Once a week, on Tuesdays, I volunteer at Homework Factory, an after school program run by Turning Point ( a local non-profit: http://www.turningpointseattle.org) at Meridian Park Elementary School in Shoreline. Today, Homework Factory and its’ participants experienced an unusual turn of events. Just as we were finishing snack time with the students and preparing to unpack their backpacks and help them with their homework, we were informed that the school was on ‘lockdown’ and we were to proceed with the children into the computer room next to us. There are a number of wonderful, talented, and caring high school students along with adults whom I volunteer with. We helped funnel the kids into the room and proceeded to lower and close the blinds, turn off the lights and instruct the kids to get under the desks and to remain quiet. This was not a drill. Unbeknownst to us, and upon returning home later, I found out that there had been a bank robbery that had taken place not far from the school and the Shoreline Police had ordered the school to be in lockdown procedure until they deemed it safe. This was all carried out in a very efficient and calm manner, but neither the students, nor we, knew what was happening. We were simply following procedure and attempting to keep kids safe and calm. The four second graders whom I sat with during our 45 minutes of lockdown were afraid. Here’s a piece of our conversation:
“Miss Sharon, I’m afraid. I want my mom. Am I going to die like those kids at that other school?” (while listening to this young girl I’m well aware that she knew what happened in Newtown, Conn).
My reply, “Oh sweetheart, you’re not going to die (hence my lying). I’m sorry your mom can’t be here with you. How can I help you?” (at the same time I’m telling my heart to not be anxious, that all will be well, and I’m silently praying and practicing my own deep breathing).
“Please hold my hand,” she asked.”I don’t know if I can stay quiet.”
The three other second graders asked if they could hold my hands – they all said they were afraid. So, I held their hands, two on each hand, and I asked them to take some deep breaths with me and to wiggle their toes in their shoes and to try and be quiet. I told them that they were being very brave, that they were going to be fine and that we were simply going to wait it out, together. The whole being quiet thing is really hard with this group, considering that most of them are there because they already have some learning difficulties along with ‘being quiet is just kind of difficult for them to practice.’
It was a really long 45 minutes. When I was in second grade at Maple Grove Elementary School in Vancouver, B.C., we didn’t have lockdowns. I played bad guys and good guys in my pretend world of cowboys and indians, and there hadn’t been shootings of students in schools. We practiced fire drills and that was about it. Our children are living in and experiencing a different time. These kids all knew what ‘going into lockdown meant’ (a big thank you to the staff and administration at the school) and they promptly and efficiently followed through. They responded to the head teacher’s instructions that this was ‘not a drill’ and they did what they had practiced and been told to do. It was still scary.
I am thankful that all did go well, that all the children were able to return home safely, and that there are more Homework Factory hours to return to.