I've been trying for days to write this blog post, but I'm having trouble thinking of anything that will add anything to the many discussions surrounding what happened in Newtown, Connecticut. When I told my students what had happened last Friday afternoon, when the news broke, they became very quiet. They only asked questions--where did the shooting take place, how many people were killed, why did he do it (a question for which there are still no good answers), etc. The following Monday, discussion was limited; a note went around from the Chancellor, and students were encouraged to seek comfort from counselors and teachers, but not much else happened. I'm not sure what could've been done though; it's always hard to know if a memorial service of some sort will hit the spot with this crew, or if they'll find it tiresome and start acting out.
In my 10th period, where there are few enough students in the class that our discussions tend to take on a more conversational tone, the kids asked whether I'd be able to hide them in cabinets if there such an incident at our school, the way the late Vicki Soto--a heroic teacher who was killed at Sandy Hook--managed to hide her first graders, telling the shooter that they were in gym. They then asked if I would "take a bullet" for them. I pointed out that our room doesn't have cabinets, only lockers, and that I wasn't sure how I'd fit the kids into them--however, I said, I'd do whatever I could to protect them in such a situation. Their discussion then turned to various ways they felt we should booby-trap our classroom in the event of a shooter, and whether it would be possible to jump out our second-story window without breaking too many bones.
I guess one thing I've been thinking about is how, if at all, one could prepare for such an event (other than rigging our door with various classroom furniture, per the kids' suggestion.) It occurs to me that, as a campus, we have innumerable fire drills, despite the fact that the only fires I've ever seen have been when someone threw a match in the garbage can in the boys' bathroom. But we have no drills covering what we'd do if a shooter were in the building--for which, I'm guessing, there might be some sort of protocol one could follow, however imperfect and subject to chance. It would comfort me somewhat, and I suspect the kids as well, if there were a procedure in place that we knew about.
The irony of all of this is that our campus is--in this situation--quite a bit safer than some, by virtue of the fact that all students and guests have to enter the building via scanners and metal detectors. The gang problems that our building faced, which have diminished somewhat over the years but were prevalent in 2003-2004, have armed our building with some substantial security. So, by virtue of the fact that we are statistically an "unsafe" school, we're now moderately safer (at least for this type of situation) than a school without similar problems. At least, hypothetically. But mostly, this just makes me depressed to think about. School is supposed to be a safe place, and for the kids I work with, that image has been yet again diminished.