By Grace Delisanti, Alexa Hall, Vivian Rung, Nick Shopp
East is a very unique school where some rooms have four walls and a door and some rooms have one wall and no door. Ms. Sweeney, who teaches math on the third floor, has an open classroom with one wall. Mrs. Creahan, who teaches art on the first floor, has only makeshift walls and no door. Mrs. Bedore, a Spanish teacher on the second floor, has three walls and no door.
The unique layouts of the classrooms have raised one question throughout East’s existence. How can the students feel safe during the school day in these conditions should an emergency situation occur? The current plan for emergency drills is to be aware of your surroundings and know what is happening all around you. We asked Lewis Shaevel, a senior at East, and Mrs. Bailey, a social studies teacher at East, their thoughts on the issue. Lewis said, “I think that situational awareness is something all people need to have whether it is a fire, flood, or active shooter, but I think that hiding is sometimes what you have to do and trust your gut that sometimes hiding is what you have to do.” Mrs. Bailey, similarly said, “Practice is a good thing for the students because in the moment panic kicks in and we want that muscle memory and that instead of having to think, the kids can automatically react so the more practice they have in the proper reaction versus panic reaction is a good thing.”
NYS schools are mandated to hold 12 fire drills a year while only needing to hold 4 lockdown drills a year. We talked to Assistant Principal Mrs. Charleston-Smith to see how East prepares for emergency situations with our unique school set up, “As an administrator coming up with safety procedures our main concern is what are we doing to come up with safety procedures since we have no walls. What is the fastest way to get kids and adults in the building to a safe location? So, we work with law enforcement to walk around the building to see what we own as far as the physical structure of our building and where most of our kids are during the drills. Then, we look at whether we have to teach kids to run, hide, or fight, and the adults as well. Once we do that, we practice the drills to make sure that when we are looking at situational awareness and looking at what the guidelines are from the state”.
Although there are many safety measures in place, some students are still uncertain about being safe in an emergency situation. Over 60% of students expressed a lack of preparation in the event of a school shooting. Senior, Helene Olsen, says that she doesn’t feel like our school is prepared. She feels as though the students only get the opportunity to practice the sitting portion of the drill. Her concern is in the fact that if a true emergency occurred there would be an abundance of crowded hallways because of the lack of practice. Olsen feels as though if the school practiced evacuating then the congestion on the stairs could be eliminated making for a more effective drill.
However, Officer Andrew Edwards, school resource officer, informed us that there is a very low risk of a school shooting to actually occur. Despite the facts, he still works with the teachers so they know how to react. Officer Edwards states that although the probability of a school shooting occuring are very low, each threat or concern is taken very seriously. With the mandated drills of the school and the fact that we have less classrooms than other schools, East has a very unique situation. With this being said, Officer Edwards still communicates with the teachers to have a plan, so they can all be as prepared as they can.
With the presence of Officer Edwards, 60% of students surveyed felt that there does not need to be an increase of security during the school day, Cole Botzenhart shares the same opinion when he tells us that, “I feel safe, I feel as if we have a good group of kids. I think everyone is respectful and Officer Edwards also helps me feel safe.” Lewis Shavel also mentioned that he thinks East is, “100% prepared should there be an emergency situation,” mentioning that, “There are a lot of drills and procedures that allow the school to be as prepared as possible should an emergency arise.”
In terms of the commons, most students would feel safer and more prepared if there were more realistic drills along with better education instead of slowly filing into the auditorium. An extension to the vestibule is said to be built in the next year or two. The purpose of this is to minimize the risk of a threat entering the school directly through the only layer of doors we currently have. These new doors will be bulletproof and lead to the first lobby, the front desk station which is currently set up inside the school. The safety of our students and staff is always the top priority at East, and it will continue to be so in the coming school years.