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What I Learned from Not Taking Active Shooter Drills Seriously in Elementary School

Because what was my drill, unknowingly and hauntingly become your reality.

Photo by David Pennington on Unsplash

With recent tragedies, like the double mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso this last weekend, we’ve come to realize that the world is no longer cozy and safe. Baby boomers, like my grandma, easily recall times where mass shootings were unheard of. But now, it seems like a daily occurrence.

While we can’t live our lives in fear, we also cannot be naive to the risks we take daily when we step outside. I can’t remember if there were any mass shootings that happened when I was in elementary school, but I do remember crouching down in the librarian’s office in first grade during an active shooter drill. I remember the librarian placing a green piece of paper over the only window there was in the office that signaled to our school staff that we were ok, but it also acted as a form of protection from any active shooters because it obscured their view from looking in. If the shooter couldn’t see into the office, then we were safe, right?

I can’t imagine the thorough drills that elementary school children have to face today. I’m pretty sure they are equipped with more than just a green piece of paper nowadays. I remember during these drills no one took them seriously, because the last mass school shootings that I’d learned of was in 1999—Columbine. In the early 2000s, no one really thought they’d happen again. I remember our young minds thought it was a game, really. I remember some students would crack jokes during the drill, and push on the locked door to see if it would open. For some reason, we thought that the principal walking by saying, “all clear” on the walkie-talkie was funny and then we’d fling ourselves out of the safe hiding spot like we’d been there for eons, and go about our elementary school lives, as if this was just a pretend game.

So, I apologize to the victims of El Paso, Dayton, Parkland, Pulse NightClub, and to the hundreds of other mass shootings for expressing ignorance and insensitivity during the active shooter drills as a child. Because what was my drill, unknowingly and hauntingly become your reality.

However, as a senior in high school, there was more fear instilled in me. This time around, I’d matured. What seemed like a bore in elementary school literally determined life or death when two incidents occurred on our campus: a victim from a nearby active shooter seeked refuge near our school (and the active shooter couldn’t be traced, but we knew they were in our area.) and then weeks later, firecrackers were set off in the stairwell after lunch—to much like the reaction of the recent gunfire scare in Times Square, we all panicked and ran from the cafeteria, to our classrooms, and lined up against the wall; the same green paper was put up by our teachers in an instant over the windows.

While both incidences ended up being false alarms, I remember sort of hating myself as a senior in high school for joking around in the librarian’s office as an elementary school kid. Yes, I was “just a kid,” but so were the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. Those kids are not here to say that they laughed during an active shooter drill, because what happened to them as not a drill. They didn’t get to go about their lives and graduate college like I did. For a while, I did live with this regret. But in this regret, I was grateful for what the active shooter training instilled in me by my elementary school teachers, because without that, none of us wouldn’t have known what to do if it were real.

Now, as an adult, I learned that drills are not games. I learned that drills are practiced for your safety. I learned that in an instant a drill can turn into real life, and real life can be scary. I learned that making noise during a drill was life-threatening, as it lets the shooter know that you’re in the room, making you more of a target. I learned that while the green piece of not a shield, it’s a code for safety. I learned that active shooter drills don’t affect you until you need them for survival. I learned as an adult that I need to step up, advocate for gun control, call my congressmen and congresswomen to stand against gun violence because I am the voice for the lives lost, who sadly, are not able to defend themselves. I learned I need to do better.  

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