Story and gallery by EMMA WILLIAMS
The number of school shootings broke records in 2018. Today’s youth are growing up engulfed in an epidemic of violence. According to The Washington Post, more than 187,000 students have been exposed to gun violence in school since the Columbine shooting in 1999.
Earthquake and fire drills have always been viewed by education boards as a precautionary step. Now lockdown or school shooters drills are being given the same priority.
Active shooter preparation can be extremely traumatizing for all students, especially those in younger elementary grades. School protocol and drills are leaving young students between the ages of 5 and 10 upset, ill-informed and scared to return to school.
For children in younger level schooling people carrying guns are simply “bag guys.” They don’t understand the importance of staying safe because their young minds can’t grasp the sincerity of the killer’s harm.
Madyson Skelton, second-grade teacher at Diamond Ridge Elementary School in West Valley City, says her school practices two drills each year, both “a hard and soft lockdown.” Soft lockdowns are for when there is harm in the neighborhood surrounding the school. Each classroom turns off the lights and continues teaching to keep the children calm, Skelton explains.
A hard lockdown is for when the shooter is inside the school. Skelton was taught through district training to have her students stay away from doors and windows and be quiet. Skelton is in a classroom with 28 7- to 8-year-olds.
“After the drills I can always tell what students feel anxiety,” Skelton says. The students are young and confused by the drills. They are cramped up against a wall and told to be quiet. “After the lockdown drill we talk about it with the students to let them know it was just in case of an emergency.”
Skelton says there aren’t any notes sent home to parents warning them of the day and time of the drills. “It’s always the girls who say it’s scary.” Skelton says there is always a lot of giggling and squirming during the drills.
In a hard lockdown practice drill in February, Skelton says she heard one of her students ask another student why they had to do these drills. The student answered, “This is if someone is going to shoot up the school.”
She says she hushed the student and told them the drill was to keep them and their classmates safe if someone were to come into the school. Skelton explains the concern of wondering if the children had discussed with their parents what was happening in schools all around the country or, if the chatter was a result of something they had heard from another or older student.
Barrett Brinkerhoff, a 5-year-old kindergartener at Eastwood Elementary School in Salt Lake City, says he has had two drills in his classroom this year. “We go somewhere to hide so we don’t get killed or something,” he says.
Barrett says his teachers tell the students what is happening and why it is so important to be still and quiet during the drills. Barrett says the kids in his class don’t take it seriously and tease one another during the drills. He says the teachers hush them “to keep them safe so they don’t get fired.”
According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network , the best way to get prepared is to run successful drills. It describes using age-specific language, to send handouts home with students and reassure all student concerns. Determining who will need additional mental or physical support will help successfully execute these drills and minimize student and parent upset.
Barrett’s mother, Jessica Brinkerhoff, feels her child’s school could be making a better effort at informing parents who can prep their children. “Nothing was sent home or posted online — and I wish there would have been.”
Brinkerhoff says she doesn’t know what her school is advising students to do to stay safe during drills. After both drills Barret has come home anxious and curious. “I just tell him there is only so much we can control and that we have done all we can to keep you safe,” Brinkerhoff says.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network advises informing parents of all specific protocol. Identify all types of drills and what each drill is helping to prevent. Conduct informal meeting so parents can ask questions to better inform their child and ease stress.
The FBI National Webpage reports 30 total active shooter incidents in 2017 across the United States, 11 being at schools. And 250 total shooter incidents from 2000 to 2017.
The solution to solving gun violence and improving mental health isn’t as simple as performing an in-school drill. Giving students of all ages the resources, regulations and information to help prevent a possible fatality is worth all the time and effort.
Remembering delicate young minds are at stake when participating in drills will help eliminate child and parent upset. Active shooter or invader drills are terrifying to people of all ages.
Photos curtsey of Madyson Skelton and Jessica Brinkerhoff