Sparks. Marysville. Roseburg. Townville. Marshall County. Parkland. Dozens more towns and cities, urban and suburban and rural, where, in recent years, gun violence has caused fear and panic, injuries and deaths.
And while it’s the shooting incidents that grab the national headlines, every day hundreds of school students face lesser threats of physical violence, deal with weather-related hazards or try to cope with bullying, both at school and in cyberspace.
“It’s very hard to watch community after community learn about this from experience,” says Michele Gay, co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools. “We want people to be better educated and better prepared for safety, and to do that, they need to be engaged in the effort.”
Safe and Sound Schools was founded by Gay and Alissa Parker, both mothers who lost children in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, and has worked to promote that goal of community engagement ever since. Beginning in June 2017, that effort expanded to engage high school youth in working toward their own safety with the launch of the Safe and Sound Youth Council initiative.
“Almost from the get-go, we had youth reaching out to us and asking how they could be involved. The Youth Council initiative just formalizes that,” Gay says. Schools interested in becoming part of the initiative receive a free start-up kit and free assistance from Safe and Sound in developing their own individualized programs, programs that follow a collaborative approach to include students, parents, administrators, teachers, school resource officers, staff, and community health and public safety professionals. Interested student groups must follow a formalized registration process, working with their administration to start a program and select a safety issue, make a plan to address it and submit a year-end report to Safe and Sound.
Emphasizing a comprehensive, all-hazards approach, the kit offers a number of project suggestions, including:
Not only is the Youth Council initiative designed to be led by youth, youth played a significant role in shaping it. Although the project only formally launched in 2017, Safe and Sound has worked with youth groups since its inception, including one at Moore High School in Moore, Okla., that developed and perfected the concept of the Campus Safety Day (see related article, ““Prep Rally” Promotes School Safety at Oklahoma School.”)
“Moore was involved from the very first and they experimented with several different projects. For the School Safety Fair, the students got the administration to give them an entire day to orchestrate and plan a big fair where students rotate through a number of different safety activities, lessons and seminars,” Gay says. “It’s really impressive and reflects their own community. Being in Oklahoma, it of course includes a presentation by a local meteorologist about weather safety and the signs of weather danger. It also includes active shooter awareness and CPR training.”
The initial launch of the Youth Council initiative targets high schools, but Safe and Sound Schools is already hearing from middle and elementary schools asking for a kit that targets their efforts. For the present, students in the lower grades are encouraged to team up with high schools on dual-use projects.
Safe and Sound Schools is comprised of Sandy Hook parents, educators and community members working together to improve school safety and security through crisis prevention, response and recovery, and to provide research-based education, tools and resources. To further its goals, the organization has built local and national partnerships, including partnerships with a number of professional law enforcement organizations. To learn more about Safe and Sound in general, visit https://www.safeandsoundschools.org/. For more information on Safe and Sound Youth Councils, visit https://www.safeandsoundschools.org/programs-2/youth-council/.