During the 2013-14 school year, Woodmore staff and students will be given the tools to protect themselves and save their own lives during a violent situation through ALICE training.
ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The main goal of the system is to help students and teachers feel empowered and prepared to do whatever is necessary to stay alive when a threat is present. It stresses that traditional lockdown is inappropriate during imminent or life-threatening danger. Instead, those involved are encouraged to run, throw books, barricade the doors and, in an extreme situation, swarm the attacker and disarm him or her.
The company that developed the system insisted that a “good school” was responsible for not only education, inspiration and social engagement, but also safety for its students.
Principal Jim Kieper doesn’t want students to start throwing books just yet. He stressed it has been a long and carefully planned process for him, and it will be the same for Woodmore students.
“I was exploring this while at Whitmer,” he said. “Most Ottawa County schools already use it.”
He wants to make sure that students are fully informed.
“It will take a lot of preparation and trust,” Kieper said. Students will eventually have to go through training and simulations, and he wants to make sure they feel comfortable before subjecting them to stressful situations.
Before school started, Kieper and the staff went through a simulation with the Elmore and Woodville police in which blank shots were fired to replicate the stress and fear involved. Kieper was surprised by how well the system worked.
First, the building went into a normal lockdown while a “shooter” (armed with an airsoft gun) roamed the building and shot at the easy targets.
“I actually got ‘shot’ three times,” he said.
After that, they were encouraged to counter, barricade, and evacuate if possible. How did this system fare for Kieper?
“I wasn’t shot at all that time,” he said, smiling.
Community and student support will be a big factor. Clearly, this could be a controversial subject, but Kieper wants people to know that the system is based on defense, not offense. A common misconception, no student or teacher is encouraged to go after the attacker or to “be a hero.” The main goal is to increase survivability and decrease fear.
Some students, including senior Ali Smathers, are welcoming this new approach.
“Lockdown is pretty much someone choosing your fate for you,” Smathers said. “I like that I have the choice now.”
Unfortunately, support may take time and education on the subject. Kieper said that even some teachers were against the system until they experienced the training.
The future for ALICE is bright, but until information is given to the community and support is gathered, it is still in the works for Woodmore.
School violence worldwide
Tragic events that occurred in the past few years in the U.S., Europe and all over the world made it clear that school violence is not just an American phenomenon, but a significant worldwide problem.
While the U.S. is still the country with most reported cases of school violence, Germany comes right after. On the morning of March 11, 2009, at a secondary school in Winnenden, Germany, a 17-year-old graduate came to his former school and killed himself after shooting 16 classmates and teachers.
Three years earlier, something similar happened in Emsdetten, where 37 people were injured. After that, the German government took measures to better handle future situations.
It was discovered that they weren’t prepared for such incidents, and so the shooting in Winnenden put them under pressure to come up with a completely new emergency plan. Alarm systems were installed and once each term, they simulate how to react if there was a shooter. German gun policy is very strict, but the shooting in Winnenden launched the discussion to tighten the rules even more.
Erwin Kupris, 16-year-old student from Germany, feels like minor cases of school violence like fights and bullying have become an everyday problem.
“Almost every day there’s a fight in the hallway and the teachers don’t really know what to do. There should be more prevention projects and the parents need to get involved. Also, everyone needs to stand up against bullying,” said Kupris. “But I don’t really think about school shootings. I know there have been several, and yes, it’s horrible, but it always seems so far away on television.”
In Italy, it wasn’t a student who committed the crime, but the Mafia. On May 12, 2012, the Mafia hid a gas bomb outside a high school in Brindisi, a small town in the south of Italy, killing one girl and injuring five more.
Sandro Lorito, 18-year-old college student from Italy, assumes that the violence at schools in his home country happen for different reasons than the violence in the U.S. He said that he has never heard of someone coming to school and shooting others.
“Still, a lot of boys and girls don’t feel safe. Most of the problem here is linked with bullying, racism and drugs. Also, in big cities, the Mafia is really frightening,” Lorito adds.
Italian schools recently launched a commission to look into the safety issues in schools and will train teachers to deal with events. The parliament is planning on providing four million Euros (5.4 million U.S. dollars) for this matter.
Surveys have shown that countries all around the world have troubles with aggressive students. Vincent Peillon, French minister of education, reported that in the year 2000, 39 out of 75,000 schools in France were found to be seriously violent, and 300 were considered violent, but to a lesser extent.
South Australia recorded 175 attacks against students or staff in one year, and in Japan there were about 52,756 cases of violence in public schools recorded; 7,000 of these targeted teachers.
Sandra Vanaselja, 17-year-old student from Estonia, is worried about modern media making things worse.
“School shootings never have been a real thing here [in Estonia]so far, but seeing what happens in other countries on television can give kids bad ideas. Everyone in every country needs to work on this serious problem,” said Vanaselja.
(Woodmore High School students Post and Hack wrote this story for Window To Woodmore, a student publication, and it is reprinted here with permission. Hack, from the small-town city Erding, in the southern part of Germany near Munich, is the only exchange student at Woodmore this year.)