Tuesday, November 18, 2014

ALICE isn't a blonde with a teacup.

As I was preparing for school this morning, I was greeted with the following weather report:
"The arctic blast has arrived! Morning temperatures will hover in the low-to-mid 20s with wind chills in the single digits and teens. Look for mostly sunny skies during the morning rush."

What a perfect day for an Intruder Drill.  NOT!



Nov 18 What do you appreciate about your colleagues?

While I am too young to remember cowering under a desk, fearing imminent death from an atomic bomb, I have seen pictures.  Since I moved to Lancaster County in 1988, I've been repeatedly reminded that I live within the ten mile footprint evacuation zone from Three Mile Island, and have always had a vague plan on what our family would do to evacuate and reunite, should it melt down again.  Of course we all know, and practice the monthly Fire Drills, and look forward, with great anticipation, to the annual Tornado Drill during Severe Weather Awareness Month.  (Also known as the "Butt-Crack Drill" as students hover on their knees, butts in the air, with their heads covered in the hallway to protect themselves from the mythical falling debris.) But the world has changed.  And not in a good way, when it comes to safety in schools.

My oldest son was in middle school when school shootings became real to me.  My younger son was in elementary school, which still seemed innocent.   One word made it real for all of America.

Columbine

What was once a top google search for being a wildflower, is now the face of school security concerns.  Much has changed since Columbine -- nobody had even considered that such an atrocity was a possibility, let alone that drills would become necessary, yet that is exactly what is happening in schools around the world today.

After Columbine, security systems were upgraded.  Double doors were put in place with monitors having the possibility to "buzz in" people wishing to gain entry to a school after stating a reason to enter.  Swipe badges came next for us, as our district renovated buildings and considered security as something more important than function of a normal educational day.  Locked doors, locked classrooms, "Go Bags" with directions on how to make a trashcan into a toilet, among other things, became part of Professional Development Training.

Today was the first Intruder Drill at our high school.  The other buildings had already practiced one, and now it was our turn.   (As an aside, I can't even imagine explaining such a drill to primary school students.  Launa Hall, a preschool teacher, shared her thoughts about Intruder Drills in an article in the Washington Post that has caused a few nightmares for me.)

 We've been trained in ALICE, and let me tell you, this is one heck of a rabbit hole that we travel down during the process.

Alert
Lockdown
Inform
Counter
Evacuate

Yes, even  security has become an acronym in education.    The data shows that hiding in closets and being quiet is not the best way to save lives.  So today, on the coldest day in recent memory, we were practicing making decisions about safety, with kids in the classroom.

For more details about ALICE, NPR has a wonderful piece here. 

The collaborative approach taken by my colleagues was amazing.  We all knew that the drill was today.  We weren't told when it would happen so that we wouldn't be completely prepared.  I happened to be co-teaching in another classroom when the ALERT came over the loudspeaker.  The LOCKDOWN happened within seconds.

This teacher was prepared.    When the INFORMation that the "intruder" was in the building, the decision was made that we could not safely evacuate.  A strap with a ratchet closure (purchased with her own money by the teacher, I might add), was attached to the door handle and under a cabinet brace.  Students stacked furniture in front of the door, and made themselves invisible to anyone looking in by positioning themselves against the wall.

The handle on the door jiggled, and the "intruder" moved on.

The problem-solving that happened in that classroom both during and after the drill was amazing.  These kids were calm, thoughtful, and reflective.  Once it was over, we heard tales of the creative ways that others hid from danger.  Those who could evacuate, did, running across fields in frigid temperatures and wind chills.  One teacher texted me twenty minutes after the announcement that the drill was over, still hiding with his class in an area without a speaker.

What do I appreciate about my colleagues?  It's easy to talk about the resources they share, or the giggles at lunchtime.  The friendships, the support, and the way they listen, even if all you have to do is rant for a minute to feel better.  But today I appreciated something I'd never really thought about before -- I trust these colleagues with my life, and the lives of my students.  They are consummate professionals who prove themselves day in and day out with their dedication to their jobs, and the success of their students.

Who has my back and that of every student?  My colleagues.


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