Securing our schools has been a top priority since the Parkland shooting.
School security measures have changed over the years, but even those can be breached leaving teachers and administrators as the first line of defense.
“They're our first responders,” said Tim Knight, the safety and security coordinator at the Berkeley County School District. “They're the first line of defense, especially in our elementary schools. We have got to make sure our teachers, administrators, and staff know exactly what to do, are prepared and have the tools necessary.”
Jill Patrick, Sangaree Intermediate School’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, prides herself on making her classroom her students’ second home. “They’re my babies once they walk in the door, and they're my babies once they leave,” she said.
She is young, and she will admit that school is not like the schoolhouse she grew up attending.
“You write your name on your paper, you hear lockdown, you know where to go,” Patrick said. “It doesn't matter where you are. At the end of the day, they're ready.”
Like the earthquake and fire drills of her generation, lockdown drills for intruders and active shoots are the new norm.
“We practice them,” she said. “It's natural. They know we're going to do this, and they know at the end of the day I'm not going to let anything happen to them.”
During the lockdown drills, Patrick tells her students to sit quietly, daydream, and try to silently solve riddles. It is all in an effort to keep the calm, occupied, and safe.
“Kids follow you,” she explained. “They're going to see if you're nervous, then they know to be nervous. If you're calm, then they know it's ok. As a teacher, you just try to stay calm and make sure that they feel comfortable and safe in your classroom.
Everyone inside the school has a role, and there is no time to hesitate.
“If something happens in real life, we don't have time to say should I do this, should I do that,” said Principal Angel Siegling. “It's got to be practiced habit. It's got to be common sense or a feeling in the gut.”
That is exactly what the teachers and staff at Sangaree Intermediate, and all Berkeley County Schools, have been trained to do. Remain confident and calm and prepare students for growing up in today’s world.
“It could happen at the movie theater. It could happen at the mall. It could happen at the airport,” said Siegling. “But, it could happen here at school. We need to prepare our kids for all of those. Anywhere that they go in life, just to be aware. Not to be scared. We don't want anyone to be scared but just to be aware and to know what to do.”
It’s a world that has changed a lot since Siegling started her career in education at Sangaree Intermediate more than 30 years ago. “Whenever we first started, all doors were open and doors to classrooms were open,” she explained. “I don't really like having all of our interior doors locked. We don't want students to feel like they're in a jail, but at the same time we have to be safe.”
A world where the news of schools shootings is a weight our teachers carry with them into the classroom each day.
“It breaks my heart for those teachers because these kids become your kids,” said Patrick. “That always weighs on you, but it also reminds you to stay vigilant and make sure you're on top of your game and you know second nature that you know exactly what you're going to do if that ever happens, and pray it never does.”
Administrators want parents to know they play a role in their children’s safety too. “I know they appreciate all of the security features that we have,” said Knight. “They appreciate everything that we are doing,” said Knight. “We do need their support because they help us reinforce those rules, guidelines, and procedures that we have.”
The security procedures can be breached, however, by something as simple as manners—holding the door open for a manner and letting the person slip by the front sign-in desk.
It’s what ABC News 4 and the Berkeley County School District partnered together to show parents.
“Typically as parents we know other parents,” said Jacki Bowers, who has a son in the fourth grade at Sangaree Intermediate. “We've seen them around, so you just hold the door for them.”
Now, she thinks differently.
“It’s not rude to not let the other person in,” Bowers said. “We're all on the same page. If you don't know this person, don't let them in. Even if you do, make sure they're checked in.”