Just yesterday I held the receiver of the phone in one hand, begging a negotiations officer to send the SWAT team in, who now surrounded my house, to rescue my two girls as I held the basement door shut. My husband had just walked downstairs, his rifle strewn across his chest, to confront our son about why the police had come to our house in the first place. It wasn’t his fault his PTSD from the war had kicked in when the police arrived, but now two officers lay dead or wounded on our front lawn, and I was scared for my children and for myself. I had never seen him this angry before.
If you’re confused or frightened, I understand. What I really did yesterday? I played the role of a wife in this exact situation and other situations as part of a SWAT Team and Crisis Negotiation Team Training for our local police department. The police liaison at our school knew of my acting background and contacted me last week to participate in several hostage/crisis scenarios. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I am so glad I agreed.
In preparation for this day of training, a crisis scenario had been brainstormed by several members of the police department that somewhat mirrored a real situation that had occurred in another state just last October. The training took place in a house just behind the fire station whose interior had never been seen by any member of the teams, including those who created the scenario. I was given details about the scenario and then entered the house along with my “husband” and “three children” where we waiting for the first call.
From start to finish, officers approached the house as if it was a real case. Body bags had previously been placed on the yard to resemble the officers who had been shot and required medical attention. Snipers were positioned inconspicuously around the house. And the negotiations team was hurriedly collecting information about the situation and who might be inside the house, preparing to make contact.
The phone rang, and I answered acting in the way I had been coached, saying things I had been directed to say. The same scenario was used multiple times throughout the day, though some people rotated duties among their teams, and the role players (me) were given new directions that would ultimately lead to different outcomes: peaceful surrender, hostage situation, requiring the use of a throw phone (which was brought in by a robot!!!!), a secret bedroom window rescue of my two “daughters,” among other things.
The entire day was exhilarating and fun, yet terrifying at the same time, considering these are real scenarios that could and have played out. At the end of the day, I found myself absolutely impressed with the men and women working for safety and justice in our neighborhood. The level of calm and quick-thinking displayed with every one of them among such highly intense and emotional circumstances heightened my respect and gratefulness for this group of people, having been given this unique glimpse into their reality.
There is one phrase I heard over and over throughout the day. Different people at different times said it to me or near me. I heard it while being prepped for the day in the morning. The officer coaches in the house with me during the scenarios mentioned it numerous times. I was told by officers between scenarios. Several people offered it again during the debriefing session following the final scenario. The thing I heard so many times from so many people yesterday was, “You have no idea what a difference it makes to have real role players instead of coworkers during scenario training sessions like this.”
I had been thinking about that all day. For their training yesterday, they were “called” to the scene of a house none had ever seen before. The voices on the other end of the phone had never been heard before. The faces inside those walls had never been seen before. Many officers commented about how quickly their hearts jumped when they realized there were REAL kids in the house! The gravity of the situation was suddenly different, the focus stronger.
As I sat in my car today, waiting for my new brakes to be installed at the Express Lube, I couldn’t stop thinking about yesterday. Learning never stops. No matter what profession you assume, the hobbies you explore, the adventures you choose to embark upon, learning never stops. And the best learning occurs when genuine, authentic experiences are put before you. It’s why the police department called me in yesterday. It’s why our students are so much more engaged in their learning during projects that offer real-world connections. Meaningful connections. Like our Join Hands Day project where we found numerous ways to support our community and raised money for a child who departs for her Make-a-Wish trip to Disney in just a few days. Or the live launch of the 8th grade TED talks at the end of this year.
Authenticity matters. It raises stakes. It heightens focus. It sharpens skills. It deepens learning.