In the meantime, we hold drills and teach our kids what to do - as if anyone really knows what to do - because when it comes down to it, no one can be fully prepared. Who knows who will decide to bring a gun to school? Where will they enter the building? Where will YOU be when the shooting starts? You can prepare all day long but when it actually happens, you will be vulnerable. And you might be next.
As an educator, I'm familiar with drills - lock down, safe inside, active shooter. We have earthquake drills and fire drills. And preparation is a good thing. When my own children were at school during a scary earthquake, their preparation helped them be calm, exit the building in an orderly fashion, and assemble in an outside area to be accounted for. My 5-year-old even counted the students in her class and reported to her teacher that all were present before they exited. Preparation is wonderful for natural disasters. But a school shooting is not a natural disaster.
Last week I taught kindergarten. I was told there would be a lock down drill and the time it would take place. We were allowed to inform the students and encouraged to discuss actions we could take in the event a "bad person" got into our classroom. Of course, active 5- and 6-year-old imaginations ran wild and more than one child said they would "ninja kick" the bad guy, or perhaps hide in the ceiling tiles and drop down on the unsuspecting villain. I had to tell them that our "villain" was not like the ones on TV and that we would want to avoid being close enough to "ninja kick" anyone.
One boy observed that if we scattered about the room, each holding a wooden block, we could bombard the intruder from all sides and confuse him while others ran. Another child talked about how her mother taught her to be completely silent while hiding. Other children noted multiple exits in the room and wondered if they could throw a chair through the window to escape, if necessary.
As the time of the drill crept closer, I could sense the agitation. The students knew it would be shortly after recess so when they came in, hot and sweaty from running in the sunshine on a beautiful Northwest afternoon, one child turned off the lights and another ran to close the blinds. "Not yet!" I advised, "Remember we have to be doing our normal routine so we can practice getting into lock down mode quickly."
So, we sat at the carpet and began to read a story when the announcement came over the intercom. The students popped up with nervous energy but many caught themselves and forced their little feet to walk, not run, to hide in closets or the bathroom. Someone turned off the lights and the blinds were closed. The door was already locked. Children scattered and crammed their tiny bodies into coat closets while I ushered the majority to the bathroom where we could crouch behind a locked door.
In the pitch black, I could see no one and had no idea of knowing who exactly was in the room with me and who had tucked into the closets. My voice was a steady stream of the quietest "shhhh" I could manage for the children who just could not be silent, no matter how hard they tried (and they tried hard!) I could hear the closet doors popping open, soft whispers, the doors closing quietly. I heard a hand pull on the outside classroom door - hard. And we waited for what seemed like an eternity but was less than ten minutes.
When the all clear was sounded and we spilled out, blinking, into the bright light of the classroom (one of the closet dwellers had been quick to turn on the lights), we gathered at the rug again. We talked about what we did right (we stayed as quiet as possible) and what went wrong (we decided the closets were bad hiding places because if a door popped open and a bad guy was there, the kids could not escape). We again discussed our roles - run, hide, fight. There was some more ninja talk.
But mostly there was a knowledge and a preparedness that no child in kindergarten should have to be privy to. These kids live in a world where the unthinkable happens all the time. No longer is it something that happens to "someone else" or in "other places". Every day we have to consider that we might have an active shooter and know that it will be virtually impossible to save everyone (or anyone). And so we practice, and we hope that we never need to hide in the dark.
And then we read a cheerful story because 5- and 6-year-olds are incredibly resilient and have short attention spans but they are ready for anything. Even the unthinkable.
Santa Fe High School May 18, 2018