The room is quiet, although small whispers occasionally break up the eerie silence. A pile of desks are pushed against the door, and the blinds are drawn shut. Each student anxiously awaits the announcement giving the safe signal to come across the loud speakers. Of course it’s just a drill, but the tension in the air is all too real. Whenever Berkeley High School (BHS) has a lockdown drill, much of the anxiety and fear around gun violence on campus is brought up for students, and reactions can vary. Hearing about school shootings on the news and actively preparing for one in your chemistry classroom are two very different things. The effects of the drill are felt throughout the school, from the administration to the student body.
One of those affected is Mary McKee, an Economics and World History teacher at BHS. McKee discussed the challenge of working at a high school in 2019, saying that “it’s unrealistic for anyone to come into this institution every day and not have feelings around the shootings that are going around this country. On a drill day, all of those feelings are heightened, although that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t run the drill.” She shared her experience during a recent fire alarm evacuation where one of her students expressed concern for their safety, not because of a fire but because all the students presented an ‘easy target’ for a shooter. “Having to have that conversation with a student is honestly infuriating, and terrifying,” said McKee, who is not alone in her sentiments around the danger of a shooting at BHS. Students also worry about whether or not the information shared in the drill would carry over if there was ever a real emergency.
Beatrix Shelton, a junior in Communications Arts and Sciences (CAS), said she found the drill to be a bit unorganized, which worried her. “I think the school could hang up emergency plans in the hallways or emergency routes in each classroom. In a real emergency, a paper with instructions on what to do would be helpful for students and teachers that find themselves panicking in an actual shooting. The school should also create safety plans for each building that teachers would know just in case,” Shelton said.Tenzing Chosang, a sophomore in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), also discussed her feelings about the drill. “It makes me feel better that we as a school are prepared, but there’s something pretty scary about learning how to pile desks against the door or secure your belt in order to keep someone from breaking in. I know that this was never something my mom or dad had to learn in school, but it’s so normal to us now,” she said. She also expressed her hope for future generations, saying: “I really hope that this is never something my kids have to worry about, or even think about it.” Chosang also had concerns around gun control, bringing up the stricter policies that countries like Australia and New Zealand have implemented. “I mean, we read these articles in class sometimes about how a country will have a shooting, and respond with real legislation around guns. Here, all our politicians give us is thoughts and prayers, but we can see how well gun control works everywhere else. It just makes me lose faith in our system to see our politicians choose money over children,” said Chosang.
The video showed this year to help prepare students for the drill brought up many feelings for students, since it showed footage of BHS and its students. Shelton says that “although the video was interesting to watch and well thought out, I don’t think it was as informative as it could have been. It was a little distracting seeing people I know in the video because I was focused on them instead of the information. It was helpful to see specific routes the students took in the video.”
Rachel Pierce, a senior in BIHS and co-president of the BHS Chapter of Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (SDA), made the new video this year. Pierce explained that the purpose of making the video of BHS was to try to eliminate some of the problems she and others in SDA found with the old video, particularly its message that school shootings are something that will happen. The purpose of the new video was to move away from the “fear-mongering” aspect of the old video, Pierce said, and emphasized that school shootings are unlikely circumstances.
“It makes me feel better that we as a school are prepared, but there’s something pretty scary about learning how to pile desks against the door.”
Tenzing Chosang, BIHS sophomore
It’s easy to sense a general feeling of fear due to gun violence, both throughout the school and the country. California has some of the most comprehensive gun policies in the country, and yet is still home to several shootings each year. BHS should be a place of learning and a safe space for its students, not a place where students feel the need to plan possible escape routes out of their classrooms, a thought process Pierce and other students expressed having.
When asked about the improvements to the drill and video, Pierce said, “A big part of improving them will be changing the general mentality around the reason we have intruder drills — that it’s not just because of school shootings. And that will take a long time, at least until [the current] sophomores leave, since they’ve still seen the old video.”
This generation is one of the most hands-on, and has taken issues like gun violence and worked tirelessly on a national level to spark real change to ensure their safety and wellbeing.