COLUMN: From lockdown to circle time

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Last Tuesday morning, Janet Grant got a phone call from her boss John Gaiptman, New West’s superintendent of schools.

Grant, SD40’s director of instruction, was told Alissa Arnold’s French immersion Kindergarten class from Lord Tweedsmuir elementary was at Science World, which was now in lockdown.

Earlier, a man had been shot in Yaletown. There’d been an exchange of gunfire with police and he’d fled on a bike. Further along, outside Science World, more bullets flew, leaving the shooter and an officer injured.

On Twitter, people shared photos of the injured lying on the pavement, police vehicles, yellow tape. A dramatic scene, from a distance.

Grant was asked to help coordinate the response at Tweedsmuir.

As she would later learn, the adults opened the door to exit Science World and were about to guide the group of five and six years olds onto the plaza when they heard gunshots. They quickly rushed back inside, where they huddled in the gift shop, away from the windows.

Meantime, at Tweedsmuir, principal Patti Farris had a visitor, school police liaison officer Const. Carmel Keenan. At their meeting they were discussing, among other things, lockdown protocols.

Arnold’s first call came from the gift shop: Science World was in full lockdown. The kids were all safe.

Over the next hour or so, Arnold called frequently with updates, aware that parents who had heard the news would be anxious.

“She was a star through the whole thing,” Grant told me. “I cannot say enough about this teacher.”

Later, Arnold called to say the kids had been moved into the theatre, where they were watching Journey to the South Pacific and enjoying popcorn.

At such a tender age, how much did they understand what was happening? That’s a mystery.

Meanwhile, back in New West, a team of people were preparing for the students’ return.

“We didn’t want our response to make them think they should be upset,” said Grant.

Counsellors from other schools were called in to help.

As parents arrived to pick up their kids, they were ushered into the learning centre for a briefing with Jane Osborne, a middle school counsellor. Another counsellor was ready in case Mme. Arnold or Val Keith, the educational assistant who accompanied the field trip, needed support upon their return. Having held it together throughout the incident, they might feel an emotional whiplash when it was over.

In the learning centre, parents were urged to project calm to their children.

As Ms. Farris would say in the letter sent home to all parents later in the day, it was best to avoid media coverage and not probe about the incident. If your child brings it up, by all means respond, but don’t unduly inflate their experience.

“I think our sense was right,” Grant said, “that parents might be more traumatized… as they knew the full extent of the situation.”

Another concern: What if the media swooped in with cameras and microphones just as the kids arrived in their school bus?

Grant anticipated this, and police were there to keep media at bay (which might have raised anxiety in itself, but perhaps was lesser of two evils).

When the children arrived back at school, the ever-calm Ms. Farris, who retires this month, greeted them.

The students and parents who accompanied them returned to their class, as they would normally do.

Food and drinks were awaiting them, as the lockdown meant they’d missed lunch.

Many were grateful for that.

And then one girl said, ‘Hey, Madame Arnold, what about my show and tell?”

So she called the kids over to the carpet, and they all participated in a routine they practice every day in their Kindergarten class.

And, as often happens, a calm descended as ritual took over.

The other parents were quietly ushered in from the learning centre and stood at the edges of the room.

“We wanted the children to have an end to the day that was very natural and normal,” said Grant.

A friend of mine was one of those parents.

When show and tell was done, he walked up to his son and casually said “How was your day, buddy?”

And he heard about the wonderful things kids learn at Science World.

About gravity and how rollercoasters work. And they even got to watch a movie.

Exactly the kinds of things that should happen when you go to a place like that.

Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.

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