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USA Today Interviews Dr. Maker on School Shooting Drills

“Teachers at an Indiana elementary school were left bruised, bleeding and frightened after being shot “execution style” with plastic pellets during an active-shooter training exercise in January”, according to the Indiana State Teachers Association. According to USA Today, “lockdown drills have been around for decades, but as fear of school shootings has intensified, they have become more widespread and elaborate. According to a 2016 Government Accountability Office survey, almost all of the nation’s public schools participated in lockdown drills the previous year, and 67 percent held active shooter drills. Those that did not said they were concerned the exercise, which often involves a live simulation of an armed assailant, would create too much fear.” USA Today interviewed Dr. Maker on the pros and cons of active trainer shooting exercises and the possible impact on teachers and students. As pointed out in the article, “Active shooter drills can be frightening for anyone. The threat of danger, even when simulated, can feel very real. But for people who have experienced previous trauma, active shooter lockdown drills can be especially triggering, mental health experts say.”

Dr. Maker elaborates, “If kids or teachers have had a history of trauma — even if you tell them we’re doing a lockdown drill Tuesday and this is what’s going to happen — when they’re physically in the situation and they’re re-experiencing the significant danger, the physical memories in your body and your brain just fire up.”

“In that situation you are helpless, in that situation you are in pain, in that situation you feel danger. And those are the markers that define trauma,” said clinical psychologist Azmaira Maker.

Hence, Dr. Maker emphasizes “why it’s important for schools to work with psychologists and education specialists in the planning of drills. Schools may even be able to identify ahead of time, through school counselors, kids who should not participate, whether because of trauma or sensorial issues.”

For young children who have experienced a traumatic death, the children’s book, Where Did My Friend Go? can serve as an effective coping tool and guide for adults to support children’s understanding and resilience. School shootings are sadly an unfortunate part of our children’s social word, and drills to prepare teachers and students for shootings have become routine in our schools. Nevertheless, it is critical that we ensure the mental and physical safety of our children and teachers in the process, and provide evidence based research on the short and long-term psychological impact and effectiveness of these drills.

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