Change has started for schools all across America to protect the student body from threats that haven’t been seen before.
There have been over 100 mass shootings in the United States since 2018 began, according to Business Insider in an online article on June 28, 2018. Companies around the world are starting to provide students with protective gear to accompany the ongoing threats to schools. While you can decide to purchase protection, schools have started implementing new drills and policies to try to protect their students. These are to help students to be more comfortable and safe in the buildings.
“The best way to protect us all the time, and that’s whether you’re at school, or at a restaurant, or a football game, or a concert, is to be proactive and think ‘alright, what is my easiest exit out of here,’ and how can I keep myself safe if something did happen,” Assistant Principal Dr. Joe Maluchnik said. “It’s not about changing your whole lifestyle, but it’s about being proactive and thinking ahead of what could happen where you’re at.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Education requires fire drills to be conducted once a month while school is in session, but only in public schools. Public schools are also required to conduct at least two bus evacuations a year. In addition to the required fire drills, GS has been trying to implement active shooter drills into our regularly scheduled fire drills.
“You have no choice but to continue to plan and prepare,” Dr. Maluchnik said. “All schools are thinking differently than we did 10 or 20 years ago, just like when there used to be a lot of fires in schools. What did schools and other buildings do? They started putting in sprinkler systems, they started putting more fire extinguishers in, doing more fire drills. And since that happened, I believe there hasn’t been a death in a school [from] a fire since the late 1950s or 60s because they’ve put things into place. Hopefully, the safety things that we’ve put into place will decrease those things from happening.”
New drills are definitely a way to help the school stay safer, but there are other ways to keep a school safe.
“We have had executive sessions that discuss safety measures that we are planning to implement,” GS school board member Mrs. Charlotte Kemerer said. “Some of them we cannot discuss because, obviously, we would not want them out in the open for some potential person to understand what we’re doing. Some things have been discussed at budget meetings, like jam locks or the possibility of having a resource officer. While we do know that one is not going to resolve any potential problems at five schools, one is better than none.”
Mrs. Kemerer, as a board member and not a faculty member, isn’t in the school building all the time. Because of this, she doesn’t get to see students every day to see how, and if, they’re taking any steps toward change. She wishes to see more action from the student body outside of the school that’ll make an impact.
In the schools, it’s much easier to see the effect that gun violence can have on students. Mrs. Jackie Yuhas, one of GS’s Chemistry teachers, has seen change among the student body.
“You hear students talking about taking action,” Mrs. Yuhas said. “That never used to be a thought at all. Unfortunately, it’s become part of everyone’s everyday thinking.”
While these events affected the employees of the school and caused a jumpstart in action, students decided to take a stand too. Last year after the devastating shooting in Parkland, Florida, many students rallied with the March for our Lives movement. It drew major attention and the movement continues today, even if people aren’t actively marching. One student who seems to care a lot about student safety is sophomore Lexi Marx. Marx participated in the school-wide walkout with a fair amount of the student body.
“[Students] can be more aware,” Marx said. “They can be into it more. Just care about it.”
Students have opinions on the kind of things that can be added to protect their lives, too. They are not just worried about their grades anymore. When a student starts to see an effort to help keep the school safe being taken, they’re sure to notice.
“We’ve closed a lot of the entrances in the morning, and just in general,” Marx said. “That’s a good step, whether it’s inconvenient or not sometimes. They definitely seem to be more aware of it. We can’t have headphones in the hallways anymore, which I think is smart.”
Teachers are making changes inside the school buildings as well. Many members of the students and staff are changing the way they function on a daily basis, all in an effort to stay safe.
“Everything we do is different,” Yuhas said. “We used to not lock our doors, all the doors are locked now. There’s just a different feeling in the buildings. It’s a different mindset, not only in schools, I think, but in society.”
Students also see ways to help improve the protection of the school, due to knowing the school like the back of their hand, and the student body just as closely.
“I would say [add] metal detectors, or at least some sort of bag search every month at some point,” Marx said. “While we are closing off some of the entrances, that doesn’t mean students can’t still bring things into school.”
Kemerer said that they are looking for students to be more active with their safety, and talked about what was said at a board meeting.
“[They] would like to see students participate,” Kemerer said. “How they feel about something like a metal detector, and I’m not saying we’re getting that, but [Joe Gongaware] discussed that at the school board, but we haven’t had any reaction to that.”
From the standpoint of someone who’s always in the building, Dr. Maluchnik had some different views on what the student body is doing.
“I see students are more concerned,” Maluchnik said. “They care more, they want to give their input more on safety, which is good, and they look out for each other, even. They always did, but students are more apt to come to us if someone looks like they shouldn’t be in the building, [and] they don’t have a pass.”
The bottom line is, Schools are changing. New policies and safety procedures are going into place for the benefit of everyone. Hopefully, this leads to a brighter future for bright individuals.
“I think school is a place where we should go to learn,” Marx said. “Not to think about waking up, going to school, and not coming back.”