Students in Dr. Christina Smith’s Period 3 AP Psychology class huddle in the corner during the ALICE drill on Dec. 12, 2021. The ALICE protocol requires all the lights in the classroom to be turned off. (Connor Lee)
ALICE drills create stress and anxiety for some students and staff which is reflected in varying viewpoints on how effective the drills are.
According to an NBC News article, “In 2018, 30 people were killed and 50 injured in eight school shootings. On average, there was a school shooting every 45 days.” Because there were 98,469 U.S. public schools from 2017-2018 (according to the National Center of Education Statistics), the chances of such a tragedy occurring at Algonquin is slim. But the ARHS administration has still implemented the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) protocol to ensure the utmost safety for students and staff in the case of an emergency.
Although ALICE drills prepare people for the worst, some participants experience stress and anxiety during them. However, Principal Sean Bevan holds that they are necessary.
“We need to be prepared for an emergency, and to be prepared for an emergency you have to practice it,” Bevan said.
School resource officer Kevin Fruwirth shares a similar sentiment, believing that ALICE drills foster an important skill-set.
“I don’t see any downside to ALICE itself because I think people’s safety and survival in serious situations are the most important thing,” Fruwirth said. “[ALICE] gives people skills and a mindset to use and to think for their own safety.”
This year’s freshmen and sophomores had never practiced an ALICE drill at Algonquin before December. In light of this, Bevan believes the ALICE drill performed on Dec. 10 was a success.
“We went from a position of knowledge about ALICE but not practical application, and we were able to get there pretty quickly,” Bevan said.
He believes there is no significant weak point to the drill, but instead numerous minor weaknesses gathered through feedback from students and staff.
“Every ALICE drill generates for us a list of ways we can continue to improve,” Bevan said.
According to Bevan, there are also protective procedures in place that students are unaware of.
“[Unnamed procedures coupled with ALICE drills] keep us safe in ways that are invisible by design,” Bevan said.
According to a New York Times article, Megan Carolan, vice president of research at the Institute for Child Success said, “There hasn’t been a strong body of evidence that these drills are helping.“
Some believe the most recent proof to support this point was the four deaths of the Oxford High School shooting that occurred on Nov. 30, 2021.
In the article, Karen McDonald, the Michigan prosecutor whose office is overseeing the criminal case in relation to the Oxford shooting, said, “The [ALICE] response was executed perfectly, yet four children were killed and multiple injuries occurred. We really can’t train ourselves out of this tragedy.“
Some ARHS community members wonder if ALICE drills work and are worth the possible stress.
“I think it’s very natural for people to feel anxious or stressed just about the thought of [an ALICE event] happening,” Director of Guidance Lisa Connery said.
Connery explained that stress and anxiety research shows how stress can impact our problem-solving abilities in the moment. In high-stress situations, like school shootings, the drills are designed to combat that potential impact and allow students to follow ALICE procedures they’ve subconsciously embedded.
“The hope is if anything were to happen that we would naturally be able to fall back on what we already problem-solved,” Connery said.
Connery stressed that if students do feel stress, they are always welcome to pay a visit to their guidance counselor or a school adjustment counselor.
“I think the concept itself is going to cause some low-level stress,” Connery said.
According to a Harbinger survey of 127 students conducted through Google Forms from Jan. 3 to Jan. 5, 26% of respondents said they felt “very safe” with current ALICE protocols, 58% reported feeling “somewhat safe,” 14% feel “somewhat unsafe” and 2% feel “very unsafe.”
In the words of an anonymous Harbinger survey respondent, “The ALICE protocols are very effective and give students/teachers the option to choose what method is best for them. However, small parts of the protocol still need improvement.”
Another survey respondent wrote, “I just feel uneasy about the whole thing and wish it was less stressful.”
Sixteen percent of the respondents reported that ALICE drills have impacted their mental well-being at least once.
Senior Tobias Moore thinks it’s nearly impossible to try to cover all dangerous possibilities, but overall, he finds the drill effective.
“The fact that we have the drills shows that we’re preparing and that anything could happen,” Moore said.
He finds some level of stress is inevitable in the process of preparation, but he personally doesn’t experience extreme levels of stress.
“At least in my case, the fact that it’s clarified that it’s just a drill really helps [ease anxiety],” Moore said.
Junior Alexander Reineke finds value in the drill itself, but he wishes it accounted for times outside of the classroom. He feels that simply sitting and talking doesn’t fully prepare students in case of an emergency.
“Generally speaking, they are [effective], but sometimes the way that we do them isn’t necessary [helpful],” Reineke said.
In the fall of 2019, English teacher Seth Czarnecki experienced the intense anxiety ALICE drills can cause.
“I believe there was a mistake made by law enforcement which made the experience in my class extremely real and traumatic for the people that experienced it,” Czarnecki said.
Czarnecki recalled that during a live ALICE drill where police were present in SWAT gear, an administrator called for the commencement of the drill over the announcements and described the clothing and location of a hypothetical active shooter. Only seconds later, Czarnecki said, a police officer dressed as the shooter burst into the classroom and yelled at the class for not moving fast enough.
“It was within seconds of the announcement going, so there was quite literally nothing we could have done,” Czarnecki said. “So if that was a real shooter, my students and I would have died, and that was the lesson that day.”
Czarnecki believes that concepts like school shootings should be presented much differently, without the added trauma of role-playing and weapons.
“I think what’s important is for the school to find that sweet spot between making sure people are prepared and knowing what the procedure is without traumatizing them and creating more anxiety through the process of preparation,” Czarnecki said.
According to Czarnecki, there have been conversations between Algonquin and the Northborough Police Department regarding the execution of these drills since then. He finds that the more recent drills, such as the one on Dec. 10, have been more around the “sweet spot” he envisions.
“I know that this is a hard line to walk as a school because the U.S. does have the highest frequency of school shootings in the world, and every time that happens, it’s like an alarm goes off in other public schools, but I also think we need to be measured and think long-term about the things that we’re doing for and to students in the long run,” Czarnecki said.
Some students and community members have been alarmed by recent social media threats and references to gun violence. While the frequency of recent threats directed towards Algonquin may have raised some unrest, Fruwirth believes it’s just an unfortunate trend.
“Kids will share things that they might consider as a joke and not realize the ramifications it has or the effects it has on other students,” Fruwirth said.
Fruwirth emphasizes the importance for students to stay vigilant about their surroundings and to report any unusual behavior to a staff member.
“Look at the big picture,” Fruwirth said. “You as the individual would know the person and their behavior, and if it’s concerning, then absolutely report it.”
According to Sandy Hook Promise, the “Say Something program teaches middle and high school students to recognize the warning signs of someone at-risk of hurting themselves or others and how to say something to a trusted adult to get help.”
Tips reported to the platform are immediately relayed to school administrators and are seriously investigated. Even if the student reported on is not a threat to others, the school works to decide if further steps should be taken to intervene and help.
“Our purpose is to support all students and if there is a student with concerns, and if they need support beyond academics, we’re here to do that as well,” Connery said.
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