Friday, April 06, 2012

A Dangerous Town

I called my parents while I was walking up 5th Avenue last week. As I had hoped, I caught them at lunch time and I chatted with them for a bit as I made my way from the Frick to the Met. I talked about my trip so far, but mostly I talked about how excited I am to take my students to New York.

I am so excited to show them the city, to take them to Broadway, to teach them how to ride the metro, and, in at least two of their cases, to escort them on their first plane ride.  Since my first year teaching I've talked about taking students to New York.  Each time I visited the city I imagined how different kids would react to it, what each of them will like and be astonished by.  The groups of kids I imagined changed each year, but this time, this time! the group of kids I imagined walking into the Met will actually get to do so in less than two months. 

Now that the musical's done and the tour company is finally starting to tell me some of the details of the trip, I arranged for an after-school meeting today with these lucky ten kids.  We'll do a Big Meeting closer to the trip.  That will be the one for their parents to come to as well, the one where I can go over all the minute details and reassure everyone that they will be fine, they will be safe.  I know the kids are a little bit nervous and at least some of the parents are an awful lot nervous about New York City.  One of the parents who is also the local fire chief said he might get some of his firemen-buddies in New York to follow our group around while we're there.  I'm not entirely sure he was joking about it either.  We'll talk about the basics of safety, how to avoid being pick-pocketed, going everywhere in groups, and so on.  I'm not worried.  Not only are we sticking to the big touristy areas, but the tour company provides around-the-clock supervision and security, even in the hotel.  Which is in Jersey.

This meeting is a little one.  A few updates, a few questions for them to settle, a few tasks for them to do.  Mostly it's to pump them up even more for the trip and make sure everything's going according to plan.  I've been looking forward to this meeting all week, and I spent part of the morning making up the agenda and researching the details for our possible third show.

The tour company told me we'll be seeing Phantom on Sunday (boo!) and Newsies on Saturday (yay!), which means Friday night is available for us to do a show on our own.  The students want to see Sleep No More.  I had told them about the show even before I saw it, and they're dying to experience it.  That's understandable, but I'm not so sure their parents want them to see it, what with the naked people and the blood and all.

I want this other show, whatever it is, to provide a contrast to the two classic Broadway musicals we're doing on the tour.  So I made some phone calls and read reviews and found the Off-Broadway London-transfer Potted Potter, a two-man 70-minute blackbox theater reenactment of all seven Harry Potter books, including a Quidditch match, (the trailer for it is here) and Peter and the Starcatcher, a new Broadway (non-musical) play which sounds like something out of the Lookingglass Theater and is therefore perfectly my taste (no decent trailer yet - the show's just barely in previews and the press materials are scarce).

I was going to tell them about those shows today after school and let them vote.  But then!  Fate intervened in the form of a mysterious stranger and small rodents.  Midway through the last class our principal got on the loudspeaker to announce that we were going into "Shelter-in-Place."  "You are safe," he assured us, "but this is not a drill.  Teachers, please secure the perimeter."

My Humanities class, perplexed, looked at me over the laptops on which they had been working.  I reassured them that everything was fine, told them to continue working, and set out "securing the perimeter."

Not being a full lock-down, I simply double-checked to make sure my door was locked, shut it, slid the green card underneath to signal that all was well, turned off the lights in the hallway that leads from my classroom door to my actual room, shut and locked the three other doors in that hallway (an office and two bathrooms), dropped the blinds on my windows, then had the students move their desks over about four feet to ensure that they couldn't be seen by any passers-by.  The students kept working on their assignments, and I returned to grading papers.

About twenty minutes later the principal made another all-call to announce that we would remain on Shelter-in-Place for the remainder of the day.  No students were allowed in the hallways, and the doors were to remain locked.  Moreover, all after-school activities and sports events were cancelled and the students were to go immediately to the buses or their cars when they were dismissed.  The administration and several police officers would be in the halls and parking lot to make sure the students left immediately and safely.

Well.  After that announcement it took a bit more work to get the students to refocus their attention on their assignments.  They speculated on what was going on, but I had no more information than they did.  When the bell rang, the building emptied even quicker than usual for a beautiful, warm Friday afternoon.  I stood outside my door, and indeed my group of New York travelers came up in a huddle.

"No meeting?" they asked, sounding as disappointed as I was.

"Apparently not," I shrugged.  We briefly discussed and rescheduled for next Tuesday, Monday being Senior Ditch Day.  They headed off to the bus, and I went in search of an explanation.

I found one from Hugh, a history teacher who was in the midst of making phone calls to reschedule the rugby game he was supposed to have coached after school.  Apparently a state trooper had been driving down the highway that runs alongside our school when he passed an individual, an adult of uncertain gender, who was walking alongside the road carrying a "suspicious stick, possibly a rifle" and acting "strangely."  The trooper couldn't stop, so he called it in to the sheriff's office.  The officer who was sent out to investigate drove up and down the road, but couldn't see the individual anywhere.  So the police responded by putting our school on security-alert while they searched the road and forest for this person.

The principal, who had joined our group by this point, said that it probably was a rifle.  "It's [Mountain Town]," he said.  "They were probably out shooting prairie dogs.  Hell, it could have been my neighbor.  He's got plenty of guns."

This led him and the other older teachers in our group to recall the time a few years ago when a former student "got a little angry."  He stole a police car, hitting an officer in the process, and led them on a high-speed chase down that same freeway.  "By the time he got to the main drag," Mike said, "everyone knew about it, and half of [Mountain Town] grabbed their guns and ran out their front doors to fire at him as he drove by."

So I didn't get to talk to my students about New York today.  It does give me something to look forward to next week.  In the meantime, I am going to keep wondering how people from such a town as this could possibly worry about their child's safety in such a town as New York City.

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