LAPS staff await the arrival of students at the First Baptist Church on Diamon Drive. Photo Courtesy LAPS
Earlier this month, students and staff from Barranca Elementary School particpated in a parent reunification exercise to practice the state-required off site evacuation drill to evaluate our school district’s preparedness in the event of an emergency. Over 350 students were bused from the school to the First Baptist Church on Diamond Drive where staff met them and escorted them to the church hall. Parents then checked in with staff as part of the process and were reunited with their students.
In a message to parents, Barranca Principal Gina Terrazas said, “The event went extremely well and we learned a lot. Feedback from parents, students and [the] community was positive and constructive.”
The purpose of the exercise was to:
- improve our communication skills and ability to assure student safety;
- quickly reunify students with families;
- learn more about our district’s preparedness when it comes to unexpected events and coordinating with supporting agencies;
- Identify areas of strengths and areas of weakness.
District Safety Coordinator Susan Fellows and the district safety committee spent several months developing the plans for the exercise and troubleshooting various scenarios. “It is a valuable exercise for our students and parents, but it is an important part of our district’s safety protocols,” said Fellows. “We value safety and ensuring that our schools are safe is a key part of our strategic plan.”
“The practice that the students had, being able to get on the bus and come here when there wasn’t danger, and that they talk about it is really important.” said school board member Andrea Cunningham, who was on hand for the exercise. “It gives them resiliency and helps them understand that if a challenge comes up, they can trust that the adults know what they’re doing to be able to handle the situation.”
Barranca staff, including teachers, instructional assistants and administration, as well as facilities, transportation and central office staff, were assigned jobs from guiding students onto the waiting buses at the school site and then meeting them at the church to keeping students in groups in the church hall. Others checked paperwork of parents picking up students, Runners were then given the paperwork, found the students in the church hall and walked them from the teacher to the checkout area. IDs were checked and paperwork signed before students were released. All students were reunited with their parents by noon.
“I think the clearly defined jobs and consistency was the key to all of our success,” said Meagon Fiengo, one of the teachers at Barranca Elementary.
Afterwards, staff had the opportunity to evaluate what went well and what improvements could be made to the process. For instance, it was noted that there was a bottleneck created where parents were picking up students since there were only three tables.
Cunningham pointed out the importance for parents and the community to understand why this exercise is necessary and the benefits of students having this practice. “You don’t want to learn under duress,” she said. “An emergency is not the time to do something for the first time.”
All LAPS schools practice fire drills, shelter, lockout and lockdown drills on a regular basis as part of the district’s safe school plans. The reunification drill is another piece of the process to ensure that students and staff are prepared for any emergency.
“Parents send their students to our schools with the expectation that they will receive a quality education in a safe environment,” stated Jennifer Guy, assistant superintendent for learning and accountability. “We strive every day to meet these expectations, and this exercise was just one part of the process to ensure that our students are safe in our schools and our community.”