BANDON — If a student at Ocean Crest Elementary is asked “What is Miss A’s number one important job?” the answer will always be “To keep her Tiger Cubs safe.”
Every year, schools put students through ALICE protocol training which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. At high schools and middle schools, this teaches students how to fight back or escape if an active shooter walks onto campus. But this training changes when it’s taught to elementary students, something that was done at Ocean Crest in October.
“(ALICE) is training for a violent intruder,” said Becky Armistead, principal at Ocean Crest Elementary. “In some schools, they do this as an active shooter training or active gunman training in the building. For our elementary students, we do this too but we don’t use that language.”
One key aspect of ALICE training in elementary schools is for students to look to teachers and staff to protect them. Armistead, referred to as “Miss A” by her elementary kiddos, meets with each grade level to present what should happen if a “dangerous someone” gets into the building. During these presentations, teachers attend as well, after already going through a different ALICE training, in order to hear the language being used, the conversation and questions. This way, teachers can use similar language in the classroom.
“We talk about safety being our most important job,” Armistead said. “The number one most important job for adults in school is to keep kids safe. When I was in school, back in my days as a teacher, my number one important job was to keep my kids safe and number is for everybody to do the hard work of learning. That’s the same language I use here.”
Armistead’s elementary ALICE trainings go over the importance of being prepared if there was an emergency. She keeps the “dangerous someone” training as routine and calm as a fire drill or earthquake drill.
“They know we do fire drills every month and I talk about how I’ve been working in schools most of my life and not one time has there been a fire at a school I’ve been in, but we still do drills to make sure we’re safe if we have them,” Armistead said. “We talk about how I grew up in California where there are lots of earthquakes, but here there aren’t that many, but we practice just in case. Then we talk about something that might not be safe in school and without fail a child will bring up a ‘dangerous someone’ and we move right into how to stay safe at school.”
For kindergarteners and first-graders, Ocean Crest shows a video about school safety. For second through fourth grade, the video is reviewed and there is a book series that goes along with the ALICE protocol titled “I’m not scared, I’m prepared.”
“All teachers have that book as an activity guide and (it) goes through what it looks like if there’s a dangerous someone in the school,” Armistead said.
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At Ocean Crest, these elementary ALICE trainings began just four years ago. When Armistead was hired in Bandon in 2015, the Umpqua Community College shooting happened one month into her tenure.
“That brought to light that we needed more than we had,” she remembered. “Through the course of that school year, we worked with staff, ALICE trainers and local law enforcement to develop a comprehensive plan that we rolled out to students the following fall.”
During the first two years of incorporating ALICE trainings at the elementary school, Armistead held parent information nights. There, parents were taught what staff would do if an active shooter came onto campus. Parents were also given information on what their students were taught.
“We did not have a big response, to be honest,” Armistead said. “I probably had 15 or 20 parents out of 255 students. I took that as parents trusting us to do what we can to keep kids safe and that they don’t need to manage that.”
Even so, Armistead still informs parents every year prior about when ALICE training begins by sending home information in the parent book.
“I’ve done this formally for four years and am yet to have a parent or student come to me alarmed,” she said. “Children handle it the same way they handle a fire drill or an earthquake drill. Many students hear about violence in schools at home in the news and we handle it as calmly and matter-of-factly as we can … We don’t want them to feel there is danger around the corner.”
When asked how she feels providing ALICE training to her students, Armistead said she believes it is necessary in today’s society to prepare children for something “we never imagined possible when we were young.”
“Back when I was young, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t feel safe and protected in the walls of my schoolhouse,” she said. “It is important that we look at these children as a whole and not only take care of their social, emotional and academic needs, but make sure they feel safe in the one place they should always feel safe, which is at school … We do everything we can to give these children and our community a sense of security so they know we are doing everything in our power to protect these sweet babies.”