Ramona Wood Hall

Ramona Wood Hall- home to the JSU school of education. 

Dr. Christie Calhoun was spending time with friends, looking at Christmas lights and enjoying the holiday season when she heard the news.

It was Dec. 14, 2012, and a 20-year-old man had entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and shot and killed 26 people. According to the Connecticut State Police After Action Report, 20 of them were children, all in the first grade, and six were adults. The report said that the man then shot and killed himself, and it was determined that he had killed his mother earlier that day.

At that time, Calhoun was teaching sixth grade at Weaver Elementary School, just south of JSU. She was broken-hearted and scared from the news. The tragedy’s total of 28 deaths made this the deadliest elementary school shooting in history.

“I remember thinking what a terrible thing it was, but not really grasping how terrible it was,” Calhoun said.

Today, 10 years after the Sandy Hook shootings, schools across the country have made new security measures routine, and colleges like JSU that train K-12 teachers try to prepare them for the unthinkable, even as colleges try to avoid becoming the scene of deadly violence themselves.

Calhoun is now the head of JSU’s department of curriculum and instruction, which prepares students for jobs in elementary and special education.

“Even now as part of our discussions in department meetings and things, we have these conversations about teaching safety because it’s still a very real discussion out there. School violence has not gone away, and situations on college campuses have not gone away, and so my students here and my faculty here have to take precautions,” Calhoun said.

It's on me

Kali Payne is a JSU senior majoring in education who plans to begin a job teaching fourth grade after she graduates in December. Payne said that the majority of her knowledge on how to deal with this type of situation came from her real-life experience in her practicum courses. 

JSU requires students to get experience working in several different schools while still in college. Payne witnessed a number of drills during her practicums, including active shooter drills. One occurred during her first week of her internship in a first-grade classroom.

“I had all the kids in the corner and shoved in the closet, and I was like, woah, it’s on me,” Payne said. “It was kind of scary, honestly.”

Calhoun remembers contemplating in the days of the Sandy Hook shooting what she would have done if she was in an active shooter situation.

“I think all teachers would have done the same thing. We are charged with protecting our students and I think any teacher would have thrown themselves in front of students to protect them,” Calhoun said. “It’s hard to say what we would do in the heat of the moment, but it’s what I would like to think that I would have done.”

Payne said that she is unsure how prepared she feels to be in that type of situation. 

“I feel like I could handle it… but I don’t know really how I would handle that situation until I was in that situation,” Payne said. 

Calhoun said the department has looked into curriculums that include safety measures that students will need to know moving forward. One curriculum that Calhoun has seen other schools implement is the CHAMPS program. This program looks at all the security measures, behavior, and safety measures that aren’t always obviously tied to safety and security. It brings to light the less obvious aspects of safety. Calhoun has been looking into bringing this program to JSU.

Michael Barton, the UPD chief of police and director of public safety said that it is also important to take security measures seriously on a college campus. He explained that since universities like JSU have a very open environment, somebody who does not belong is not going to stand out like he would at an elementary school. 

“For those of us in law enforcement I think when those things happen it just makes us mad,” Barton said. “Our job is to protect and to serve and we take that very, very seriously.”

UPD Assistant Director of Public Safety and Deputy Chief Brian Mann explained that campus police also have young children to protect in the JSU Child Development Center.

“We not only have college-age students but we have young children too in our Child Development Center. So the university has taken a very strong approach to protecting those children through security measures in place over there,” Mann said.

What would we do?

Calhoun said that after the Sandy Hook shooting she and her students were afraid of this type of thing happening in other places. 

“They were old enough to understand and hear the stories, and I remember them coming and asking questions about how something like that could happen, what would we do if something like that happened here?” Calhoun said.

School shootings did indeed increase after the event at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The United States has had 2,032 school shootings since 1970, and 948 of these occurred after Dec. 14, 2012, according to the Sandy Hook Promise website.

Sandy Hook Promise is a nonprofit organization founded by family members of those who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Their goal is to educate children and adults in order to prevent violence in atmospheres with children.

UPD Sgt. David Becker said that after the Sandy Hook shooting, schools started to focus more on keeping elementary schools safe from similar threats.

“Everyone was focused on high schools and trying to worry about shootings at high schools, but nobody had really worried about elementary schools until that point. A lot more security measures were put into elementary schools than they ever had before,” Becker said. 

While Weaver Elementary School already had measures in place for such an event, Calhoun said that after the Sandy Hook shooting they were practiced more often. They had drills, established codes to alert of danger, and the central office and administrative faculty members started paying closer attention, according to Calhoun.

As for Calhoun’s classroom, which was on the ground floor, one thing they had to take into consideration was the windows. They had to keep them clear in case they needed to use them as an escape, but they also had to be prepared to cover them in case they needed to block someone from seeing inside. The rooms also had a small window beside the door, and a student’s mother made decorative curtains for them that were weighted so they could be dropped to cover the window quickly and easily.

“It’s a tough time for a lot of reasons to be a teacher,” Calhoun said. “I think that teachers now, we have a lot of responsibility, not just to make sure that students are learning all the things that we need to learn, but that we are kept safe and secure and feel loved.”

Mann and Barton both advised that students should watch out for behavior that might indicate danger. Mann said that students should call or email the department or make a report on the Cocky Watch app if they notice anything unusual or suspicious. 

“If you see something, say something,” Barton said. “Safety is everybody’s responsibility.”