The Lockdown

I’m supposed to be selling raffle tickets, but I’m not having any luck. I walk up and down the aisles of the high school auditorium, raffle tickets in hand, money bag tied around my waist. I stop several times and ask people if they want to buy one to support the music department. Ninety percent of them show tickets just bought. Apparently, that other mom got to them before I could.

So I leave the auditorium, skip out on my volunteer work, and go backstage into the music hallway to find my daughter and her choir girls. The halls are thick with students, not only choir students, but orchestra students and band students as well, and most of them have their instruments in tow, making it difficult for me to navigate.

Tonight is the Fall Preview Concert. Seven different choirs, two orchestras, three jazz ensembles, three concert bands, and the entire marching band and its color guard will give the school community a sneak preview of what to expect this year. All within an hour and a half. The logistics of moving so many groups in and out of the auditorium in an efficient manner will prove to be more amazing than the music itself.

I estimate there are close to 400 students milling around in the corridors behind stage. It’s noisy and everyone’s dressed in black. Somehow, I stumble upon my daughter. She is standing in a circle with several other friends.

I hug each of them and tell them they look beautiful.

Then, the hall quiets. Just a bit. Enough to hear that the intercom was on and an announcement made. But no one heard the message. No one around us anyway.

And then it spreads, starting as a whisper but building faster, louder, like a wild-fire in dry timber.

“Did he say lockdown?”

“We’re in a lockdown.”

“What? A lockdown? Who would call a lockdown now?”

“Lockdown! He said lockdown!”

The mob starts to move, slowly, building momentum like a rivulet of water being pushed by far away precipitation. Choir students head to the choir room, band and orchestra students to the band room. No one goes in the opposite direction; no students try to get to the auditorium, to their parents.

I don’t want to return to my raffle ticket headquarters station in the lobby, where I know I’ll be herded into the auditorium. I’m not sure I could make any progress against the current anyway. “I’m going with you guys,” I say to my daughter.

I’m not new to lockdowns. I practice them two or three times each school year with my second-grade students. At staff meetings, we have lengthy, in-depth, what-if discussions about them. Some lockdowns last for a long time, long enough that I’d rather be with my daughter and her friends than sitting in the auditorium by myself.

And I know that some lockdowns are not practices, that they’re real, meaning there is a real threat in the immediate area outside the school. If this is the case tonight, then yes, I absolutely want to be with my daughter and her friends.

“Yah, mom, come on.” My girl grabs my arm and brings me along into the choir room. “Let’s go in the office.”

I find myself in a small space between the large choir and band rooms, maybe five by ten feet. I grab the one and only chair, leaving a small couch for the three friends. But the girls, in their dressy choir attire, sit down on the floor.

We chat for a few seconds before my daughter gapes at me. “Get to the floor, mom! Get away from that window.” The words are whispered, yet urgent. She nods to the wall—and window—just inches behind where I sit.

I expect her friends to giggle. I expect my daughter to be kidding, in a way, about me having to sit on the floor. But such is not the case. These girls are solemn. They knew to go directly to the choir room, to find a spot, to sit on the floor, to check and make sure that everyone with them made it, to whisper, to encourage others to follow the expectations for a lockdown. They knew better than I did. This is their milieu, where they’ve been trained and where they practice.

Within a few moments, there is an announcement that the school has been cleared, that the lockdown is over. I stand and open the door between the office and the choir room and I’m a bit in awe at what I see. Over a hundred students are on the floor, still quiet, hesitant to rise, and there isn’t a teacher in sight, as far as I can tell. No one told these students what to do. No one had to supervise them.

It’s ten minutes before show time, so I make my way back to my raffle ticket headquarters. Was this a real lockdown or a drill? I know that principals are encouraged to practice locking down their buildings at odd times—before school, after school, and possibly, maybe, even ten minutes before a standing-room-only concert is to begin. But it’s doubtful that any principal would choose a situation like this to practice and I comprehend, now, what the students realized right away—there was a genuine risk to their safety and well-being.

What I witnessed tonight was the lockdown generation in action. These kids have grown up doing shelter-in-place and lockdown drills. They practiced them in elementary school, middle school, and now here at the high school. And they’re old enough, now, to be privy to the full details of school shootings that have occurred and mature enough to be included in discussions about all the unthinkable mayhem that could happen. This is their reality.

I compare this with my second grade students, with the way things are at an elementary building. At age eight, their understanding of lockdowns is in its infancy. They know that we have to stay inside for a while, they listen extra carefully during this time, and they stay away from the windows. But they don’t get it. Most of them don’t know about the Sandy Hook school shooting, don’t know how many children were killed, that kids their age were shot to death, on purpose, in their classrooms, their teachers unable to protect them.  We don’t tell eight-year-olds that we’re practicing just in case a crazy man with a gun comes to school because he feels like killing some kids that day. We tell them that we have to practice getting inside quickly and locking the doors and staying low and quiet just in case there’s a vicious dog on the playground. Or a gas leak in the area that makes the air unsafe to breathe. Or maybe a drunk person, who doesn’t know what he’s doing and is acting a little strange.

The horrible possibilities that lead to lockdowns are not a reality for second graders. They don’t understand that, when a lockdown is announced, their lives could be in danger. They’re too young, too innocent, too trusting. And, of course, they can’t know the finality of death.

What’s real for second graders is that they come to school to learn, to be with their friends, to spend time in a safe and predictable and happy place. As it should be.

If only we could keep it real for them, if only we could guarantee that their wholesome and innocent souls be chipped away at in small, manageable doses by the typical injustices of growing up and not worry that they might be hit with one giant atrocity, something that breaks apart their entire innocence, suddenly and forever. Soon enough they’ll grow up and into the real truth and into the reality of the high schoolers and, like the high school students, they, too, will know all too well what lockdowns are really about.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Thanks for all you do
    Sep 25, 2013 @ 10:15:15

    I visited the school to do some volunteering and when I came in the administration was preparing for a drill. They suggested I go run errands and come back after a bit. I thought that was strange and I’m not one to back down when I want answers. So, Finally, I’m told they are going to do a lockdown drill in a few minutes and if I choose to stay then I’m forbidden to alert anyone that it is only a drill. That I am to keep my mouth shut and follow directions. The choice is mine.I decided that had I arrived earlier I wouldn’t have had a choice and what would it hurt to learn something? I have to tell you that even with the understanding that it was only a drill it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. To watch the teacher go from instructing to heartache that she knows one of her students went to the office, one was in the bathroom, and one was in another classroom and and the task of keeping the kids safe. “Guys please please be quiet.Children banging the walls isn’t quiet.” Crying and scared children. To know that it was only a drill and not be able to say anything was hard but I understood why I had to keep the promise. It was scary and it broke my heart that this is a reality for our youth and teachers.


    • Randee
      Sep 25, 2013 @ 11:52:34

      Thank you for your story and comments, Brandy. It is my understanding that we are no longer doing lockdown drills or lockdown practices, just lockdowns. In other words, we need to treat them all the same, as if a situation really is occurring. Principals may give us a forewarning on the first one of the year, but afer that they will be unplanned. I had a scary situation last year where my students were in music with a substitute. I was on my way to get them when a lockdown was called. It was not a planned one. My students got locked into the music room and I got locked out of the music room and I was in the empty (and now very scary) hallway by myself. But the worst thing was, I couldn’t be with my students. Strange feelings. Strange stuff.


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