During the “emergency hide and seek” drill held at South Nelson Elementary School last week, students efficiently huddled into pre-planned hiding places with their teachers and practiced “marshmallow mouth” to keep silent.
Susanne Maguire’s Grade 2/3 class even used pillows and cushions to disguise their hiding places, leaving the classroom looking deserted to any potential intruders.
“This is about teaching kids to keep themselves safe,” Cst. Lisa Schmidtke told the Star. “The messaging throughout our district is the same and simple: hide, stay calm, stay quiet.”
It wasn’t South Nelson’s first time doing the drill, which is part of the safety program Lockdown. Implemented by Schmidtke and Sgt. Dino Falcone every year, it involves working with the fire department, the school district and the community to develop safety protocols for every school in the Kootenay Lake district.
And though they don’t explicitly talk to the children about what exactly they’re hiding from, most parents need no explanation for why these emergency protocols are necessary.
“With the little ones we try to make it fun, so they remember. We call it ‘Emergency Hide and Seek’, we use different terminology, and we make it a fun game for them,” said Schmidtke.
Currently Schmidtke is urging the district to move towards self-locking doors in every school, so teachers no longer need to carry keys. At South Nelson every door in the school was able to lock except one, and there are already plans to fix it.
“In all the research regarding other incidents and lockdowns, there’s yet to be an incident where the door is locked that an intruder has successfully entered,” Schmidtke said. “The plan is all the doors will lock automatically upon closing, and those doors won’t reopen until the police show up and open it.”
Police have keys to every school in the district.
“We’re teaching the exact protocol from preschool right up to retirement,” said Schmidtke. “Kids are trained to go into a room, lock the door and hide.”
During the drill, Grade 1 student Dario Amaroso found himself in an unexpected spot: the school office. He’d noticed some smoke outside and was hoping to alert the school administration to a potential fire. Then Lockdown began, and Amaroso rushed to a nearby bathroom with the school secretary.
“That was the closest thing I could find,” he told the Star, adding that the drill made him feel “safe” and “good”.
Principal Kim Jones said the Lockdown drill heartens her both as a school administrator and as a parent.
“My own daughter was here the first year we started Lockdown, and Lisa can speak to it as well because her sons are here: as a parent I appreciate knowing the school is being proactive. We entrust our children to the school’s care, and it really feels like we’re doing our due diligence.”
When the drill was over, Schmidtke spoke to the school over the P.A. system.
“You’re definitely safety experts,” she said. “We’re extremely impressed, well done South Nelson!”