Preschool-aged children undergo active shooter safety training

- Active shooter drills are the new norm in many schools not just nationwide, but in the Valley.

High schools, middle schools and now even preschool-aged children are learning what do in case there's a gunman.

This isn't a scare tactic. It's just the new reality.

When the lights are turned off at Susie's Mama Bear Child Care center in Phoenix, it's not always nap time. It might actually be a wake up call, a difficult life lesson for children who probably aren't ready to learn it yet.

Once it's dark in the classroom, lead teacher for three year olds Lynn Thomson closes the blinds, and ushers her students into a closet or bathroom.

"They trust me and that's the key," said Thompson.

What's key for Thompson is saving lives, in a worst case scenario. A day care teacher for 29 years, Thompson never imagined practicing an active shooter drill with the young children she spends her days with.

"It's harder for this age group, but if you do songs already that they know, and you go in there for a quiet drill and you keep them quiet," said Thompson. "We do quiet songs, and they're already ones that they know."

Susie's Mamma Bear's owner and operator, Susie Sanson, has 40 years of experience in child care. She knows a one, two, or three-year-old will react differently to an emergency than a 12, 13, or 14-year-old, which is part of the reason she makes sure everyone is prepared. Sanson runs a quarterly training to make sure every teacher and staff member is up to date.

"We do have set up like to go in the ones room or the twos room, where we are going to need more help, and so we would shuffle our support staff into those classrooms," said Sanson. "We have different children every day, so you can't expect it to be the same every day. You have to be ready for change, and you have to think ahead of what could be."

Thompson says repetition is key, and that is why she practices this drill every day.

"You do it every day with the kids," said Thompson. "I have them get used to it because if some don't come, the days they did come they are used to it."

Thompson stocks the closet with water, snacks, and blankets. She Whispers, even signs the songs that keep the three-year-olds distracted, and most importantly, quiet enough that a suspected shooter wouldn't hear them.

"If they come in our room, I will bolt myself against the door, which is what I was doing with my back up against the door," said Thompson. "And the children, if they're bumping or whatever, I can still -- 'let's do The Wheels On The Bus'. They're still quiet. They're calm. They're doing an action."

"They're so little," said Sanson. "They're so innocent. You think about ten years from now, what are they going to be talking about and worrying about? I mean, it's pretty scary." 

Both Sanson and Thompson say the drills aren't scary for the children. They look at them as more of a game, at least at this point.

Their innocence, unknown to them, has been changed even by a simple drill, which is said to be a necessary evil.

"It's a sad thing to do, but that's what it is," said Thompson.

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