Saturday, January 31, 2009

Locking Down

My oldest is in 8th grade. He was a month from being born when the Oklahoma bombing tore at the heart of the nation. He was only two when the infamous Columbine shooting occurred. He was a first grader when the world froze in horror at the 9/11attacks. And, even though these terrors were painful for me, they were still a world away.

Somewhere along the line… somewhere in the decade between the end of my public school career and the start of my firstborn’s, schools started to make a shift.

Lockdown drills began.

Educators began preparing themselves for the unthinkable. Making plans for “what ifs” and “God forbids.”

I have occasionally heard about the lockdown drills from my children and I have heard about actual lockdowns that have happened at school. They don’t seem particularly bothered by them. And, I have been grateful for a plan in place. But I never have known what was involved.

The other day, while at my child’s school to volunteer, they announced an Attendance Lockdown Drill. I was in the media center at the time and was urgently guided to the gathering spot. A small corner, far away from any windows.

An entire first grade class, which was there for library, crowded and crouched into a small little corner. Pushed back by their peers in front of them, they squeezed into a space the size of a king size bed – away from any windows.

Within seconds, another first grade class came in. They had been in the gym for PE and this was where they were supposed to go. It happened to be T’s class. Soon, this class also crowded and crouched into the same small corner.

Lights went out. Doors were locked. Students were firmly directed not to make any noise – which surprisingly enough, they didn’t. Teachers called roll on the breath of a whisper.
I was stunned. I had heard about these drills. But I never have experienced one.
It was sobering.

Suddenly, those tragedies that inspired these lockdown drills became very real. And very close to home.

I looked over at my little boy, in the front of the “child pile”, and realized that if there had been a shooter, he would be one of the first ones picked off. While a huge part of me wanted to take each of my kids aside later and tell them to hide in the back of the “pile”, I had to remember that living isn’t just about survival, it is about looking out for your fellow man. And if I taught my child to lookout only for himself, how could I teach him to care for those around him?

A friend of mine, also volunteering at the time, came through the supposedly locked doors. She had been stuck in the hall and was just trying to find a place to go. The librarian was surprised and quickly went to re-lock the door. For good this time. Again, I was really glad this was just a drill and the person entering uninvited was my friend, not a shooter.

I am grateful that a plan is in place at my child’s school. But I am so sad that our world today has to practice for man-made tragedies. What does it say about us as a human race if we have to prepare our children for these things?

I am so grateful that the majority of the teachers at my child’s school, I am confident, would protect and defend my children. Comforting them if necessary. But I am sad that has become one of the unwritten job requirements.

I listened as a teacher explained over and over that they weren’t doing these drills to scare them. Just to be prepared and safe. She said it so many times that I wondered if maybe I should be scared.

The experience wasn’t traumatic. It was very orderly and calm, aside from the urgency in the teacher’s voices. Just sobering. Real.

It makes me wonder what I am sending my sweet little children out into each day: the lion’s den?

How are the lockdown drills at your child’s school? Do your children talk about them? Are you glad they have them? I am interested in knowing how others feel about lockdowns, drills and otherwise.


S'mee said...

Next week I will turn 51. I went to grade school in the 60's. The cold war was still luke warm back then, Russia was still a bad guy, no one even bothered with the Middle East, and our fears included the murders of the Kennedy's and Martin Luther King Jr.

We had "air raid" drills in one of the small military towns I grew up in (we moved a LOT). I saw marines pretty much every where we went in that town and I saw the bomb tests off the shore and the huge clouds that formed right after them.

In school, all the schools we went to, we also had "duck and cover" practice and, like your experience, were told it was a "drill only!", but they happened so often and the explanations for them were that "bad guys were everywhere" and "you never know who will...".

In sixth grade we watch a documentary with Walter Cronkite (the Tom Brokaw of the day) explain the war in Europe, the devastation that comes from Russia, Germany, and Japan. I heard the radio recording of "This is Hungary Calling, This is Hungary Calling!" and was tole the US heard that call and did not reply out of fear for ourselves.

In church I heard well meaning men tell tales of VietNam and other wars and predict and speculate on Biblical prophecy and scare the heck out of me in the process.

Because of these combined situations by the time I was in High School, I seriously did not expect to live long enough to rear my own children.

Too late for a short story, but as a kid who went through what would now be labeled "terrorist drills" I hated them, and their effect, and if I could, I would abolish them to the nth degree. Let the adults worry about the adult problems and let the children live as children. Is that possible? Probably not.

heather said...

Lockdown drills were rather similar in the two schools I worked out -and sound quite a bit like the one you described.

One week we had three lockdowns. The first one was the drill -but the next two were real ones. The first being a near by armed robbery, and then next one was because the jr high down the road had just experienced a drive by shooting, and the car had been described as heading in the direction of our school -so to be safe the district locked down ALL the schools near that one.

it really is a necessary practice these days, unfortunately.

and just so you know -as a teacher- i would have done whatever necessary to protect those students.

queenbee4 said...

my kids have never spoken of this... I will have to ask them about it.
It is sobering and unfortunately, it is a real concern for this day and age.
I remember having some kind of drill when I was in school and we had to get under the desks.
I want to live in a bubble. said...

Oh that just makes me want to pull Gracie to me and never let her go all the while running for a secluded island where no one could ever find me and my loved ones. But I know that would be the wrong approach.
I, however, would be grateful for her to be prepared in every way possible. I will try to teach her to not live in fear but also teach her the realities that face us and those that are prepared shall not fear. It is simply what we have to face.

Rachelle said...

Our lockdowns are a bit different. My children don't really talk about them but my 7th grader told me that when they do the drills they just lock the doors & they continue with their day as if nothing is happening. My children do go to a school that is all enclosed. All the exterior doors are already locked and outsiders can only come through the front office door.

Last year we had a lockdown because of an attempted kidnapping at another nearby school, my children didn't even realize that it was a real one, they thought it was a drill. I knew that something was going on because I live close enough to the school that I could hear a helicopter flying over the school. They were checking to make sure the vehicle wasn't anywhere near the school.

It is a scary thing, but I too am very grateful that there is a plan in place and that most teachers would do what they needed to do to protect my children.

CJ, the Purple Diva said...

I can't even begin to imagine what that must be like. All of my kids are grown but I am sure my grand kids will live through moments like this. Very well written.