• Jennifer Meliton

Alice? Who the heck is ALICE?

There is a crazy visitor who has made her way into schools over the past few years. It's not that she's unwelcome, it's just that...we wish we never had to be introduced. But she's part of our family now for better or for worse. ALICE is the name of the program that many schools and businesses use to train how one might deal with an active shooter situation.

Reality check/reminder: my youngest co-workers are five.

I can so clearly recall learning about Columbine. I was teaching 7th grade and had been back just a few months after my daughter had been born. That night after I tucked my baby in, I watched the coverage and wept for the people there. I had no idea that those surreal scenes would become alarmingly familiar over the years, but never "normal". Never. Years later, December 14, 2012, we followed the tragic events at Sandy Hook. When my primary kiddos and teachers were leaving that day, I hugged every single one of them,

But it was the morning of December 15, 2012 that most moved and changed me. That morning I wanted to speak to the staff at both schools, so I started at my 3rd-5th grade school, letting them know that we would be as tight as ever with security, and that we would be shielding our kids from knowing, as we hoped their parents had. The staff at my primary school was waiting for me when I arrived. Silent. Looking to me with puffy eyes revealing their spirits. We prayed for those babies and for our own, and together hugged every little body that came through our door. They were blissfully unaware of the tragedy and we carried on with holiday spirit, mourning for the lives of our fellow educators and...it was almost too much to bear.

That was the year that we started to get crazy about "what if". What would

we DO? It wasn't long until we met ALICE. ALICE stands for Alert Lock-down Inform Counter Escape. Learn more at their website here. We had to learn how to deal with ALICE by experiencing simulations. Air-soft pistols were used as trainers tried to breech rooms that we learned to barricade...as we trained ourselves to pounce on the holder of the weapon in a crowded hall...as we evacuated...as we countered and alerted and locked down.

But what about our kids? What would we tell them?

This book has been a Godsend for us. "I'm Not Scared, I'm Prepared" allows us to have age appropriate discussions about a very real, very frightening possibility in a way that kids can deal with. We talk to the kids in a very matter of fact way, allowing them to know that we can be empowered to have some control if we encounter a dangerous someone.

Last week our teachers introduced the concepts of the book and we began to practice. We did school-wide drills that started with a fire-drill, then progressed through a few different danger scenarios. I lead everyone through the drills using the P.A. by talking through the why, the how, and introducing the scenario in very calming, age-appropriate language, then walking the school to see responses. Our staff is amazing at preparing even the youngest of our friends, and getting through these drills with a sense of serious purpose matched with a calm experience that reassures the kids. And we are calm. But the faces of those little ones and the memory of that horrible December day have formed a lump in our throats that will never go away. As we tell our kids that they it will always be ok, they search our faces and feel again we feel that lump as we swallow our fears.

We think about ALICE constantly and the relationship has changed us. Made us stronger. We think about safety constantly. The power blinked during a storm today and in that 1/10 of a second my mind immediately started running scenarios.

It is absolutely horrid that we have to walk these paths and face these truths, but the consequences of ignoring them are too great to imagine. ALICE lives with us now, like a roommate we know we need, and we now embrace it. Please take some time to learn a little more so that you can think through the unthinkable. And be sure to start and end your days like we do...with a grateful hug.

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