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Not Quite Columbine

I had an unnerving experience in one of my schools yesterday. Just as we were finishing for the day, a loud buzzer went off followed by an announcement that said: “The school was on ‘lock down’ until further notice. All youth and personnel were directed to remain in their classrooms. What! I thought, we were just leaving for the day. I turned to one of my students and asked what was going on. She said, “This happens a lot. It means that it is unsafe for us to leave the classroom. We have to stay in here and lock the doors.” I asked her if this was a drill. She very calmly replied that it was not and that “This happens a lot. We are supposed to line up over on that wall and hide as best we can.” I stood for a moment in stunned silence. This must be a drill. I went to the classroom door where a few students stood peaking out the door. I stuck my head out and called to one of the school personnel standing by the adjacent classroom door. “Is this a drill?”, I asked. “No.” he responded quite calmly. I quietly turned and went back inside.

The youth were quietly hustling into small groups, pulling out their cell phones and making calls. One student walked over to me and quietly said her mother told her on the phone that the elementary wing of the school called the police and reported a man walking around with a gun making threats. She said there are five police cars at the school. ‘Seriously!’ I thought. I walked over and turned out the lights and told the youth the police were at the school and to follow their safety procedure. I; being new, had no clue what the safety procedure was. “I am not trained for this!” I thought. All the youth got up and walked to the tiled side of the room, the side with brick and concrete on the hallway side. They squatted on the floor and whispered softly. I turned and looked at the opposite wall full of textured glass windows dimming the view to the field outside, but glass non-the-less. Well, I thought; grab a lap-top and break that glass if you can. I walked over to the computer on the cart by the window and gauged its weight. ‘What if he breaks through the door?’ Have them run out the adjacent door. They were already on their marks” against the wall, ready to run.

The Young student came over to me again. “This happens a lot, Miss,” she had said. “I’m scared, Miss,” she told me. This one is taking a long time. It never takes this long!” The coolness, my calm, clear thinking brought on by shock dissipated and I felt afraid. I looked at all the children on the floor against the wall. ‘I am not ready for this.’ I wrapped my arms around the shoulders of my young charge and walked her over to the tiled brick wall and had her squat. “Run out the other door, if you have to.” At some point the buzzer went off and we were told we could leave. The students stood up , rubbed their cramped legs and hustled out the door. How would they have run out the other door? A Police officer with a radio, one of the deans walked by fierce looking but calm watching the kids rumble out of the doors. No bumping, no jarring like normal. They were all well-rehearsed. I walked through the field to my vehicle. A line of cars in the turnabout waiting. Cars all down the street waiting. Young people every where running to cars and buses that were waiting. How organized and smooth. No traffic jams, no honking, just kids rushing to vehicles. Families waiting for their children. It was all so well-rehearsed. Too well rehearsed for me.

A night of fitful sleep and dreams.Tired. Choices to be made. I finally told myself to get up and be prepared to drum with these children. If I can't, then what am I drumming for? If they can I must. Not heroism. Not martyrdom. A simple chance to share a joy of living. I am not being called home yet. I will just have to get ready for more "training" before the semester is over.