By Rose SgarlatoANDOVER — Resident Christine Bacolas is a high school biology teacher and also the creator of the Hideaway Helper. A simple, yet revolutionary window shade that may have her fellow teachers beating down her door for it. Here’s why:
In an effort to keep students safe against possible intruders, lockdown drills are required and occur frequently in most schools.
During this safety drill, teachers must turn off all lights in their classrooms and cover the windows on all doors in an attempt to keep students hidden or not visible. Even the local police participates simulating emergency procedures for releasing students.
At Morris County School of Technology in Denville where Bacolas teaches ninth grade biology, these drills happen once a month. And the same problem kept coming up: “What do we cover the windows with?” asked Bacolas repeatedly. “Taping paper on windows takes too long and is illegal to keep windows covered because our administrator said it’s a means of egress, so they must be uncovered in between.”
With this in mind, she attempted a paper roll-up on top of the door, but fire marshals nixed that idea. At one of her Environmental Club meetings this past September, Bacolas asked her students to think of an area in the school where there was excessive waste. The kids responded “the paper waste during the drills.” Everyone began to brainstorm on what can be done to avoid using paper. They even allocated money from a fundraiser to find a solution.
“I shopped around for an alternative and could not find anything. Regular blinds are not fire-retardant and eliminate the line of sight into the classroom,” said Bacolas. “My classrooms have 24 kids on an average — that’s hard to hide.”
Eventually she came up with an idea and took it to a manufacturer in North Bergen. After signing a non-disclosure agreement a prototype was made while Bacolas and her business partner and fellow biology teacher Jill Ross set up an LLC and Web site. Ross is also local and lives in Montague.
“We had all the business components in place. We started by emailing principals in New Jersey. By March 1 we launched the product.” And so Hideaway Helper was born.
This patent-pending product is marketed specifically to educators as a custom window treatment for emergency situations.
The Hideaway Helper is fire retardant with industrial strength Velcro that adheres to the door with no installation and is available in eight standard sizes as well as custom made-to order. Prices range from $14.99 to $59.99; it is made in the U.S.A., and standard sizes ship in two weeks.
The first order came from an Allentown, NJ school purchasing $6,000 worth of shades. And that was just the start.
The list includes over 40 schools from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Texas and California. And her own school purchased custom sizes for its gym and cafeteria. There is a lot of red tape that administrators have to go through before giving Safety Solutions an order, but so far the company which invested $4,000 is almost in the black with 250 pending orders.
“Principals like the fact that it is teacher-owned and -operated,” said Bacolas. “When we turn our first big profit, we would like to donate to Sandy Hook.”
The company Web site www.schoolsafetysolution.com boasts “simple solutions by everyday educators,” on its home page.
Although Bacolas has a captive audience who relate to her classroom dilemma, if they delve further on the Web site, a personal connection is revealed. Bacolas was a college senior at Virginia Tech in 2007: “The massacre played a role in coming up with this — I am not going to lie. I am very concerned about my students.”
The 28-year-old remains focused on her profession and even with her new company showing early signs of success, she is not ready to trade her classroom in for the business world. Rather she is studying for a Masters in Educational Technology.
But make no mistake, her wheels are turning and the next big idea is right around the corner.
“It’s exciting— it’s something we need. I hope to spread the news of school safety and make everyone aware of proper procedures.”
schoolsafetysolution.com or 888-733-0406.