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Preparing For the Worst

Let me tell you how I spent a portion of my morning. I spent 25 minutes on the floor with my back up against a wall with no windows to prepare for the possibility that some day there may be a shooter inside my school building.

I am sure that what my head went through for those 25 minutes was nothing in comparison to what happens in the five minutes that it takes for a real shooter to decimate a school community. Of that I am certain. But what I am also certain of is that it was some of the most unpleasant 25 minutes I have passed in recent memory.

Let me go back…

A few weeks ago, our district sent down a set of procedures that were to be followed in the event of an immediate threat within any of the buildings. In sum, if the announcement was made that we are going into lockdown, we were to direct our students to sit, in silence, on the floor with their backs against the wall out of the direct view of windows and doors. They were not to get up for any reason, not answer the classroom phone or the door should there be a knock. We were to stay there, in silence, until an announcement was made that the lockdown was being lifted.

Last week, our principal sent out an email stating that, at 10:30 today, we would be running a lockdown drill.

We all knew what to do and what was expected of us.

When they made the announcement, I was in my girlfriend’s classroom and along with her, her cooperating teacher, and eight students. I got on the floor with my back to a set of cabinets that lined the wall farthest from the windows and out of the view from the classroom doors.

Initially, the students were resistant. Two expressed how stupid they felt it was, one announced that he was wearing brand new jeans, several of the boys postured that they would be able to adequately defend the room, and one claimed he would simply escape out the window.

Once my girlfriend, the lead teacher in the room, managed to get them momentarily settled and quiet, the gravity of what we were doing began to sink into all of us, as there was not another single syllable spoken in the room for the next 20-odd minutes…except for one boy who quietly said, “My heart is banging.” I assured him that mine was, as well. We listened to nothing for about three minutes when the classroom phone rang. It was a test…we all knew that it was a test, but it was an awful sound nonetheless. Nobody moved to answer it and after four rings it stopped and the room was again silent, but for the noises from other parts of the building that suggested that other teachers and students might not be taking it quite so seriously.

Another minute passed and the piercing, unsettling ring from the telephone began again. This time, it rang six times, almost goading us to answer it. We didn’t, instead sat waiting, silently begging it to just stop.

After what felt like a week, it stopped and again the heavy silence. My girlfriend leaned over to me and whispered, “If it ever happens, I’m not going to come looking for you and I don’t want you to come looking for me. Just take care of yourself.”

In my head, I know it’s the right thing to do, but the thought…and its implications…are just sickening.

And still, the kids sat silently.

Around us, we could hear administrators and security testing other classrooms, other teachers and the students for their responses. We’d hear knocking or banging on doors, footsteps in the hallway. The whole time I kept thinking, over and over again, “Is this what it’s come to? Is this the world we now live in?”

I wondered what the kids were thinking about. The neighborhoods in which they live aren’t so very far from demilitarized zones. They’re neighborhoods in which they watch their friends and family members die violent deaths, neighborhoods where gunshots aren’t sounds foreign to their ears, neighborhoods where it’s easier to get guns than an education. I wondered if they were thinking about people they’ve lost, or others they have brought into this messy world. I wondered if they were contemplating just how it was that they wound up finding themselves sitting on the floor of their science classroom. I wondered if they were as unsettled and close to tears as I was or if they were just bored with the silence. Could they see beyond the immediacy of dusty jeans and at the deeper meaning of a lockdown drill?

I hated this morning. I hated doing it; I hated that it had to be done.

> Andrea Augello, Buffalo

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