Preventive Medicine: Teaching Kids About School Violence & Safety
Many of us have a nighttime routine we do with our children. My routine with our seven-year-old daughter is going into her room after daddy leaves to talk about what happened during her day. Usually our talks are about a frog dying in her classroom, or the amazing art project she is working on at school. One night during this past school year she said, “Mommy, we had a drill today!” “A drill? What type of drill?” was my response. Thinking that it might be a fire drill or tornado drill, my mind wondered what made her bring this up out of the blue. “It was a drill that involves a bad man coming into our school,” she replied.
My heart stopped, flipped around inside and then sank. After the horrible tragedy that happened at Sandy Hook, I had taken it upon myself to go over what I thought she should do if such an event should happen at her school. One of the scenarios I spoke to her about was to stay hidden until she hears my voice calling out for her. Not a policeman’s voice, not a teacher’s voice, but my voice.
She then continued to tell me about the drill. “Mommy, if a bad man broke into our school, I won’t come out of my hiding spot until I hear your voice calling for me even if it means I pee my pants while I wait for you. I can’t tell you my spot Mommy, but I know you will come for me.” I squeezed her extra tight and gave her a kiss and said, “That is exactly what I want you to do, baby.” We said our goodnights and argued over who loves who more. I closed the door then collapsed to my knees losing control of the tears and sobs I had held inside.
Many times since that conversation, I have wondered what goes on during these drills. I understand the need for secrecy but my curiosity could not be quelled. Then one day, I received an email from the Fishers Area Preschool Directors Group informing me of their upcoming meeting on preschool safety. As many of my readers know, I have one kid in elementary school and one in preschool. I jumped at the chance to attend this meeting.
First to speak was Ryan Taylor, HSE Safe Schools Coordinator and Assistant Principal of Fishers High School. His focus was on communication and access control of the aggressors. He taught the three D’s of optimizing the safety in our schools: Detect, Deter, and Delay. Using technology that most schools have in place, front desk staff can get a good read on the people entering and exiting the schools. Keeping communication a priority during all hours of the the school day empowers the staff to feel prepared. By empowering the staff with knowledge of what to do in a crisis, you can save the lives of the children with whom you have been entrusted.
Captain Ron Lipps, Captain of the Life Safety Division with the Fishers Fire and Emergency Services, spoke next. He helps schools/preschools with their emergency plans, and makes sure all building inspections are up to date. Ron encouraged everyone to read the emergency protocols – before a crisis happens (it’s too late to read it while the crisis is in progress.) Ron also emphasized that all emergency plans be reviewed by local authorities. This will ensure that they are correct, and that the local authorities know about you and your location. This is especially important for the private preschools and daycares. Practice drills as though they are playing a game so that in the event of a real emergency the children do not panic. During these drills, change up the scenario a bit. Have the fire start in a different place each time. This will help teachers and children to know what to do and how to react in case their exit is blocked.
The final presenter of the discussion was Lt Mike Johnson, School Resource Operator with the Fishers Police Department. His part was powerful. He explained what the kids are boing taught, and went step by step through what an active killer drill includes for all ages, including preschoolers. He emphasized not to scare preschool children with too much information. The most important part is to teach them to listen in an emergency situation.
Preschool lockdown drills are completely different than those for higher grade levels. For security reasons, I won’t reveal details about what I learned, but was overwhelmed by what our children are being taught to survive. I forced an image of my daughter doing some of these actions. My emotions from the night of our original talk flooded back to me. When I was growing up our biggest worry was getting the car windows soaped. These babies are worried about dying at the hands of an active killer.
While I wish there was no reason for Taylor, Lipps and Johnson to have such a job, I am glad these men put their hearts and souls into keeping our children safe. Saying a simple “thank you” just isn’t enough to suit me. Having met these men, and knowing how they’re spreading the word for HSE schools and preschools to adopt safety measures warms my heart. I hope that sharing this story expresses how much I appreciate them. Since my conversation with my daughter, I now know that these officials are going to our schools and discussing appropriate ways to talk to our children during these drills. The older the children, the more knowledge the children receive. The younger the child, the less scary details he or she receives. There is no value in scaring a seven year old with too many details. Indeed, it could have the opposite effect causing them to freeze and not listen, perhaps even panic.
Statistics show how slight the chance is of a child being killed by an active shooter. However, such statistics are no reason not to be prepared. For more than two hours, these men taught us how they are helping keep our children safe while at school. The next time my daughter asks me about bad men at school, I will share the knowledge shared by these three dedicated men, and tell her to follow their lead.
Will the fear ever leave? Probably not. But, I can help our children by teaching my child what to do in a crisis situation, and she in turn will share with her friends.
Tips on talking with your child about emergency situations
1. First and foremost, do not scare your child. The younger the child is, the more important this tip is.
2. Talk to your child about how there isn’t a single plan that covers all emergencies. Tornado drills will have a different plan than a fire drill. An active killer drill will have yet another plan.
3. Talk to your child about listening to the teacher. Listening can save lives!
4. If you see something, say something to an adult. Students are the eyes and ears of the school. If something seems odd, encourage your child to seek out an adult to share the information with.
5. Let your child talk about his/her feelings. Talking about being scared or feeling cowardly is not an easy topic. Be there for your child. Just being there and being a support system will be taken to heart by your child.
Please note that Ryan Taylor does not necessarily want you to approach your child about active killer situations, but having a plan about what to say in case they bring it up is highly recommended.