Plymouth to speak at Wyzata High School for a Security Symposium. Alissa completed October travels with a visit to Houston to attend the Crime Stoppers Gala, presenting alongside Bob Woodruff of the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

In November, Safe and Sound Schools participated in several webinars. Michele kicked off November with a webinar in partnership with Raptor Technologies. She discussed the ways in which school leaders can galvanize their local community to improve school safety. In mid November, Michele was joined by Safe and Sound speaker Dr. CJ Huff to present on how schools can harness the power of the community to keep schools safe. This webinar was sponsored by Safe and Sound sponsor Status Solutions and was hosted by Campus Safety Magazine.

In early November, Michele and speaker/advisor Dr. Melissa Reeves presented a full day workshop on Reunification of the School Community for the Colorado Society of School Psychologists in Vail, Colorado. Soon after, Michele traveled to New York to present for the New York State Association of School Nurses, followed by Alissa’s presentation for the ScanSource corporate conference on November 15th.  

Community visits slowed in December, as 2017 marked the five year anniversary of Sandy Hook. Michele and Alissa used this as a time to draw close to their immediate and Sandy Hook families. To learn more about Sandy Hook’s legacy and how some families are choosing to honor their loved ones, read some of the news stories below:

To catch up on blogs you may have missed during the second half of the year, visit our Blog.

Many thanks to our nationwide community of supporters and school communities for joining and supporting us in our work to bring safety to every community, every school, and every child.

Fire safety awareness and prevention remains a key issue for students and educators alike. In observance of Fire Prevention Week starting October 8th, we’ve compiled a few important precautions that you can share with colleagues and students to reinforce fire safety in and outside the classroom all year long.

Fire Safety: Prevention and Knowledge

Nothing cuts down the risk of fire loss like education. Arm your students with the knowledge and skills they need to approach fire safety effectively, including:

Recognizing Alarms

You might take for granted that a child understands what a fire alarm sounds like – teach children to identify your school’s alarm early so that they can’t confuse it for any other sound. For students with hearing problems, identify other, non-auditory cues to alert them to a fire emergency.

Escape and Evacuation Routes

Each room should have a sign that identifies two ways out of the room in case of fire. Hallways, stairwells and other areas should also clearly indicate evacuation routes and protocols. Make sure that your students understand not only where the exits are located, but also how to use them. Demonstrate how to use alternate escape routes in an emergency.

Practice Drills

Drills are essential in a school environment. Kids need to be taught how to respond to a fire well before an actual emergency occurs. Fire Rescue Magazine offers “homework” for kids to share with their parents after fire education seminars, and it’s an excellent resource for teachers looking to reinforce the message of fire safety at home and in the classroom.

The Right Equipment for Fire Safety

According to the National Fire Protection Association or NFPA, approximately 60 percent of house fires between 2010 and 2014 took place in homes without working fire alarms or smoke detectors. Along with alarms, other equipment can enhance your protection, including:

  • Smoke detectors
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Fire escapes

The NFPA also notes that a working alarm cuts the risk of dying in a reported house fire by half. Installing and regularly maintaining fire alarms is essential to keeping kids and property safe.

You may not have control over the fire escapes in your school building, but check with your building manager or superintendent to ensure that escapes are up to code. Upgrade the escapes right away if there are flaws or defects.

Rules, Regulations and Fire Safety Standards

Public buildings must adhere to local fire codes in terms of occupancy and activity. If you’re not sure about your school’s occupancy limits, check with the local fire department, and conduct a thorough investigation to make sure you’re up to code. You should know:

  • When the last time the building was thoroughly inspected
  • Where critical signage is located, such as exit signs and evacuation routes
  • How many people can fit in the building as a whole and in classrooms and staffrooms

Teach older kids to recognize evacuation routes and to read maps that can lead them to safety during a fire. The U.S. Fire Administration offers a bevy of educational resources to help kids and adults understand what to do during a fire.

Students need to be taught to recognize the dangers of fire – to themselves, others and property – and how to prevent it from happening. “Stop, Drop and Roll” has been the official safety stance of fire education for decades, but that approach is only one line of defense among many. Proper education and a proactive approach to fire safety will mitigate long-term risk and damage caused by fires.


Beth Kotz is a freelance writer and contributor for numerous home, technology, and personal finance blogs. She graduated with BA in Communications and Media from DePaul University in Chicago, IL where she continues to live and work. You can find her latest work here: homeownerguides.com

 

 

 

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

Back-to-school is an important event every year in my home. It represents so much more than just back-to-school. It means my kids are getting older and naturally that I am getting older as well. There will be new teachers, new clothes, new school supplies! Summer wanes, fall creeps in and life takes on a familiar routine. Of course, for me another topic on my mind when school rolls around is safety. Even when our girls were young my husband and I spoke openly and frequently about safety rules and guidelines. We have had these talks so often over the years that our girls are now able to mimic our “discussions” verbatim any chance they can.

Talking about safety at school has been one of the newer additions to our list of safety conversations. After losing my oldest daughter Emilie to a school shooting, how could it not? This year, our safety conversation was initiated by my youngest daughter Samantha, a soon to be 3rd grader, while shopping for new school clothes.  “Mom, can I tell you something,” she began.  “Did you know there are drills at our school where we have to go outside?!”  I smiled and asked her if she could tell me why they would need to go out of the school for a drill. She explained to me not only why they would need to evacuate their school, but how all the other drills at her school work. Samantha loves an audience and I love seeing her repeat all the safety information she has learned both at home and at school.

When we talk to children about school safety, it can often feel intimidating. However, like most things, the more we practice the better we get. In that one conversation while shopping, my daughters covered not only safety drills but also discussions about bullying and what to do if you find yourself surrounded by strangers. Seeing Samantha take our safety talks to another level and become the teacher herself was amazing. Safety is an empowering tool for children. Having safety rules and boundaries gives them a sense of security and control.  So, if you haven’t already started those conversations with your kids, start now! You will be amazed with the ideas they will share with you and the questions and conversations that will follow. Hopefully, someday soon they will become your teacher as well!


Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools 

Now that we are well into the second half of the year, it’s time for a second quarter update, covering the months of April, May, and June. Feeding off the momentum we gained during our first quarter, we continued our efforts of empowering communities to improve school safety.  

April was a particularly meaningful month with the release of co-founder Alissa Parker’s book, An Unseen Angel: A Mother’s Story of Faith, Hope, and Healing After Sandy Hook. With an emphasis on Alissa’s faith and spirituality, the book chronicles Alissa’s journey of finding peace and forgiveness after losing her daughter, Emilie Parker, during the Sandy Hook tragedy. An Unseen Angel introduces readers to a caring, wise, and emotionally sensitive little girl whose colorful spirit continues empower her family and many others.

While Alissa promoted her book in April, co-founder Michele Gay was joined by Safe and Sound Speaker, Frank DeAngelis in San Francisco, California. Michele and Frank presented on community collaboration for safer schools at the Sonitrol Gold Standard Safety Symposium.

In May, the Safe and Sound Schools Board of Directors convened in Boston, Massachusetts, to discuss strategy and upcoming projects. Community visits continued throughout May, with Alissa presenting in front of the Northwest Superintendent Organization in Grove City, Pennsylvania. Soon after, Mo Canady, Safe and Sound Advisor and Executive Director of NASRO, attended the Police Week Candlelight Vigil in Washington DC. Around the same time, Michele presented on reunifying the school community and shared her post-tragedy perspective at the 2017 Governor’s Safety and Health Conference Exposition in Kentucky. Soon after, Michele was joined by Safe and Sound Speaker, CJ Huff in Indiana. During their trip to the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy, CJ and Michele presented to over 900 educators and law enforcement officials, focusing their keynote on community recovery and engagement. In Oklahoma, new Safe and Sound Speaker, Lisa Hamp, attended Moore High School’s Prep Rally. Later in May, Michele resumed travels and was joined by Natalie Hammond and Dan Jewiss in Massachusetts to present for MASBO/CASBO on improving school community preparedness, response, and recovery. May travels came to an end with a trip to the Massachusetts Association of Crime Analysts 20th Annual Training Conference and a trip to a School Safety Conference in Mt Vernon, Virginia.

Although May was a very busy month, community visits continued in June. ​Frank DeAngelis presented at the Oklahoma School Security Conference and discussed school safety leadership. Soon after, Frank traveled to Wisconsin to present at a School Resource Officer Conference. Frank continued his presentations in New York for the New York City Public Schools. This time, he was joined by Michele Gay and John-Michael Keyes of the “I Love U Guys” Foundation. Soon after, Michele and Frank traveled to Iowa to present on their Sandy Hook and Columbine experiences for the Iowa School Resource Officers. June travels concluded in Washington DC where Michele presented at the GovSummit Public Policy Conference, an event hosted by the Security Industry Association (SIA) in cooperation with the Congressional School Safety Caucus.

While our team traveled from state-to-state, our online efforts focused on topics like sexual assault, summer camp safety, online safety, EMS, and celebrating America’s teachers. In June we launched our #100DaysOfSafety campaign for the second year in a row. You can follow the hashtag on our social media channels to receive daily safety tips all summer long.

As we continue to visit communities in the months to come and you prepare for back-to-school, there’s a new resource available for the students in your community: Safe and Sound Youth Council. This complete program for high school students allows them to join the conversation, and more importantly, take action toward creating safer schools. We hope you will share this new program with your students and encourage them to take part.

To keep up with Safe and Sound Schools on daily basis, connect with us on social media.

This year, May 21-27 is National EMS Week! Many of us at Safe and Sound Schools know how important our EMS responder’s are to the safety of our schools, but the connection might not be so obvious to everyone. We sat down with Justin Pignataro, Administrator at the Maryland Center for Safe Schools and retired Tactical Medic to learn more.

Safe and Sound Schools: What is it that EMS Responders do for the safety of our schools?

Justin Pignataro: EMS Responder’s are always ready to respond to someone’s emergency within moments of notification.

What most folks do not see is the “behind the scenes” preparation, the basic EMT program for certification is a minimum 168 hours of classroom–practical and clinical skills training, followed by written and skills tests.

To become a Paramedic level provider, months of additional training is required.

Within the Community and our schools, EMS providers are an integral part of what we call our Public Education component. Along with their fire service counterparts, they provide community education such as Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and basic first aid training, familiarization to young and old on how they do their job and what to expect if you are in need of their help, along with building relationships with the citizens we serve.    

Safe and Sound Schools: As an EMT, what’s the best part about working with local schools?

Justin Pignataro: We love working with our youth, the younger kids show an enthusiasm that is unrestrained and energetic, with a lot of “what is it like” and “what if” questions, while our middle and high school youth tend to ask more real-life based scenario questions, usually based upon something that has happened within their life, neighborhood or at school.

I love educating others about we do and how we handle crisis every day.  I think it shows students and adults that although “life happens,” we can overcome most things together.

Safe and Sound Schools: What’s one (or two) of the greatest challenges EMTs face working with youth today?

Justin Pignataro: Communication with anyone in a crisis is always a challenge. Providers are trained to remain calm while assisting people through crisis. From the first few seconds on scene, we try to portray calm and speak slowly to diffuse the fear and apprehension that people experience in crisis. It really helps to to calm them down and let them know that we are there to help. Most kids are really interested in what we do and enjoy learning about the tools and technology that we use to help people.  It always helps to show those off a little!

The second challenge we face relates to the information age that we live in today. Often instead of calling for medical help when needed, young people will attempt to take matters into their own hands first, asking a friend for advice or “googling” to find their own treatment. While well intended, this can lead to more problems and often makes the situation worse. As much as possible, we look for opportunities to interact with youth in the community so that they will know that we are here for them—no matter how big or small the crisis. 


Thank you, Dino (Justin Pignataro) and all of our EMS professionals for your work to keep us safe at school and in the community!