America’s Grimmest Past-time: School Shootings

Students will be in my room tomorrow come eight a.m. Some will be groggy, dragging backpacks as if they weighed hundreds of pounds, while others will be zooming from one desk to another, relaying only the most sensational tales of what happened over break. I’ll probably have to learn ‘who’s dating whom’ all over again.

I’m at school for the afternoon, racking my brain for first-day-back procedures and how to introduce this session’s classes. I’m teaching multi-genre writing, primarily—my favorite. I really, really want to think about multi-genre writing right now, but I can’t. Not because I’m tired, or uninspired, or even distracted, but because of America’s grimmest past-time: mass shootings (particularly of the school variety).

I never imagined it until I moved to Colorado, home of Columbine, the Aurora Theatre, Planned Parenthood, (and many others that weren’t as news-worthy I guess), but it could happen to me, to my students, to my school. A student, a parent, a random psychotic person, armed with whatever-the-hell-gun/explosives and doing god-knows-what to god-knows-whom.

My school is located about 15 minutes away from Columbine High School. It is 12 minutes away from Arapahoe High School, where in 2012 a student was shot and killed by another student. The proximity makes the tension tangible; the “what ifs” swirl about like an unactivated poison. I have students who went to that high school and transferred to ours for reasons maybe or maybe not due to the shooting. They have panic attacks, PTSD, and fear. I’d like to think that our community helps them feel safe–we try to. But for the past year almost every day that I walk into our building–our beautiful, shiny, welcoming, loved building–my head drifts to, what would I really do? Would I run? Would I be so brave and courageous to shield students with my body like that teacher at Sandy Hook? Am I really going to lock myself and my students in a room, like sitting ducks? Am I treating every student the way they need to be treated so that they wouldn’t dream of inflicting harm on us?  I don’t know. How can you?

For me and for many others, this topic is so difficult to talk about because there is not an easy rationale for all the things that go wrong and why they do. A lot of times I think What have we learned since Columbine? and the answer sometimes feels like not a damn thing. But from what I learned today during our 3.5 hour long training involving Standard Response  Protocol (SRP), maybe we have learned how to prepare and react, since it looks like we’re going to have to just keep dealing with this s***. I won’t go on about what it is or why our district has adopted it, but today at our training I had the opportunity to hear from Frank DeAngelis, Columbine’s principal at the time of the shooting and up until last year. Columbine had no system or protocol in place for events like mass shootings. I don’t think many schools did back in 1999.

As DeAngelis relayed what happened on April 20th without breaking down (I am assuming he’s told the story so many times by now) I couldn’t help but still feel disbelief. I remember seeing Columbine on the news. I remember reading a book about one of the victims a few years later. But I still can’t believe it happened, and so close to my new home. With passion, he explained that fear and self-pity cannot replace the fact that as educators, those are not the actions we stand for. In everything we do—teaching students, fighting for them, challenging the public’s sometimes overblown attitudes about our jobs, it is always about the upside. Hope, futures, good things. It is not about getting terrorized when we walk into our buildings, and we have to learn how to fight back in every way possible (and no, I don’t think it involves hiding guns around the school for teachers to use). It takes systems, protocols, transparency. Kids knowing exactly what to do and when. Teachers and staff knowing exactly what to do and when.

We even talked about how to prepare for bathroom use if on lockdown for multiple hours (the solution is buckets, by the way–not a conversation I intended to have today). I hate that this is what we have to spend a day talking about, but it is our reality.

Teachers or anyone else, does your place of work use SRP? I’m interested to hear about it.

-S

 

 

 

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