NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Americans of all ages remember fire drills in school. Most people rarely took them seriously, but kids today face a very different reality.
Images from Columbine, Colorado in April of 1999 remain heart stopping, forever changing the notion that our children were safe in school.
The shootings and the massacres in the years since then, from Amish country to California, Sandy Hook to Parkland, have left us with a sad truth — for kids in school today, lockdown drills mean staying out of sight in darkened rooms and literally running for their lives.
Signs on display in school bathrooms may be terrifying, but it’s just another part of their day-to-day lives.
CBS2 invited a group of students, ranging in age from nine to 12, to help us understand how they’ve learned to cope.
WEB EXTRA: Extended Look At CBS2’s Sit-Down With Students
“I’m feeling like, I feel like my heart has stopped beating for a couple of minutes,” Lilly said.
“Once I start and hear the word ‘lockdown,’ I immediately stop what I’m doing,” Amelia said.
“If an intruder is near he might know there are kids in there and break the lock and get in,” Jackson said.
It’s the frightening reality kids face in school every day.
“The teachers lock he doors, they pull the blinds down, the kids go out of sight,” Brynna said.
Ellie said when she’s asked to rush into her classroom’s closet, all can she think of is how squished she is.
“I don’t think parents know what we’re going through sometimes,” Amelia said.
Their parents did, however, pay attention to their conversation with CBS2’s Kristine Johnson. Lilly’s mom said she heard some things she hadn’t heard before.
Parents listened intently as their kids revealed how the current climate affects them on an emotional level, and stoically described the mechanics of the drills they’re forced to rehearse.
“There’s always that creeping suspicion of what if it’s a real drill,” Lilly said.
Brynna says she goes “to a point in the room where they can’t see us.”
“The lights are off and the kids are told to be silent,” she said.
Her mom says she sounds as prepared as she should be.
“It sounds like the school does a good job,” Brynna’s mother said. “It makes me feel safe for her.”
Dr. Kristin Carothers, psychologist with the Child Mind Institute, joined in on the discussion and spoke about the “conditioned fear response.”
“Sometimes that response goes into overdrive and we think we’re in danger and we’re not in danger,” she said. “That’s anxiety, but what you’re having is a good natural response.”
Nine out of ten public schools have lockdown drills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Like nuclear-era duck and cover exercises from the late 1950s and early 60s, the drills of this generation may employ different types of simulations but no one underestimates their importance.
Dr. Carothers tells the students it’s completely normal to feel anxious during lockdown drills.
“You can try to think, we call it a ‘coping thought,’ that ‘we’re practicing this drill to keep me safe, my teachers are doing everything they can to keep me safe’,” Carothers said. “If you can keep that in your mind as you’re going through the drill it might help a little.”
Overall, the kids were incredibly poised and articulate.
Although they spoke candidly of their fears, they also acknowledged that the lockdown drills have always been part of their school experience, and truly believe that their schools are doing everything they can to keep them safe.