Tragedy in Pennsylvania Touches Lakeside’s Communities

It has been quite an alarming week for the world and for our community here in the suburbs of Philadelphia. We saw the news of the murders in Pakistan and Australia. In our own community we suffered the murders of six people and the killer remained at large for a time.

SWAT teams and high alert in our suburban Philadelphia neighborhoods

Veteran shoots several then stabs self

Suburban Philadelphia on high alert due to shootings and stabbings. (photo courtesy of

In the past few days we have had schools closed, communities put on alert, armed SWAT teams walking through neighborhoods, dogs on patrol and a general state of high alert called.

All this activity occurred because a gunman had killed a young woman and then tracked down her family at their residences and killed all of them either by gun or by knife. His outrage and onslaught immobilized our entire community and left many families frightened, hypervigilant and nervous to walk the streets or leave their homes.

The first murder occurred early Monday morning.

As the story unfolded, a total of six family members were dead and the killer was being sought after for an entire day. Eventually his body was found near his home. His name was Bradley Stone. He was 35 years of age and a former Marine on tour of duty in Iraq.

In a heated custody battle, Bradley Smith had apparently threatened his wife and then carried out his threat by killing her and five of her family members. Fortunately, he left his own 2 small children at the home of a neighbor. Though physically safe, they are emotionally traumatized since it appears they witnessed their Mom’s death at the hands of their Dad.

No information has been released as to any specific evaluation of Mr. Bradley’s mental health.

Although, it is certainly clear he acted irrationally and caused a wave of terror throughout his family and the entire community.  Truly this has been a tragedy of huge proportions and it leaves us all a bit shell-shocked.

For our staff at Lakeside, two of the murdered family members were individuals that we had a previous relationship with, which has caused us another level of grief and loss.

I think this incident sheds a lot of light on the fact that not only do military veterans need help but also their families.

Apparently, in this situation there was a lot of marital discord and eventual threats of violence during a very nasty custody battle.  Smith’s wife had expressed her fear of him attacking her on several occasions. As it turns out she had good reason to be afraid.

We have heard so much on veterans and their needs.  I am glad some things are beginning to happen on this front.  However, there needs to be much more.

Yet there is equal need for the families of our veterans because they sometimes have to adjust to a personality that they are unfamiliar with. A veteran’s return home often requires a  period of transition. We really need a plan to help veterans and their families with multiple transition issues as they learn to adapt to a whole new world even within their families.

Every situation that erupts like this gives us yet another public glimpse at the very complicated and difficult set of situations facing the families of veterans.  

Hopefully, we can use these situations to put together some ideas with relationships that will help these families adjust, cope and transition effectively. We send to these families our thoughts and prayers during this significant time of loss.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Brain-Based School Environments

On occasion, I am asked to consult on employment and relationships within a school environment. I very much value what teachers, counselors, administrators and other staff do each day to educate and care for our children. Theirs is an important accomplishment for the future of our country.

There are many quality issues to contend with in our schools

tableI think many people believe that we are the top in the world in education, but quite honestly, we are not and personally, that bothers me a great deal.

If we are not educating our children well then we will not only have a host of issues in our communities but also in the global marketplace because of a lack of credentials and a competitive edge.

We are still very much behind in some aspects of educational quality assurance. It is frustrating to school leadership and staff to always be working to achieve changing (and more intense) standards due to the expectations of our state and federal educational departments. Schools seem constantly under pressure to update, alter and figure out these standards and how to implement them with staff that is currently in place.

Even more challenging are the environmental issues that exist in schools throughout our country.

I have been posting on how we need to be brain-based in how we motivate and encourage students.

In other words, we need to care about what is going on in the personal lives of our students enough to help them know how to self-regulate. We need to help them use and understand the means or tools to help them increase calmness, focus and capability to handle classroom objectives.

With the deluge of social issues—violence, drugs, varied learning styles and capacities, mental health issues and related personal and family problems—it becomes quite difficult for many students to learn. We know it only takes a few students to disrupt a classroom and sometimes an entire school.

But on top of all of that is the employment in our schools.

I honestly do not question motives of individuals in any setting, but in so many schools there seems to be constant conflict, unresolved problems, stress, anger, unhealthy competitiveness, personal problems and general dissonance in how schools function. I am not attempting to be stereotypical in saying that there aren’t some great schools with strong resonant leadership,  but largely that seems to be the exception and not the rule.

As I relate to so many school staff and listen to the internal workings of public and private schools, I am very concerned that one major contributor of our educational system’s deficits lies in the employment environment for staff.

The critical value and need of resonant leadership.

Research has been clear. People who are living their strengths, affirmed in their work, confident in their leadership, and provided with realistic expectations, will perform and contribute to their mission and goals far more effectively than those who are in a dissonant environment.

Resonant leadership strives to be emotionally healthy, works staff to their ideal work-selves and uses the strengths of individuals stated in their job descriptions. It encourages leadership to be mindful, hopeful, and compassionate. In general, it is concerned about what staff are going through at what I will call a “brain-based” level. So, leaders need to be as cognizant of our staff as individuals as we are about the students.

As I hear story after story of dissonance in schools and private organizations, I am impressed that there is an awareness of how difficult and disheartening a poor school environment can be.

However there is little training or support, and perhaps fewer strategies or impetus for change.

Needed are factors to both impact and drive the overall environment with a new level of core beliefs and skills that are emotionally and relationally healthy. If the core beliefs are not present in the values of the school then there will be little hope to change, and our schools will not emerge as anything but warehouses for students to go through where both staff and students are struggling.

I value our schools, teachers, and administrators way too much to just continue in unhappy status quo. I have felt the hopelessness that many teachers and administrators feel to change this very imbedded system, but I believe it is possible. I also realize there are some real barriers to change due to funding, limited staff and high expectations.

As I continue to post, this will become a topic that I will further reflect on. It is my hope that we can make a difference by becoming more healthy and brain-based school environments. I want to envision schools that can thrive and provide a model of motivated, fulfilled and capable leadership and staff.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Can Chewing Gum Help Autistic Children?

It is easy to minimize the impact of some of the more basic patterns of behavior, particularly with autistic children. However, as we have more accurately come to understand neurological issues that are glaringly apparent in these children, we are beginning to acknowledge that some of the rules like “no chewing gum in school” may not be a good idea for these children…especially when considering the biology of chewing.

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Coping with Anxiety: Self-Regulation for PTSD Symptoms

I am ever conscious of how many people cross our paths each week who have panic attacks, anxiety attacks and typical PTSD symptoms. My compassion goes out to these individuals as they are attempting to live and work, to participate in their families and communities, only to find that much of the time they feel just awful. They often spend their entire day either preparing for, or coping with, extreme anxiety attacks or other symptoms. To them, it feels like emotional torture, and they can get very little relief from contemporary treatments.

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Research Reveals 8 Myths That Undermine Educational Effectiveness

mythbusting in education

Research busts some common myths about education. (photo courtesy of

June of 2014, educational journalist and teacher Mark Phillips released this article on Edutopia that I think is quite compelling for teachers, educators and anyone involved in educating our students. I recognize that most of us have accepted all kinds of messages as truths just because it is the way we have done it.  But is that wise?

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