Friday morning. Fourth period. About 10:30AM. The school announcement system comes on. We were moved into “Protect Mode”.
This is not the same as a Lock Down Drill. Lock Downs are for when you think there is an active shooter or threat on campus. All classrooms must lock their doors and students hide away from windows, in the dark.
Protect Mode is different. Students get relocated to very specific areas in the back of the school: the gym, the auditorium, etc. Places without windows, far from the streets and entryways that go outside. Any and all school doors that lead outside must be locked down. Nobody can enter or leave the school’s property, specifically the designated areas, until the Mode is lifted. Protect Mode can be called for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is because a police chase is in a nearby neighborhood.
Friday’s was called due to a “specific package at a nearby business”. They did not give much information at the time, but the teachers have their own network and way of finding and spreading the information to each other.
Directly across the street from the school is a live-in community/developmental center. They have a small resell shop that people can drop donations off into the box for them to sell to make money to run the community.
Someone deposited a pipe bomb into their donation box.
Of the donation box that helps fund a developmental center for adults.
On the night that they were having a large celebratory gala, so there were plenty of people there.
HOW AWFUL IS THAT?!?
Moving aside from the disgusting nature of that, this put our school in the explosion zone. So we were sent to Protect, to get students out of that side of the campus.
Phone service was sketchy, due to an influx of parents obviously trying to call, police, helicopters flying overhead.
Later I learned that there was a full Bomb Squad across the street and all traffic in the nearby neighborhoods was directed elsewhere.
We weren’t able to dismiss, because parents weren’t able to get to the school without getting in the police’s way.
My classroom is directly off of the auditorium, so my class was actually able to just stay in my room. Band was the same. This is good, because an entire high school was squished into our gym and auditorium for hours.
While it is unfortunate that it is part of my job, I have wondered what kind of teacher I would be in a situation like this. As a regular human, in this situation I would panic. But as a teacher, I did what needed to be done.
I kept my students calm.
I had us sit in a circle and play quiet games that didn’t involve us moving around or being loud, but kept them entertained and calm. I know I will just dwell on the worst if I am not busy or I will get antsy, so I kept them busy with something fun yet soothing but also would keep them laughing.
An hour past. They would have been at lunch. We were still in Protect.
I scrounged up some trail mix in my classroom and let my students pass it around, each getting a small handful. We kept thinking it would be over soon and they would get to go to lunch. This was just to tide them over.
I gave them all of the water bottles I keep in my office (for rehearsals, students who get nauseous from stage fright, etc).
Another hour past.
I still managed to have my students calmly and happily playing games. Nobody was freaking out. But they were definitely hungry and only one of them brought her lunch – the rest all bought lunch or got free lunch from the school.
I have seen the studies that deal with hunger and school. How can you expect students to focus and be happy when a basic need like hunger is not being met? Granted, this was just from missing one meal (as opposed to those who don’t have food at home), but the stakes were different.
I heated up my lunch (veggie stir fry and rice), got my snacks (an apple and a blueberry muffin), found some leftover snacks from standardized testing earlier that week (a couple beef jerky sticks, an orange), and took the last of the sodas left over from our concession sales and gave them to my kids. They gobbled it all down so fast. It wasn’t enough food for them to be full, but enough for all of them to no longer be hungry. I also had a bag of peppermints (great for nausea) that I gave them.
We were finally released from Protect Mode. The classes in the gym and auditorium were allowed back to their 4th period classrooms – we were still in ours, obviously. There was a little more than half an hour left of school, so we would just stay there until dismissal. They did an abbreviated lunch, with different rooms getting about 15 minutes to quickly get food from the cafeteria.
My students all hugged me and thanked me and told me that if they were going to have to get “stuck” with anybody on campus, they were so glad it was me. They thanked me for keeping them happy and safe, for giving them my food and keeping them calm and entertained.
I stayed for a bit after school because several of my students from other periods wanted to wait in my room until their parents were able to get through the long pick-up line. I left as soon as the last one left. It was only 15 minutes, but it meant a lot to those students.
Yes, throughout the whole ordeal, my external focus was on taking care of my kids.
But my internal focus the entire time (especially since I knew about the bomb threat) was on the fact that I was not home with my daughter.
The bomb was not on our campus, but the reality is that teachers nowadays have to actually think about how they will protect and take care of students from violence. Not just things like fights, but violence like shooters and explosions.
Why is this now part of my job description?
Why is the only option people offer for any form of security at schools involve arming teachers?
Why is that even a consideration as an addition to my job description?
Why do I do this job?
Why would I want to keep doing this job if the job now includes things I never signed up for?
Why on earth would I put myself at risk, or more specifically, put my daughter at risk of losing her mother?
Why would someone else do this for my daughter?
Why should they have to?
I sped home, swooping up my daughter on the way.
I tried to breathe, to decompress.
I have not been able to sleep for any long stretch of time. Maybe two stretches of about 90 minutes each. And not restful sleep – I would wake up suddenly, thinking that I heard a loud “BOOM” or smelling fire.
I am uneasy, on edge.
I just keep reeling.
Mentally, I don’t know if I can bare to go back on Monday.