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Safe in school

Who holds crossfire drills? Your school might if you were in an area affected by an armed conflict or other emergency. Use this glimpse of an education setting in a conflict zone to explore the preparations students can make to stay safe.


It's also a timely link into the way Sandy Hook, the school in Connecticut that suffered devastating fatal shootings in December, has prepared for the new term. Discuss the value of routine in establishing safety and comfort - and help students develop some of their own resilience-building measures.


Crossfire drill


Show students the picture and invite views on what is happening. After discussion, say that it is a classroom safety drill in a school in the town of Toribío in northern Colombia. Can students guess what kind of drill it is? What is the school preparing students for? Talk about what students know of life in this part of South America. Explain that it is an ‘armed conflict drill’ - not a fire drill, but a crossfire drill.


The pupils live in an area which has seen a longstanding internal armed conflict, with fighting between government forces and armed rebel and paramilitary groups. Schools think it is important to prepare students for the possibility that armed conflict could come to or near the school premises.


Invite students to say what the children might be thinking and saying to each other. In their position, would students be irritated by the interruption or glad about it? Would they be bored or scared? How would it be different if it was a real drama not a drill?


By the end of the activity students will be able to describe how they would feel during a practice drill in case of armed conflict reaching their school.



Advice, reassurance and action


Ask students to imagine that they are a teacher in a school in a region where security is unstable. An internal armed conflict has been going on for some years.


Invite students to think about what advice or reassurance they would give pupils. Try to think of something practical that might reduce the risk, or help pupils feel less anxious, more prepared and in control. Do this is as whole group exercise or split into smaller groups, then share.


Focus on what students may have heard or seen about situations in conflict zones. Or use the following situations:

  • There are landmines and unexploded shells in the area around the school.
  • Some families are thinking of leaving their homes and moving to a safer part of the country.
  • Pupils are afraid of going home after school, especially after dark, because of the fighting.
  • There have been rumours that children are being forcibly used as look-outs and to transport weapons and supplies for armed groups.

For a more ambitious project, develop a short play based on the imagined response to conflict of a group of children or teenagers in school.


By the end of the activity students will be able to identify a series of measures that might help children feel safer in a conflict zone.



Sandy Hook shooting


The scene in the photograph may have reminded students of the devastating loss of young lives in the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, USA at the end of last year. Talk about what students recall from the news coverage of this tragic incident on 14 December 2012, in which 20 children (aged six or seven) and six staff died.


Focus on those who survived and ask students how the authorities might be helping them during this new school term. Ask them to list the pros and cons for the pupils' health and adjustment of going back into the same school. On balance, would it be better to go back to the same building or start a new school?


In fact, because the school building is a crime scene and closed indefinitely, there was no choice. However great efforts have been made to recreate a familiar environment within a disused nearby school. According to press reports, volunteers spent several weeks moving furniture from Sandy Hook school to the new building, trying to make students comfortable by recreating classrooms as exactly as possible - including, for example, the way crayons were left on desks.


How important is this familiarity? The local school authority wrote to parents: "re-establishing routines following any disaster has been found to promote resiliency while also reducing the negative effects of a tragedy like that which occurred in our school...We all find safety and predictability in our routines, and children are no different."


Discuss how resilience - people's ability to overcome adversity - can be helped by routine. Invite students to think of, and optionally share, examples in their own lives when they have felt better after getting back into a familiar pattern. Was it a big effort, or was it easy? Were they just glad to get back to normal or were there some unexpected challenges? Will it affect their approach, or one they suggest to others, in future?


By the end of the activity students will be able to explain how establishing a routine and familiarity can be a helpful way of recovering after a shocking event.



Learn a new drill


Think about the practice drill in the photograph. Armed conflict is not a realistic threat in UK schools. But fires are very common - which is why fire practices are a regular part of life. Invite students to brainstorm other adverse events to which they could, in theory at least, devise and practise a routine response. Be creative and think of actual emergencies that students have faced or heard about - being locked out of a house, losing a phone, having your wallet or purse stolen, missing the last bus home.


Select one or more and work out a ‘drill’ in response. If possible, practise it with role play. For example, students could take different parts in a play about losing a phone and having to find the number to report it missing and get it back.


By the end of the activity students will be able to describe a sequence of practical responses to a realistic emergency they may one day face.



Knowing what to do


How do you find out what to do? The previous activity may well have thrown up essential questions - what do you do when you lose your purse? Do the police have a lost property department? Who else does? Once you've reported your phone missing, what's the quickest and cheapest way of getting it back?


Ask students to develop a long list of possible sources of information and advice about what to do. Include informal sources, such as known adults, friends and internet discussion forums, as well as government advice, specialist charity websites and the emergency services. Once they've devised a list, talk about which are most relevant, dependable and trustworthy. Then rank them in order.


By the end of the activity students will be able to identify some of the sources of information and advice they most trust.






This lesson plan was written by PJ White in January 2013.

This resource and other free educational materials are available at 


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