Looking back, my high school classes blur, but I remember Shattered Dreams. That’s because it did its job—it made me never forget. And yet, I still question to this day what purpose that memory served. Why act out traumatic events that may never occur?
Prevention, I keep hearing. Being ready when, and if, tragedy hits. The U.S. has become obsessed with rehearsing crises as a means of preventing future mistakes. Only now, the practice is becoming standardized protocol. And this new reality, one where false memories prime us to the idea that no place is truly safe, is exemplified by active shooter drills popping up in schools around the country.
Proponents argue the more realistic the drill is, the less likely students are to feel and act unprepared in a true scenario. Yet a growing number of parents and psychologists argue that this immersive approach in the country’s schools isn’t justified by worthy statistics. After all, the chance of any student dying in a school-related shooting is one in 2.5 million.
So, while the debate over how far is too far remains fragile ground, what continues to be strikingly underreported is that glaring, albeit obvious, question: What does the trauma curriculum actually teach?
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On the night of April 20th, 1999, Melissa Reeves rushed to the emergency room waiting area of a local hospital in Colorado. She and her fellow school psychologists were tasked with an unforeseen responsibility: to comfort students who had escaped Columbine High School, where, only hours before, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a shooting spree, killing 13 people. It was a time when the FBI had no definition for "active shooter" events, nor any way of tracking them, and Reeves was experiencing that lack of cohesion firsthand.
"We had no idea what we were doing. We basically were told to show up. The kids didn’t know us. We didn’t know them," Reeves said. "We walked out of there saying, 'This is unacceptable.'"
The experience inspired Reeves to develop PREPaRE, a two-day workshop that teaches students how to handle trauma before and after a school tragedy. The comprehensive curriculum also develops a crisis-response plan for administrators, faculty, and mental-health professionals—something Reeves didn’t have at her disposal the night of Columbine. Today, as the chair of the National Association of School Psychologist’s School Safety and Crisis Response Committee, Reeves believes striking a balance between physical- and psychological-focused efforts is critical for long-term impact, rather than having districts spend thousands of dollars to turn schools into New Age bunkers.
Many schools have, nonetheless, taken that latter approach. In Minnesota, the Rocori School District, still recovering from a fatal school shooting in 2003, spent upwards of $25,000 on bulletproof whiteboards. Meanwhile, in Texas, Camey Elementary School, which has never experienced a shooting, recently spent $21.5 million rebuilding a facility with bulletproof glass on the front doors, 50 security cameras, and a panic button installed inside the main office. This past June, even bulletproof blankets made their way into naptime defense budgets.