Students suggest surprise drills in case of emergency

Emergencies can happen at any time, not just during third period or right after recess.

To keep students and staff on their toes and prepared for anything at any time, high school students recently suggested emergency drills be conducted during a class change or when they are least expected.

The suggestion was borne from discussions about school safety in the wake of recent school shootings in Parkland, Fla., and closer to home in St. Mary’s County. High school students representing the county’s seven high schools met with Superintendent Kimberly Hill and Congressman Steny H. Hoyer to share concerns and ideas about the future of school safety from a student’s point of view.

Among the students’ suggestions were better access to mental health services, the building of stronger relationships among teachers and students, and practicing surprise emergency drills.

La Plata High School held a fire drill recently as students were exiting PRIDE Time — the school’s hour lunch — when they weren’t in classrooms. Administrators warned students and their parents of a drill taking place during the week, but not when it would happen. The heads up was given to tamp down any panic or anxiety.

Image is not representative of any drill that has occurred thus far. Courtesy Eastern Kentucky University

“We were expecting that it would be this week and that it would be during a class change,” said Katelyn Kluh, the senior class president. “That’s what we were pushing for.” Drills are needed when students and staff least expect them, Kluh added. “To have safety drills at the same time is not necessarily realistic,” she said.

La Plata Principal Douglass Dolan and administrators shared the drill information with staff members who helped shepherd others out of the school to the football field. Once there, students sought out their sixth period subject and checked in with teachers holding signs reading “math,” “English” and “business” among others. During the drill, a staff member called out directions over the loudspeaker telling students and staff to make their way to the field.

Students gave the drill a thumbs up. “This was more realistic,” said junior Aashka Patel who was in the math hallway when the drill started. “It was out of our comfort zone, but there wasn’t panic. There was more obedience because I think people wanted to be on the safe side. The teachers helped us and it was organized.”

Dolan praised the students for following directions and getting to safety. “We wanted to do something that was not cookie cutter,” he said of the drill.

During an emergency students count on the adults of the school to take the lead, Dolan said. “I’m going to look to teachers, administrators and staff,” he said. The recent drill was “a good start,” Dolan added. “We will continuously be changing and tweaking. We have to not be predictable with our drills and be prepared to adapt to different scenarios.”

About CCPS

Charles County Public Schools provides 26,900 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.

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