As drills become routine, so does classroom anxiety

Administrators say practice makes perfect, but students disagree on frequency


Junior Kimberly Coke prepared for the worst after hearing a Silver Alert blare from every cell phone in her fifth period physics class in early September.

“My first initial instinct was ‘Is there a shooter?’” she said.

Though the alarm was meant for a missing elderly person, Coke, who is a student ambassador for San Jose’s March for Our Lives chapter, was still rattled from the incident.

This initial reaction toward false alarms is common in high schoolers; according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about 60% of teens in the U.S. are afraid of school shootings.

Mass shootings have impacted the mentality of students and staff on Branham’s campus. History teacher Brett Johanson is now accustomed to the fact that a shooting could happen anywhere at any time.

“If I go into a movie theater, I just pay a lot more attention to where the exits are and then I try to forget about it and enjoy the movie,” he said.

Coke also notices the impact guns have on Branham’s atmosphere. “Shootings definitely build up paranoia in school culture,” she said.

To prepare for an emergency scenario, Branham practices several drills, including those for earthquakes, fires and active shooters.

Branham conducted its first “Run, Hide, Defend” drill Sept. 6, where students and staff built barricades, hid and later evacuated onto the field. The Education Department National Center for Education Statistics reported that 96% of schools in 2015-2016 conduct lockdown drills.

Monthly drills
Assistant principal Rick Hayashi plays a key leadership role in Branham’s safety, and he said that it’s crucial to conduct drills seriously be- cause preparation plays a crucial role in actual situations. The school is planning at least five drills, once each month, through January, and perhaps beyond.

“I always say ‘You play how you practice,’” he said. “In a real situation, if your practice is mediocre, usually that’s how you respond in a real situation.”

Johanson encourages his students to take these drills seriously, but he said that they also feed into the uneasiness that students feel about their safety.

“We need to have drills every now and then,“ he said, “But it also makes me feel a little bit fearful.”

The number of deaths by mass shootings are on the rise, with 53 in August alone, and 31 in September, as of Sept. 20, according to several databases. Over the summer the shootings were closer to home, with six dead from the
Morgan Hill and Gilroy shootings. The drills draw attention to how it could happen at Branham. Hayashi recognizes this fear, and is confident that Branham is prepared.

“Every time there was a situation, students stepped up and teachers stepped up, and the police officers have said it’s very safe,” he said.

School drills serve as model for others

Hayashi notes that Branham is a role model for others in the district for lockdown procedures.

“People have come to us and looked to see how we’re doing the drill,” he said.

Coke, however, finds that Branham is unprepared, despite the structure the drill instills.

“In that kind of crisis situation, there’s no way we can all have a good reaction,” she said.

Though he sees that the “Run, Hide, Defend” drills have been working, Hayashi said that there is still room for improvement, noting that many students treat drill time as social time, rather than taking it seriously.

During the first drill, students were seen checking their Snapchat messages and finding friends from other classes. One group made a Tik Tok video.

“What we need to work on is making sure that students take the drill seriously,” Hayashi said. “We’ve actually gone into some classes to have a discussion with kids about its importance.”

Hayashi said that students will eventually develop a better understanding for the purpose of the drills, which will help them mentally prepare for an actual emergency.

“There are some people who think having too many drills will scare kids even more,” he said. “In high school, it prepares you more.”