Alert Solutions Blog

LGBTQ Bullying: Startling Statistics Prove It Must Be Addressed in K-12 Schools

Posted by Tara Gibson on Mon, May 20, 2019 @ 09:05 AM

It’s no secret: high school is no walk in the park. With the ever-changing student challenges, online social media pressures and educational standards, on top of going through puberty, young adults don’t have it easy. Teenagers who identify as LGBTQ unfortunately can have it much worse. 

Startling LGBTQ Bullying Statistics

Mental Health America and the Human Rights Campaign report the following:

LGBTQ Bullying

  • Only 37% of LGBTQ youth report being happy, whereas 67% of non-LGBTQ youth report being happy.
  • 80% of LGBTQ youth believe they will be happy eventually and things will get better, with nearly half believing they’ll need to move away from their current town to find happiness.
  • Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts
  • LGBTQ youth identify bullying as the second most important problem in their lives after non-accepting families
  • LGBTQ youth who reported they’re frequently harassed in school had a lower GPA than students who were less often harassed
  • One survey revealed that more than one-third of gay respondents had missed an entire day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe there.
  • 60% of LGBTQ students did not report incidents to school staff. One third of those who did report an incident said staff did nothing in response.

The above are just some of the startling statistics that affect both LQBTQ teen’s mental health and their educational success.

The Tragic Loss of Nigel Shelby & Others

Nigel Shelby was just 15 years old when he took his own life this year due to extreme anti-LGBTQ bullying at his school. Nigel’s mother, Camika Shelby, described Nigel as “outgoing” and “always full of joy, full of light, he was always singing, always dancing.” She also said “I don’t want him to be remembered as a kid who was bullied for being gay and who took his own life. He was so much more than that. He was sunshine. He was just a great spirit to have around and it just breaks my heart because I feel like he had so much more love to give."

Nigel is not the only young LGBTQ teen to commit suicide. Unfortunately suicide is the second leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers, with the young LGBTQ community being at great risk due to bullying, social stigmas, family rejection, harassment, and abuse. The Human Rights Campaign tells us “Addressing these startling statistics starts with schools and communities alike working to foster safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ young people.” So, how can your school help young, at-risk, LQBTQ teens?

4 Ways Your K-12 School Can Address LGBTQ Bullying

There are several ways you can both address LGBTQ bullying instances, and also create a warm and safe environment for all students in your K-12 school.

  1. Get Your Staff on Board
    Having a group of supportive and understanding educators and/or school administrators gives LGBTQ students people they can go to. Students should feel comfortable coming forward to talk about bullying instances and see you as an ally. We recommend brushing up on LGBTQ terms and creating an inclusive learning environment, which we have outlined in a recent blog post.

  2. Create a Gay-Straight Alliance School Club
    Creating a GSA school club creates a safe space for LGBTQ students, and a supportive network of their student and faculty peers. Mental Health America says, “Students who attended schools with GSAs reported fewer homophobic remarks, more intervention from school personnel and a greater sense of connectedness.”

  3. Develop Strict Anti-Bullying Rules
    We encourage implementing strict anti-bullying rules for all students, and making sure staff carry out required discipline for those who break bullying rules. According to Mental Health America, “Students reported that school staff intervened twice as often in schools with comprehensive bullying/harassment policies.”

  4. Implement Anonymous Anti-Bullying Platform
    Some students feel safer when they’re able to report bullying and cyberbullying incidents anonymously. Putting a system in place that allows for anonymity, such as our Speak Up! Anti-Bullying Platform, your K-12 school could drastically reduce bullying. Here’s how it works:
    • Your school receives a unique local phone number
    • Students, parents and staff can leave voice or text messages anonymously
    • A designated school administrator is notified of new messages and can respond instantly
    • Messages are archived indefinitely for easy access and online reporting

Interested in Speak Up? Download our brochure today!

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Topics: student health, bullying, cyberbullying, school announcement, power announcement, powerschool, education, school climate

Are Active Shooter Drills Going Too Far? 8 Active Shooter Drill Best Practices

Posted by Philip Young on Thu, May 16, 2019 @ 08:05 AM

There have a been a shocking number of active shooter incidents across the United States over the last few years, resulting in mass injuries and deaths, many in K-12 schools. It’s heartbreaking to turn on your television or radio to hear of another horrifying incident and young lives lost. School safety and security measures are constantly adapting and growing around the premise of active shooters on a campus. It’s extremely important to continue to perfect an emergency response plan by running active shooter drills, testing your emergency alert system, and educating students and staff on what to do in the case of an active shooter. But how far is too far?

School Security Guard

In Indiana a few teachers came forward to report they were left with welts, bruises, and abrasions after an active shooter drill back in January 2019. They anonymously told IndyStar that for the training teachers were asked by law enforcement “to kneel down against a classroom wall, before being shot across their backs with airsoft guns.” Although all active shooter drills are to educate and inform students and faculty of what to do in an emergency situation involving a shooter, being shot at close range for practice seems to push the limits of some educators. One teacher said, “They told us, ‘This is what happens if you just cower and do nothing.’ They shot all of us across our backs. I was hit four times. It hurt so bad”.

8 Active Shooter Drill Best Practices

Alice Training Institute released a list of best practices for active shooter drills in collaboration with NASP (National Association of School Psychologists) and NASRO (National Association of School Resource Officers). 

  1. Create a School Safety Team
    Alice Training Institute recommends each K-12 school should create school safety teams made up of an administrator; school mental health professional; school nurse; teachers; security personnel; parents; and students. There should be somebody on this safety team that takes charge in coordinating all school safety efforts, including school safety drills. The leader should also be clear in communicating responsibilities to those on the school safety teams, and identify appropriate emergency preparedness activities for the school.

  2. Conduct an Assessment of the School Community
    It’s important for the school safety teams to identify the types of crises that may occur, and what the current school culture and climate is like. For example, this would include determining if there are high rates of bullying incidents in your K-12 school. Assessing the policies in place for active shooter drills and considering if there should be any additional policies added is also key.
  1. Implement a Cost-Benefit Analysis
    Your school’s cost-benefit analysis should consider financial costs in relation to the likelihood of a particular crisis, and the current knowledge and identified needs of staff & faculty. The cost-benefit analysis should also identify resources, activities, or preparedness trainings that must be replaced or postponed to engage in an active shooter drill.

  2. Tailor Active Shooter Drills to the Context of the School Environment
    Your active shooter drills should take into consideration the following - the primary goal of the drill; the age of students, cognitive and developmental levels of awareness of students; students with physical, sensory, or other disabilities who may require unique instructions; the trust and comfort among staff; optimal timing of the active shooter drill; relationships with law enforcement; and lastly the layout of the school.

  3. Create a Plan of Progression
    Your K-12 school should have a plan of progression that identifies specific goals and objectives for the active shooter drill as well as a timeline and metrics to help determine how the drills are performing, and whether more complex exercises are needed.

  4. Prepare for Logistics of the Active Shooter Drill
    It’s important to keep in mind several factors when running active shooter drills such as students or staff who have experienced previous traumatic events. These individuals may want to be excused during a drill, but must have parental consent to do so. Alice Training Institute also recommends having school mental health professionals available to help.

  5. Develop a Communications Plan
    Having an effective communications plan is important before, during, and after an active shooter drill. It’s important to keep parents, guardians, and the school community informed of when drills are planned. This is easy to do with your school notification platform.

  6. Establish a Long-Term Follow Up Plan
    Schools should establish a long-term follow up plan to support sustainability that considers the following – what additional training is required; how the drill integrates with other school safety efforts; how current and previous training and knowledge can be maintained; and when/ how often a follow-up should be conducted.

For more in depth steps for conducting an active shooter drill at your K-12 school, please see the Alice Training Institute ‘Best Practice Considerations for Schools in Active Shooter and Other Armed Assailant Drills’ report.

One of the important points in active shooter drill best practices includes having a communication plan. At Alert Solutions we help many K-12 schools with their emergency response efforts by providing an award-winning school notification system, SwiftK12.  

SwiftK12 enables administrators to reliably reach hundreds or even thousands of student families within minutes. In the case of an active shooter situation, seconds count.

Interested in learning more? Download our brochure today.

SwiftK12 Brochure Download

Topics: student health, school announcement, school safety, power announcement, powerschool, education, parent communication

Hurricane Preparedness Week: Is Your K-12 School Ready?

Posted by Tara Gibson on Thu, May 09, 2019 @ 09:05 AM

This week is National Hurricane Preparedness Week and the 2019 hurricane season is nearly upon us. According to initial hurricane predictions from the Weather Company, this season is expected to be above average “with a total of 14 named storms predicted, seven of which are expected to be hurricanes.” Hurricanes are one of the most powerful and destructive natural disasters, forming over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico throughout hurricane season, which spans from June through November every year.

School Closed Hurricane Preparedness

Last year Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 hurricane, hit Florida hard in early October. Many K-12 schools and districts were either forced to close down, or were so severely damaged that many couldn’t return to those schools for the remainder of the school year.

The destruction caused many problems for teachers and students. Teachers weren’t sure on how much homework to give students, as many did not have internet access. Dress codes had to be completely dropped, as many families lost all of their belongings including school uniforms. According to the Orlando Sentinel, “A little more than 29,000 students across the district were enrolled in schools on the last day of classes before Hurricane Michael hit the Panhandle... Enrollment had dropped by more than 2,600 students, almost 9 percent, districtwide by the Friday before Thanksgiving.” A huge drop due to students either moving away or dropping out of school all together.

K-12 schools must prepare both their faculty and their students before a hurricane or any other severe weather event.

Hurricane Preparedness: Before a Storm

  • Educate Students & Staff
    It’s extremely important to educate both students and staff on the potential threat of a hurricane or other severe weather event. Hurricane preparedness is understanding what could happen in the event of a hurricane and how your school can prepare for the worst.

  • Develop a Plan
    Your K-12 school should have an action plan in place specifically for each natural disaster threat, including a hurricane. Although your school may be closed before a hurricane hits, there are still plans that should be put in place including evacuations, announcements, drills and more.

  • Examine School Layout
    Weather.gov recommends examining the layout of your school to determine potential shelter areas. In the case of a hurricane there are fast winds which could cause structural damage. Getting students to a safe area within school grounds is imperative to their safety. Weather.gov provides the following suggestions for safe spots within your school:
    • Interior, small rooms usually offer the best protection.
    • Offices or bathrooms are usually favored locations.
    • Interior hallways are usually another good option, but avoid getting too close to outside door openings.
    • Avoid exterior class rooms or rooms with many windows.
    • Avoid large span ceiling rooms like gymnasiums, auditoriums, and cafeterias.
    • Avoid portable classrooms.

  • Implement a Reliable School Notification Platform
    Keeping everybody updated with open communication is key in the event of a hurricane or any other severe weather event. It’s important to make sure your school notification platform is reliable so school administrators can send alerts to parents, students and staff across multiple channels such as text, email, phone call, and social media, quickly and easily. Our notification system, SwiftK12, is backed by a fully redundant network. SwiftK12 helps K-12 schools reliably reach hundreds or even thousands of student families within minutes. When time is of the essence, it’s comforting to have a trustworthy system to help. 

  • Practice, Practice, Practice!
    Once in place it is essential to practice running through your plan to determine if everything would run smoothly in the event of a hurricane. This includes working with students to go through drills, testing your school wide alert system, and making sure any kinks are worked out. gov states “A practice will not only help confirm the validity of your plan and illustrate any deficiencies to be addressed, but can educate your students and staff on proper responses during severe weather.”

Hurricane preparedness should not be taken lightly, especially in K-12 schools and districts. Schools are responsible for staff and student safety, which is why having a plan, determining safe spaces, implementing reliable technology, and practicing your plan is extremely important.

At Alert Solutions we offer a reliable and efficient school notification platform, SwiftK12, which is used across the country and internationally to send out alerts and messages to keep students, staff, and parents safe and informed.

Interested in learning more? Download our brochure today!

SwiftK12 Brochure Download

Topics: student health, school announcement, school safety, power announcement, powerschool, education, parent communication

Anxiety-Fueled School Refusals - How Do They Impact Truancy?

Posted by Philip Young on Thu, Apr 25, 2019 @ 10:04 AM

Parents and educators struggle daily with children and students not wanting to go to school. That’s normal. When children and students completely refuse to go to school it becomes worrisome. Truancy is detrimental to a student’s success in school, and when a child is chronically absent grades slip and sometimes it is impossible to recover academically.

The Impact Truancy has on Student Academic Success

Truancy measures the number of unexcused absences a child has in school. Healthy Children has a number of startling statistics on chronic truancy in the United States, including the fact that it affects 6.5 million students nationwide. That’s nearly 13% of the total student population! Healthy Children states, “Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are less likely to read on grade level by the third grade. For older students, being chronically absent is strongly associated with failing at school―even more than low grades or test scores.” A student who misses a lot of school is also more likely to drop out, or fail out without graduating.

There are a number of factors that could lead to a student missing school, and one of them is anxiety. About 5% of children have school related anxiety, which leads to them refusing to attend school.

A Closer Look at Anxiety-Fueled School Refusals

Anxiety-Fueled School Refusal - Truancy

According to KQED News, mental health professionals are taking a closer look at the run-of-the-mill truancy, and are now referring to some cases of chronic absenteeism as “school refusal”. This can be triggered by several factors including anxiety, depression, family crises, and other traumatic events, which can lead to weeks or even months of missed school days.

There is a lot to be said about the earlier manifestation of anxiety and mental health disorders in children and young adults. According to a study by the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics there are approximately 2 million American children and adolescents that have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are also known to peak during the school year. This could be because of several factors such as student stress levels due to course load, or bullying and cyber bullying incidents.

Typically, anxiety develops for students when they are transitioning from middle school to high school, or often comes to light as young as age 5 to 6 years old. In younger children it’s a lot more difficult to determine if a child is developing a mental health disorder, as the symptoms are harder to read and present themselves as negative behaviors. The Washington Post explains, “Parents and educators are quick to spot the behavior problem, but they don’t always see the underlying anxiety that drives it… The challenge often lies in the fact that kids might experience these emotions for the first time, without warning. They don’t necessarily know how to connect the dots between a racing heart, a stomach ache, feeling dizzy and anxiety.”

School Refusals: When to Intervene

When should teachers and school administrators intervene when they notice school refusals? The short answer is as soon as possible. The earlier the intervention, the more likely a student can get back on track. The longer the child is avoiding school, the more likely they are to fall behind and experience more drastic consequences. According to the Carrier Clinic, children with unresolved anxiety can often self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, and make rash decisions that protect them in the short term. “One study found that teenagers and young adults ages 14 to 24 with social anxiety were nearly 3 times as likely to develop depression later in life than those without the anxiety disorder.”

A key way to addressing student truancy due to anxiety is by getting parents involved. No parent wants their child to drop out of school. Keeping open lines of communication with parents and guardians not only keeps them fully involved in their child’s education, but it’s also an easy way to determine if a student has a string of absences that could be related to anxiety or a mental health disorder.

Alert Solutions recommends using an automated attendance alert, which sends home a message to parents or guardians using their preferred communication method. Not only does this make both students and parents accountable, but it’s also extremely easy to set up with our school notification platform, SwiftK12!

With the increased pressure for K-12 schools to address chronic truancy, we’ve also developed a guide to help tackle and reduce absenteeism. Want to learn more? Download the guide below!

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Topics: student health, attendance, school announcement, power announcement, powerschool, education, truancy

School Lunch Debt: Can Your Students Afford Lunch?

Posted by Tara Gibson on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 @ 11:04 AM

Did you know 100,000 schools and education institutions across the country provide lunch to 30 million students each day? That’s a lot of cafeteria school lunches! According to the National School Lunch Program, of those 30 million students the program estimates as many as 20 million students receive their lunch for free, 2 million pay a reduced price of 40 cents, and 8 million pay the full price. These incredible statistics are shocking to those who don’t often think about school lunch debt.

Some K-12 school districts are reimbursed this school lunch debt by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which pays schools for lunch expenditures based on the number of students paying full price, reduced price, or are receiving the meal for free. This only occurs if the schools are part of the federal school lunch program.

School Lunch

Students who are not enrolled in a federally subsidized meal plan at their school typically have accounts in which they put money for school breakfasts and lunches. As with any account, once the money is gone the bills will accumulate. This is where school lunch debt begins. The New Food Academy tells us, “…that (school lunch) debt accrual puts an increasing burden on schools that bear it, sometimes to the tune of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single district. In late December, The Washington Post reported that K-12 students in the D.C. area owe a collective $500,000 in unpaid lunch debt for the first semester of the current academic year alone.”

School lunch costs vary by the school district and state, but according to New Food Academy, on average a single meal costs students $2.48 at the elementary school level and $2.74 at the high school level. Although this price doesn’t sound like a lot, it adds up for families providing for multiple children. Lunches can be expensive and lead to school lunch debt.

Frances Frost, a mother in Maryland, spoke openly to the Atlantic and talked about the various permission slips, picture day fliers, and field trip notices she receives on a daily basis. She had unfortunately missed the reminder on refilling her daughter’s school lunch account. She says “…the lunch server graciously let Natalie keep her selected hot lunch with a reminder to bring money for her meal account.” This isn’t always the norm.  There have been discussions on how school lunch shaming is happening in some schools and districts, which is when the cafeteria workers refuse a student lunch as they do not have any money in their account.

This “shaming” sometimes subjects children to the embarrassment of returning their lunch due to insufficient funds.  According to The Atlantic, “Last year in Bedford, Kentucky, parents complained and accused the local elementary school of “bullying” after a child’s lunch was confiscated and thrown away in front of her friends for running a negative balance. Dominic Gant, a high-schooler in Dowagiac, Michigan, was left embarrassed and hungry when his lunch was taken and trashed for owing $4.95. A 12-year-old in Dickinson, Texas had his school breakfast dumped over a 30 cent debt…” The stories continue. Although school lunch debts can seriously add up and create a financial burden for school districts, the shaming and bullying of children who owe money should not occur.

Alert Solutions may have a fix for this problem. Our school notification system, SwiftK12, allows administrators to set up automated alerts to go home to parents, including low lunch balance alerts. The  low lunch balance alert feature can automatically send parents an email, voice call or text message with the student’s name and the remaining dollar amount. Parents can also choose their preferred communication method to make sure they receive and read the notification.

With this feature, school administrators can:

  • Set up different fee alerts based on the balance level
  • Reduce manual staff labor, freeing up time
  • Easily recover unpaid balances, restoring a healthier cash flow for your K-12 school district
  • Notify and engage with parents more effectively
  • Cut down on paper costs

Free up staff from the tedious task of fee reminders and effectively recover unpaid balances with this helpful tool. Ready to learn more?

SwiftK12 Brochure Download

Topics: student health, school notifications, school announcement, educational technology, lunch balance, power announcement, powerschool, school programs, parent communication

K-12 Schools Must Address Student Mental Health Concerns After 2 Parkland Survivor Suicides

Posted by Nina Caliri on Thu, Apr 04, 2019 @ 09:04 AM

There is nothing more upsetting than switching on the T.V. or radio to hear about a devastating school shooting. In 2018, thirty-five people in the U.S. died in school shootings, with many losing their lives in the February 14th shooting in Parkland Florida. That number doesn’t include the 79 people injured during these country-wide school shootings, and the many more that were deeply affected and are living with mental health issues. These student mental health concerns include PTSD and depression due to survivor’s guilt and the heartbreaking loss of friends and faculty.

Student Mental Health

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting occurred just over a year ago, yet the Parkland community continues to mourn over the effects of that tragedy. Within just one week, two Parkland survivors took their own lives.  Sydney Aiello, a 19-year-old graduate and a senior at the time of the mass shooting, died of an apparent suicide after struggling with PTSD and survivors guilt after living through the deaths of her classmates. The second survivor who committed suicide has been identified as 16-year-old sophomore, Calvin Desir. These suicides have shaken the community to the core, and have prompted people to take a closer look at the well-being of students and their mental health.

According to the Cut, “this is not the first time we’ve seen the toll of experiencing the trauma of a school shooting can take.” After the Columbine incident, a student and a mother of a student who was injured both took their own lives, and six students attempted suicide after a tragic school shooting in Ohio that left three students dead.

3 Student Mental Health Concerns to Look Out For

The Daily Beast explains, “Witnessing a school shooting is especially traumatic given the malleable shape of the brain of school children. Younger pupils are developing foundational skills that will allow them to learn more complex skills, while older students are balancing emotional and intellectual maturation through puberty.” With this being said, there are a few student mental health concerns educators, school administrators, and parents should be looking out for after a school shooting or school tragedy.

Multiple triggers such as smells, sounds, or even a memorial, could initiate a downward spiral for somebody who is suffering from depression, PTSD, or “survivor’s guilt”. Below each are defined:

Depression:
Depression, or major depressive disorder, is defined as a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. “Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.” If you notice your students no longer care about their coursework, are absent often, and are uncharacteristically withdrawn, they may be experiencing depression or another mental health disorder.

PTSD:
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is common for those who have witnessed gun violence. It is defined as “a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.” According to The Daily Beast, PTSD affects the area in the brain that processes stress and emotion, which is why many survivors report to feeling “numb” and are unable to respond in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy.

Survivor’s Guilt:
According to the Cut, survivor’s guilt by itself is not a diagnosis. It is a phenomenon that occurs involving the belief or question about one’s worth and one’s value. Students may ask “why did I survive when other people did not?” Or “why did I deserve to live and others did not?” Survivor’s guilt triggers these questions and students can blame themselves for not doing something more to save a friend or faculty member. These distortions are often linked to mood changes and depression, and are associated directly with PTSD.

Teachers and school administrators spend the most time with school-aged children who may be suffering from depression or PTSD after a detrimental tragedy.

Alert Solutions recommends keeping open communication with both students and their parents as often as possible, so teachers and administrators can effectively address a student’s mental health concern. Keeping a lookout for any signs or symptoms of depression, PTSD, or any other mental health issue is extremely important.Sharing any and every concern could end up saving a life.

Rave Mobile Safety recently acquired Alert Solutions, which allows us to share new school safety products such as the Rave Panic Button. The Rave Panic button allows users to alert 9-1-1 of an emergency and simultaneously send notifications to people on-site of the incident with just the push of a button. It has been proven to shorten response times, which could be a matter of life or death in school shooter situation.

Interested in learning more? Feel free to schedule a free consultation today.

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Topics: student health, school announcement, school safety, power announcement, powerschool, school culture, school climate

Autism Awareness Month: How Can Your School Promote Acceptance?

Posted by Philip Young on Tue, Apr 02, 2019 @ 09:04 AM

Today is Autism Awareness Day, and the month of April is Autism Awareness Month!

Autism Awareness

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is defined as a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, speech and nonverbal communication, and repetitive disorders.  There are many different subtypes of autism which are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Some people can live entirely independently with little support, and some require a significant amount of support in their day-to-day lives.

Autism Speaks shares autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the U.S. today, and the indicators of autism often appear by age 2 or 3. There can be developmental delays that appear sooner which leads to an earlier diagnosis. The sooner the diagnosis, the sooner early intervention can start. Research has made it clear that high-quality early intervention can improve learning, communication and social skills, as well as underlying brain development.

Texas Autism Society shares since the 1970’s the Autism Society have been celebrating National Autism Awareness Month (NAAM) to highlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism. The month of April is a great opportunity for K-12 schools and educators to teach students about autism and issues within the autism community. There are many ways for students to support their peers in school who may have autism, and raise both acceptance and awareness within the school community.

6 Ways to Promote Awareness During Autism Awareness Month

The Texas Autism Society has several great ideas that are fairly simple for K-12 schools to implement during April to raise awareness:

  • Share Autism Facts
    Consider sharing several autism facts on puzzle pieces around the school and mention these facts on the morning announcements for everybody to hear. You could hang the puzzle pieces on hallway walls or post them on a bulletin board for students and faculty to see.
  • Invite Guest Speakers
    Bring guest speakers into school to present to students. “Speakers can be people on the spectrum, family members of individuals with autism, or professionals in the field.” Your K-12 school could hold a special assembly for these presentations.
  • Autism Awareness Shirts
    Encourage your students and faculty to wear a certain color or specific autism awareness shirt one day of the week.
  • Showcase Autism Awareness Books
    Ask your school library to showcase books about Autism on display throughout the month of April. A few books mentioned by Texas Autism Society include: The Autism Acceptance Book by Ellen Sabin, Tobin Learns to Make Friends by Diane Murrell, Of Mice and Aliens by Kathy Hoopman, and Wishing on the Midnight Star by Nancy Ogaz. For a larger book suggestion list, click here.
  • Autism Movie
    Show a movie about autism during a lunch period or in the classroom. A few movies mentioned by Texas Autism Society include: Life Animated, Autism the Musical, Best Kept Secret, Family Next Door, Rain Man, Jack and the Red Hearts, Autism in Love, and The Story of Luke.
  • Create an Autism Ambassador Club
    Autism New Jersey has an Autism Ambassador Program that has a significant impact on increasing the acceptance of autism. “Ambassadors of all ages engage their communities by creating informational displays and presentations in their schools and workplaces, organizing successful fundraising events, and enlisting the support of legislators and state officials throughout April, National Autism Awareness Month.”

Spreading awareness doesn’t only need to happen in school. Get your students’ parents involved by sending home friendly reminders with your school notification system. SwiftK12 allows school administrators and teachers the ability to send messages home using parent-preferred communication methods such as text, emails, social media, and phone calls.

Make this month the biggest and best Autism Awareness Month your school has ever seen!

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Topics: student health, school announcement, educational technology, power announcement, powerschool, school programs

National Nutrition Month: 5 Ways Your Class Can Celebrate

Posted by Tara Gibson on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 @ 09:03 AM

March is National Nutrition Month! The Academy of Nutrition and Diabetics created this yearly campaign to encourage people to focus their attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. With students spending the majority of their time in schools, what better place to teach and promote healthy eating and exercise? Educating children of the significance of a proper diet is very important, as a child’s nutrition and lifestyle habits have a direct effect on every function of their body.  

Students on Field Trip - National Nutrition Month

Teaching kids the skills they need to make these proper food choices will help them develop lifelong healthy eating patterns. NCBI tells us “Healthy eating habits among adolescents and children are essential for healthy growth, cognitive development and other aspects of health and wellbeing.” These good habits have also been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases.

The School Nutrition Association shares the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 “required the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update federal nutrition standards for school meals”. These updated rules went into effect in July 2012 and require K-12 schools to offer students larger portions of fruits and veggies with every lunch, grains offered with meals must be whole-grain rich, meals must meet age-appropriate calorie minimums and maximums, sodium levels must meet certain limits, and meals cannot contain added trans-fat. Full guidelines can be found here.

Although the guidelines may seem to be rather strict, this doesn’t mean schools aren’t feeding their students delicious meals. Popular menu items such as pizza and macaroni are still served, but have had slight makeovers. For example, school pizza is now required to be prepared with whole grain crust, low-fat cheese, and reduced sodium sauce.

5 Ways K-12 Schools Can Celebrate National Nutrition Month

There are fun ways to teach your students about nutrition in the classroom. Have a good time and celebrate National Nutrition Month with these 5 ideas from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  1. Take a Field Trip
    A field trip to a local farmers market or farm is a great way to get out of the classroom and celebrate National Nutrition Month. Introduce your students to healthy organic foods such as fruits and veggies grown locally! TeachHub also suggests a supermarket scavenger hunt as another field trip idea. “As you walk through the supermarket aisles, ask students to point out healthy foods that belong to each group on the food plate. Then, for a fun activity, divide students into groups and hand each group a list of healthy foods to search for.”

  2. Food Group Project
    For National Nutrition Month consider a group project in which you assign teams of students to different food groups. Have your students research their food groups in depth and present the nutrition facts to the class. This way they’re learning about their own food group, and also learning from their peers about the several other food groups.

  3. Taste Test
    What better way to get students to try new foods than a taste test! Cut up several different fruits and veggies into bite-size pieces and have your class try one of each. Be sure to check that there are no allergies in your class. After the taste test have the children participate in an open discussion amongst each other and then vote on their favorites with an explanation as to why!

  4. Food Product Boxes
    Another idea for National Nutrition Month is to have your classroom save empty boxes of food and bring them into class. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends the class should “Spend some time reading labels and comparing information in the Nutrition Facts panels. Expand into a menu-planning opportunity, individually or in teams.”

  5. Tip of the Day
    Get parents involved! Consider sending home nutrition tips or trivia questions through your school notification platform and encourage parents to keep the nutrition discussion going outside of the classroom. You could even try sending home healthy recipes to try out. Getting parents and guardians involved will help solidify these healthy eating habits, which will only result in good outcomes as a child grows. For an extra incentive we suggest giving out prizes to the students and parents who participate!

At Alert Solutions we want all K-12 schools and districts to understand the importance of teaching children about nutrition and healthy eating habits, and why it is essential for healthy growth and cognitive development. Our school notification platform, SwiftK12, is a great way to communicate with parents outside of the classroom to keep the nutrition conversation going. 

Interested in learning more? Download our brochure today!

SwiftK12 Brochure Download

Topics: student health, school announcement, power announcement, powerschool, education, school programs, parent engagement

Education's New Partner in Battling Chronic Truancy: Pediatricians

Posted by Tara Gibson on Thu, Mar 07, 2019 @ 14:03 PM

It’s no secret; chronic truancy is detrimental to student achievement. Students who do not attend school regularly are more likely to not do well academically, or even drop out of school all together. A shocking statistic unveils more than 6.5 million US children, about 13% of all students, miss 15 days or more each year. This doesn’t just apply to middle school and high school. The American Academy of Pediatrics states “at least 10 percent of kindergarten and first-grade students miss a month or more of the school year, while about 19 percent of all high school students are chronically absent.”

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There are many factors that contribute to high chronic absenteeism. Children who are exposed to major trauma such as domestic violence, have recently experienced a natural disaster, or have a history of maltreatment are more likely to experience absenteeism. AAP explains “these children are also more likely to experience other risk factors for chronic absenteeism, including poor mental and behavioral health, poor health outcomes, poverty, homelessness, and frequent school changes.”

Poor health seems to be a large factor in chronic absenteeism. A study in central Texas by the Austin-based E3 Alliance “found that 52 percent of absences were due to chronic or acute illness. By contrast, skipping school accounted for 5 percent.” Luckily, educators has a new partner to help with the growing truancy problem; pediatricians. There is strong evidence showing physical and mental health interventions are helping to improve student attendance.

How Pediatricians Can Help Reduce Truancy

The American Academy of Pediatrics released an extensive report covering proven measures to help reduce truancy, including the following recommendations for pediatricians and their colleagues:

  • Emphasize the value of developing good school attendance habits from an early age.
  • When children and their parents come in, pediatricians are also encouraged ask about the number of school days missed within the month during every visit.
  • Document children's medical needs for an Individualized Education Program or 504 Plan when needed for access to services that optimize learning opportunities.
  • Encourage parents and families to share any and all health concerns with the school nurse on staff.
  • Give guidance on when students should stay home from school and when they should not. For example: Lice is not a reason to stay home from school.
  • When the absence is not appropriate, do not write absence excuses.
  • Always have children return to school when their appointment shows they are well enough.
  • Work with K-12 schools to promote and advocate policies that promote school attendance.

Four Health Strategies from AAP

AAP also put together several strategies that K-12 schools can implement to promote school attendance and tackle chronic absenteeism through healthcare.

  1. Infection Prevention
    Absenteeism isn’t always a malicious way to get out of school work as many students fall sick during the school year forcing them to miss school. Schools are known to be a source of many wide-spread illnesses such as common colds and influenza. Hand hygiene interventions are one way schools are working to battle truancy. Promoting the use of hand sanitizers and hand-washing helped with reducing sicknesses. According to AAP, “in addition to studies of hand hygiene interventions, school-located influenza vaccination programs have been shown to reduce school absenteeism during influenza season.”

  2. School Nurses
    Having a full-time school nurse on staff plays a significant role when it comes to student attendance. “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Association of School Nurses recommend a minimum of 1 full-time professional school nurse in every school, recognizing that the ideal nurse-to-student ratio varies depending on the needs of the student population”.

  3. School-Based Health Centers
    According to AAP, a school-based health center provides health services to students who may have been sent home or missed school because of illnesses and injuries or attending medical appointments for management of chronic health problems. These health centers include care for dental services, preventative services, mental services, and behavioral health services.

  4. Mental Health Care
    In a recent blog post we covered the importance of educators looking out for mental health concerns among their students. As K-12 schools are the place young people spend the majority of their days, educators are the first line of defense. Schools play an important role in identifying early warning signs, addressing mental health concerns, and providing help and care.

Not everything is black and white. Chronic truancy and absenteeism have many influencers and healthcare is only one of them. Whether a student is experiencing extreme anxiety about being in school, or has fallen ill and caught a bad stomach bug, missing school has extreme effects on student success and graduation rates.

Alert Solutions works with K-12 schools and districts across the country to help reduce chronic truancy. Schools using SwiftK12, our school notification system, send out automated attendance alerts notifying parents and guardians on whether their child is in school. These alerts not only help increase parent communication, but they also  save hours of time for school staff each day, and most importantly, have been known to help increase student attendance rates.

Download our Reducing Chronic Truancy Guide for helpful tips, tricks, and strategies to battle absenteeism.

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Topics: student health, attendance, school announcement, Medical, power announcement, powerschool, education, school programs, truancy

Why K-12 Schools Should Take Student Mental Health Seriously

Posted by Philip Young on Thu, Feb 28, 2019 @ 10:02 AM

Mental health awareness is a topic being discussed more often, and it’s a conversation many need to have. Mental health conditions are becoming more prominent in students around the teenage and adolescent ages, with many experiencing this onset by the age of 14.

Student Mental Health - Student Taking ExamThe National Alliance on Mental Health shares startling statistics, such as one in five youths currently live with a mental health condition, and less than half of these individuals do not receive any services for their condition. “Undiagnosed, untreated or inadequately treated mental health conditions can affect a student’s ability to learn, grow and develop.”

K-12 schools are the place the majority of young people spend their days. It’s extremely important that school teachers and administrators educate themselves on student mental health and make sure their students are getting the help they need.  NAMI explains school personnel play an important role in identifying the early warning signs in students who are experiencing an emerging mental health condition. Once identified, students should be connected with effective services and support.

Common Student Mental Health Disorders

Mental health disorders come in many shapes and sizes, and students begin to battle these issues at a young age.  Many mental health disorders impact everyday life, making it difficult for students to focus entirely on schoolwork. Some of the common mental disorders are listed below, with the help from Teen Mental Health.

  • Anxiety disorders are classified as disturbances in brain mechanisms that are designed to protect a person from harm. Below are the types of anxiety disorders:
    • General Anxiety Disorder
    • Social Anxiety Disorder
    • Panic Disorder
    • Specific Phobias
  • Mood disorders are classified as disturbances in usual mood states. Below are a two common mood disorders:
    • Major Depressive Disorder, or commonly referred to as Clinical Depression
    • Bipolar Disorder
  • Personality disorders are classified as maladaptive personal characteristics. Below are several personality disorders:
    • Eccentric: Paranoid, Schizoid, Schizotypal
    • Dramatic/Emotional: Antisocial, Narcissistic
    • Fear Related: Avoidant, Dependent, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
  • Eating disorders are classified as disturbances of weight and feeding behavior. A few eating disorders to look out for include:
    • Anorexia Nervosa
    • Bulimia Nervosa
    • Binge Eating Disorder
  • There are many more mental health disorders listed by Teen Mental Health. Click here for more.

Understanding the Impact of Student Mental Health

As the first line of defense, educators must understand the importance of student mental health, and the impact it has on young people. Unfortunately, when a young adult is faced with a mental health disorder, they often don’t address or treat it until a later age. Student mental health disorders correlate with low achievement, disruptive behavior, chronic absenteeism, and even dropping out of school altogether.

As the first signs of a mental health disorder usually present themselves around the age of 14, teachers who interact with students this age should begin to keep an eye out for any behavior that appears to signify mental illness so that they’re able to get the help they need.

How to Spot & Address Student Mental Health Concerns

There are a few indicators to look out for when considering student mental health. If you see a student withdrawing, being unsocial, lacking self-confidence, or acting out of character, they may need help.

Nancy Barile, an award-winning teacher, started to notice that one of her students was not herself. She explains this student was always punctual when it came to classes and homework, was meticulous with her appearance and was always friendly. When Nancy noticed she no longer tried with her school work, was showing up to school disheveled and wearing the same clothes, and was uncharacteristically withdrawn, she knew something was terribly wrong.

Luckily there were mental health experts ready to help. Nancy explains, “They discovered that (this student) was depressed and suicidal, and she needed an immediate psychiatric intervention. She was hospitalized for a period of time, but she was able to return to my classroom a few months later. With the help of medication and therapy, she managed to graduate with her class.”

This is an important example of how teachers and administrators can spot a problem and effectively address a student’s mental health concern.

Having open communication and informative conversations about these tough subjects is extremely important, as it could save a student’s life. 

Alert Solutions works with many K-12 districts and schools across the country, all of which should be aware of the importance of student mental health. Sharing information internally and externally with students, teachers and parents will help keep everybody informed and engaged in the topic of student mental health awareness. This can easily be done through blogging, social media, and with a school notification platform such as SwiftK12.

Interested in learning more about SwiftK12? Download our brochure below.

 SwiftK12 Brochure Download

Topics: student health, school announcement, school safety, educational technology, power announcement, powerschool, school culture, school climate

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