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Keeping vigilant: Riverton teachers review drills after Connecticut shooting

Dec 18, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Riverton teachers and administrators headed to work Monday with last week's Connecticut school shooting still fresh in their minds.

"Like every educator in the United States, I thought about the Newton, Conn., crisis over the weekend," Jackson Elementary School principal and Fremont County School District 25 crisis coordinator Owen Lampert said Tuesday. "We take our role of protectors of children seriously."

At Jackson, where the oldest students are in second grade, Lampert said there was not a lot of discussion Monday about the tragedy.

"Every psychologist in the world says don't say anything unless the kids ask," he said. "Our kids are so little they're pretty much oblivious."

He was on his way to a district-wide meeting Tuesday where administrators planned to talk about safety measures that already are in place locally. The district employs three full-time, armed school resource officers who make frequent, unannounced visits to schools, Owen said, and each building is accessible only by one front entrance.

Alarm systems are tested regularly, and broadcast radios have been installed at each school that can be used to communicate throughout the district in an emergency. Schools also practices lockdown drills on a monthly basis in addition to evacuation drills, and the district has a crisis team whose members are assigned specific roles and responsibilities in case of an emergency. The team meets at least annually with county law enforcement officials and attends conferences, trainings and workshops to be informed about the most up-to-date prevention, preparedness, response and recovery techniques.

"Mass communication plans are in place," Lampert wrote in a letter to staff. "Visitor and volunteer passes are issued to guests at the schools. Classrooms are equipped with emergency supplies in the event of a long-term situation."

School resource officers

SRO Cody Myers called the district "vigilant" when it comes to risk management.

"I think we're pretty on track with what we need to do," Myers said Monday. "We're pretty proactive with having three SROs in the first place. You just don't see that happening a lot."

Riverton's SROs were scheduled to attend an out-of-town event Friday, but Myers said the local officers decided to stay home after hearing about the Connecticut shooting.

"We did stay in school ... just for the comfort thing, just to be here," Myers said. "We had concerned parents calling."

Myers said he will continue to gather new information at conferences and other training events to ensure Riverton schools maintain the best possible safety practices during emergencies. Just last weekend, for example, he and other SROs attended an event put on by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and in March he will participate in "response option" training that focuses on alternatives to the traditional lockdown at schools.

"We have to teach our teachers you don't have to be a victim," Myers said. "You've got to be able to make a decision and go with that. If you think you can get out, maybe you need to re-look at those things."

Riverton High School principal Joanne Flanagan said her teachers met after school Monday to talk about their feelings in response to the tragedy.

"When something like that happens I think it affects everybody, but when you work at a school and this is your life and what you do, I think it hits you at a different level," she said. "We needed to process that a bit."

Reviewing plans

She said teachers had questions during the meeting about what they should do in several "what if" situations that are difficult to predict and prepare for.

"If something were to happen, it probably wouldn't happen in a way we would've drilled it," Flanagan said. "At the end of the day I have to trust ... teachers to do what is right to keep (students) safe within the confines of the plan, or maybe not. If doing something else besides what we've planned is going to save a class of children, then do that. We had a bit of that discussion."

Teachers reportedly talked about keeping canned goods or buckets of rocks in their rooms to throw at possible intruders, and they discussed the benefits of trying to escape the school instead of staying put in an emergency. But Flanagan said it's best for instructors to utilize the tools they have at their disposal on a daily basis to ensure their students are safe.

"We do have plans in place and we need to be trained and knowledgeable to follow those plans, (but) we're not police officers," Flanagan said. "Our background is teaching, caretaking, compassion and caring."

She advised the staff to take care of all of their kids every day emotionally and socially by knowing individual needs and communicating with one another if a student is not doing well.

"(We're) making sure we're reaching out to those kids and protecting all of our students every day from the difficulties of being teenagers," Flanagan said.

At Central Wyoming College, a student concern team meets regularly to identify people who may need extra support. If someone has stopped coming to class, for example, they get a call from a team member.

Myers talked about anti-bullying programs and other methods in use locally to help bolster students' self esteem.

"We just have to keep it going," he said. "You need to believe in yourself. We're all special, and we all have something to give."

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