by Paige Wolf
On Wednesday, December 6, I was sitting in my son’s elementary school library for the monthly School Advisory Council meeting. The principal received an urgent call to report to the office, so the rest of us were about to tackle the topics of bullying, consistency of consequences, and positive student support. And a few minutes into the irony of discussing such topics, a voice over the loudspeaker said “Teachers: prepare your classrooms for lockdown!”
The librarian sprang into action locking the doors and turning off the lights, and the 20 or so of us parents moved over to sit in a corner. Some parents thought it was a drill, but I was not convinced. By the time a few minutes went by and we were sure it was not a drill, we heard police arrive to the scene.
It was discomforting to realize our children were in classrooms right beneath us but we were unable to get to them to reassure them. But none of us appeared to be panicking. Personally, I felt comforted by the immediate police presence, the lack of any alarming sounds (yelling, or, God forbid, shooting), and the knowledge that our schools take any potential threat very seriously.
35 minutes went by without any information as to what was going on. We checked our social media for any clues but there was nothing. Rumors started. Someone said that the school was blocked off for a two-mile radius. I somehow believed that even though in retrospect that would mean the entire city was shut down.
We texted our spouses. We texted each other. We whispered about what might be happening and whispered about other things too. I continued drinking my coffee. I didn’t feel afraid. What did scare me, though, was thinking about how these children must be feeling, how my son and his friends were feeling, how the teachers were keeping it all together. I decided that when this was over I was taking my son home for the day.
The lockdown began at 9:28. At 10:02 the loudspeaker let us know that all was clear and we could go about our days.
I went down to my son’s classroom where the kids all appeared to be pretty much fine. The teacher and her support staff wanted to let the kids go take a walk to stretch their little legs. I asked Sam if he was OK and he said yes with no hesitation. But I said we were going home anyway. I just wanted us to bail and get some fresh air.
When I stopped in the office to sign him out, the staff assured me that all was fine though they weren’t entirely sure what happened. I saw cops dispersing and everyone seemed to be in relatively good spirits – considering.
I learned later that the lockdown was caused when a semiautomatic gun was found in the possession of a 7th grader. Let me repeat that: a 13-year-old had a semiautomatic weapon in his backpack.
According to police reports, the child had no intention of using it to harm anyone but rather brought it for “protection.” What did a 13-year-old feel that he needed a gun to protect himself from? Apparently, he found it in an alleyway – it was a stolen gun used in a 2013 robbery.
Whatever the reasons how or why, there was one thing that separated this incident from a tragedy. One thing that happened that prevented the gun accidentally going off in his backpack, being used in some ill-advised idea of protection, or getting into someone else’s hands.
Another child spoke up.
Another student either heard about or saw the gun and told a teacher. She is a HERO. All the Blue Ribbons this school has won should be placed upon this child in a ceremony with mandatory attendance.
Rightly upset parents have called for metal detectors (proven mostly ineffective and financially insane) and all manner of preventative measures. I hear them – this is scary shit and it is happening everywhere – from the biggest cities to the tiniest towns.
One of my friends was compelled to throw herself into Moms Demand Action, one of the organizations trying to fight the NRA and our current administration which would see a gun in the hand of everyone old enough wrap their hand around it. But until our country gets its shit together and stops being indebted to a dangerous and misguided interpretation of the second amendment, we need to focus on teaching valuable lessons to our children so that they can be the change.
And, at the very least, this was a teachable moment.
Across this nation, we need mandatory student workshops with experts on bullying prevention, cultural respect, and speaking up when you see something bad happening. (Some of this was actually on the SAC agenda that got derailed during the lockdown). We need better attention to students who may be feeling bullied, threatened, or troubled including peer counseling and peer leadership.
And we can start at home.
I made this little quiz for my 8-year-old and 4-year-old and shared it on social media where I was urged to make it public so here it is.
It’s pretty simple and, of course, you can tailor it however you like. I just asked the kids about different circumstances and whether they thought they should tell a grown-up or ignore it. I made the “ignore” ones silly to keep their attention and keep them engaged. Number 12 is a trick question because most kids will tell you they should definitely tell a grown-up if they feel like they want an ice cream cone!
But, unfortunately, there is a culture that castigates “snitching,” and so many children (and adults) are hesitant to report bullying, weapons, abuse, or anything else that seems wrong or off. We need to change this. As parents and teachers and community leaders, we need to make sure these kids know that speaking up saves lives.
I don’t know who the child was who spoke up on Wednesday, but it is very possible that he or she saved lives. Not just the lives of potential victims, but the life of the child who could have potentially used the weapon on others or on himself. We simply don’t know what would have happened had it not been for one brave young person.
Let’s make lemonade out of something scary and talk to our kids about speaking up!
Paige Wolf is the founder of PhillyTweens.com and the author of Spit That Out! The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt book and blog, where this post first appeared. She is also the owner of Paige Wolf Media and Public Relations, a B Corporation PR firm focused on sustainable clientele. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, two children, and American Hairless Terrier.