Drills, Intruders, & the Mental Health of Children

Brianna Harris

I remember being 7 years old in elementary school. I was in the 3rd grade living in freedom with no worries, no fears, just dreaming, and imagining what I wanted to be when I grew up. I even remember my 3rd grade teacher’s name, Mrs. Haggerty. Mrs. Haggerty was my favorite teacher in that school, she taught me a lot. I learned how to read, write, solve math problems, the connection between culture and environment in social studies, and about the weather and climate in science. No matter how many students were in the classroom, Mrs. Haggerty was always prepared. One day I remember coming into class and Mrs. Haggerty telling us students about how we were going to have an intruder drill at the end of class that day. I then asked her, what is an intruder? “An intruder is somebody who can come into wherever you are and cause harm to you,” she said.

I asked her, why would an intruder want to harm us? As she paused, “well, when people go through things and never talk to anybody about them, they start to view the world differently. Either they want to cause harm to themselves, or they want to cause harm to others.” Later that day, on the intercom we all heard a voice loudly say, teachers and students we have an intruder on campus, CODE RED! I repeat, CODE RED! Mrs. Haggerty, while rushing to the door, turned out the lights, and used her key to lock it, “everybody go into the corner and be very quiet,” she stated. Imagine being a child not fully understanding what that means. Fear, worry, and anxiety for all parties involved.

Twenty minutes later, I heard someone tugging at the door. My heart raced, even though
it was a drill, it still felt real. During drills you had to remain in the corner until you heard, All
Clear! The drill is now over! While heading back to our seats, Mrs. Haggerty asked us if we had
any questions about what we had just been through. I raised my hand, Mrs. Haggerty answered,“yes, my dear?” “Mrs. Haggerty, if an intruder were to come to the school, why would the police not already be here? Aren’t they supposed to protect us?” Mrs. Haggerty chuckled, “yes, they would already be on their way, I am sure somebody would have called them.” “But Mrs. Haggerty,” I then replied, “why can’t we have them already here?”

Around the early 2000’s school intruders were not common in elementary schools. It was
a time where there were no school shootings, no parents worrying about their kid not coming
home. Also, no calls being made to the teacher’s family letting them know of the protection that the teacher gave to the students in their last final hours. Being in the 3rd grade, I was taught to hide, but why wasn’t I taught to express the way I felt? Why were we as students not informed to speak up about the challenges we were facing, whether at home or at school? During that time, we did not really hear too much about mental health and going to therapy to talk if we were not ok. Also, it made me wonder why there were no police guarding every doorway surrounding the schools?

I remember reading “What Gun Violence Does to Mental Health,” an article by Christina
Caron. Caron was a reporter for the New York Times. In her article, Caron talked about an
incident where there were two teenage intruders who came into Columbine High School in 1999, killed 13 people and injured 21 more before taking their own lives. As I read into the article it gave me insight on how poorly America has failed our children. How is it that we let children grow up with no voice, bullied, and then label them as socially awkward? Imagine the mental stability of that child who now grows into a teen unable to handle the problems of the world. Is it so hard to believe that the lack of mental health support and opportunity to express their opinions can create adults who can become future school shooters?

The issue of how children are treated is not a new concern. Maria Montessori, the founder of The Montessori Method of Education informs us on how “No social problem is as universal as the oppression of the child.” There is no problem so dominant in the world as the oppression of the child, which often ends up being ignored. Many times, we train children how to avoid execution, teaching our children ways of survival rather than giving knowledge to the unknown. At what times are we going to start listening, educating, and giving compassion to the children? Society is silent.

Society can unknowingly plant seeds that can affect children in a negative way up until adulthood. Allowing children to go through the beginning stages of life not knowing what they are carrying inside is a scary place to be comfortable with. Unexpressed emotions can lead to depression, mood disorders, suicides, and other mental health issues. It also can create more mass violence in schools. Not only does this affect children’s mental health but also affects those in the community, and the nation.

Depression is a mental disorder that affects mood, behavior, and overall health, not only in adults but children as well. It causes feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed. For children depression can be a chronic, debilitating condition with major impact on family, social and intrapsychic life. Early detection makes it easy for first treatment, which is key to preserving a child’s continued growth and development. Depression can consist of many co-morbid diagnosis, psychosocial stressors within the family, developmental differences, and medical illnesses. Studies show that 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have been diagnosed with anxiety (Moran). 3.2% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have been diagnosed with depression (Moran).

What can we do to ensure children have a safe place to express themselves? How can we encourage teachers all around the world to make it easy for children to understand what is going on around them? Let us start with putting therapists who are trained for children interaction in schools, instead of having guidance counselors who are only placed in schools for academic inquiries. Children need adults who will understand, listen, and will help them overcome any fears, worries, or anxiety. I would love for schools to push teachers to inform children with valuable and more detailed information about how, when, and why drills are necessary, instead of just telling children to hide in a corner or hide under their desks. We tell children how to do a certain thing or how not to do a certain thing, but we do not explain the basic principles of why they are doing it. Children need to grow up in the world knowing it is ok to ask questions. Society needs teachers like Mrs. Haggerty who not only informed us of specific information about intruders and drills but gave us compassion to feel safe.

Mrs. Haggerty’s class never felt unsafe for us students, her classroom was a safe place, a second home even. Although Mrs. Haggerty was just getting used to intruder drills, there was never a question she could not answer. The freedom, love, protection, and patience that she gave to us showed how much she cared about us. But even Mrs. Haggerty’s approach to these drills can be improved. By focusing on educational programs about mental health and gun violence, so that young students will have a better understanding of what is going on and why, future children in classrooms (and teachers) will be more equipped to make sense of the chaos and confusion that surround gun violence and legislation. Students deserve to be treated as intelligent humans, not just framed as vulnerable and scared children who lack the maturity to think critically about mass violence and their own mortality.

Works Cited

Caron, Christina. “What Gun Violence Does to Our Mental Health.” nytimes.com,What Gun Violence Does to Our Mental Health – The New York Times (nytimes.com) Accessed 24 October 2022

Moran, Amy. “Depression Statistics Everyone Should Know.” verywellmind.com,Depression Statistics Everyone Should Know (verywellmind.com). Accessed 27 October 2022

Montessori, Maria. “The Oppression of a Child.” montessoridaoshi.com,The Oppression of the Child (montessoridaoshi.com) Accessed 24 October 2022