Friday, June 12, 2009

Guns and Lockdowns

(I thought about including an image of a gun on this page, for visual interest, and I couldn't do it. Just couldn't.)

The kids I've been talking about in my last few posts are a little more stable, at least in terms of their living situation. Again, thanks to everyone who helped financially - you may very well have helped save these boys' lives - no exaggeration. Again, these are the kids who witnessed the murder and had to be relocated because the police (who I just love SO MUCH - is the sarcasm reaching you through the computer?) showed them off to the suspects so there are plenty of threats of retaliation to go around. Then they treated them like they were the criminals. But I digress.

They are in an apartment now which is bigger than ones they've lived in before and - while not in an affluent area at all - are not in danger. I think they're talked into counseling - and thank goodness, their mom and grandmother are 100% in favor of it. I worry about them - the older one talks about getting an AK-47 and shooting anyone who bothers him. He tends to say things for dramatic effect, but still. The little one - when I told him he gets to go to summer camp (yay! Post about that soon.) tried out my sleeping bag. He asked if the other boys would help him if he needed help putting it back in the bag. I said I thought they would, and he said, "If they don't help me, I'll just shoot them."

I understand that this is probably normal for kids who saw their friend shot and killed three weeks ago (can one use "normal" in that sentence?) but it is really hard to hear. Fortunately, I don't think these two have any access to guns and I actually think they're smart enough not to use them if they did, but it is definitely on their mind. And these are loving boys - not nearly as hardened as many in their schools.

To show a little bit of what the kids at my school (I haven't worked there in two years and my last set of kids just graduated from fifth grade, but I still think of it as my school) talked about in their graduation speeches.

First of all, fifth graders are just funny when they are doing public speaking. One of my old students gave a short speech about going to middle school and was apparently quite nervous, as most of her speech came out like this:

"Andnowthatwearebeingpromotedfromfifthgradewearegoingtomiddleschoolandwewillhavetoactlikelittleadults withoutthekindofhelpweareusedtofromourteachershereinelementaryschoolwhentheyhelpusallthetime."

(that's hard to type)

The speaker that almost made me cry though, was the next one. Her topic was elementary school memories and she was listing ways that she and other students could tell that their teachers cared about them. Along with "teaching us" and "helping us when we don't know something" she added something I've never heard in an elementary school graduation speech. She said something like "Another way our teachers show that they care about us is they don't let us go to the bathrooms or in the hall when there's shooting."

Now, I know exactly what she's talking about. At least once a year each year that I was there, we had a lockdown. A lockdown is when there's a threat and the teachers have to lock the doors, close the curtains, turn off the lights, and get the kids in the center of the room, if possible. There were plenty of times when I didn't even know the reason for the lockdown, but some I do remember were a parent running through the school with a gun (custody battle gone bad, I think), a high-speed chase of a bank robber over the Bay Bridge that ended in front of our school, and an arson/attempted murder-suicide thing at a carburator shop or something like that a block down the road.

Lockdowns themselves have a number of problems. First of all, since we changed principals so often, there was never an accepted procedure for any emergency action. Fire drills are pretty much the same from one school to the next, but we never got earthquake drills or lockdowns down. (Or bomb "treats" as one memo we received stated. "In case of a bomb treat...") Sometimes it was a series of bells, sometimes it was announced over the loudspeaker that it was a lockdown, and sometimes the current principal would use some kind of cute code intended not to freak out the children. One year it was "Mr. Keys has entered the building." Get it? Keys? Lockdown? That was the year all the kids asked if it was Alicia Keys' dad.

Then there are the logistical problems. The doors only lock from the outside, so you (the teacher) has to open the door and go in the hall to lock it - which is not ideal if you've just heard that there's a man with a gun running through said hall. I used to keep my door locked and just make everyone knock on it when I was in the portable classroom all exposed out on the yard. The principals always got mad at me, and I always did it anyway, after the first lockdown.

Then, you have a bunch of freaked out kids who have no idea what is going on and all need to do two things immediately: call their moms to make sure their moms aren't dead, and pee. We resorted to having kids pee in the sink a couple of times during long lockdowns - I had a blanket that someone would hold up and I cleaned the sink really well after. And I'd pass around the cell phone while we tried to keep doing school in the dark.

However, the thing that made me want to cry about this little girl's speech was the sincerity in which she said it. Just like another kid might say they knew their teacher loved them because she took them on field trips, this one knew her teacher loved her because she wasn't allowed in the hall when there was shooting. That's how much of an accepted part of life it is. And none of the parents reacted. I mean, imagine if someone had said that at an upper middle class graduation! No, these parents just nodded because they too know that it's one way the teachers take care of their kids. After all, the parents have taught their kids to get in the bathtub or the closet when there's shooting. I learned that my first year.

Finally, the kids - Jorge and Luis - I've been talking about before... right before their friend died, they found out their dad was arrested for possessing a handgun. I'm not sure, but I think he was a felon and therefore is not allowed to have a gun at all, but he's convinced the kids he didn't do anything wrong and they are full of righteous anger about him being locked up. Also, he'll probably be deported back to Mexico after he serves his time.

Amazing what a few inanimate objects can do to kids, even kids who have never even touched one.

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