For Jasmine Singh, it began as another routine day at Lewiston-Porter High School. A few hours later, however, the 14-year-old freshman heard a rather startling announcement broadcast over the school's P.A. system.

"It was fifth period," Jasmine recalls. "There were helicopters around the school, [and] the principal [said] the code for a lockdown."

A burglary had recently occurred close to the campus, and the suspect, after being startled by the homeowner, was still at large. Once police had alerted school officials, the high school and several surrounding schools, went into lockdown.

"They shut down the campus," said Eva LaBarber, 16, a junior at Lew-Port. "There were police at every exit ... [but] we stayed inside."

Jasmine said there were "three police cars" parked outside the school, and there were "police and teachers" at every exit. No one was allowed to enter or leave the building during the lockdown period.

The lockdown started "at 11 [and] lasted until after noon," Eva said.

Jasmine said the police stayed at the school much longer than that and it "took a while" for the police to leave, but "by the end of the day, the police had cleared off."

Lockdowns and school emergencies are becoming more and more frequent as crime rates soar and gang activity rockets. These situations place a whole new meaning to the adage "be prepared for the unexpected."

Last June, Niagara Catholic High School and neighboring St. Dominic Savio Middle School were evacuated to nearby Cataract Elementary School after a bomb threat was discovered in the boy's restroom at St. Dominic.

"It was the end of fourth period, and I was in the lunch line," said Brandon O'Connor, 16, a junior at Niagara Catholic. "Mr. D [Principal Robert DiFrancesco] came in and shut down all the ovens in the kitchen; he wasn't himself."

At first, Brandon wasn't worried. He thought the measure was simply a "precautionary action."

"I got my lunch and sat down -- I didn't realize it was a serious problem," he said.

Next, however, came the shocking announcement.

"Then, Mr. D. comes in and breaks everything up. I think he tells us [about the threat], and moves everyone to the elementary school," says King Fatunmbi, 18, a senior.

"No one knew what was going on," Brandon said. "I was scared, but it got better as we left."

Though they had different feelings at the moment, Dominic Sciarrino, 16, and King both had the same priority once they found out about the threat -- their younger siblings.

"I was feeling calm up to the point where I was sitting in the auditorium [and] I thought, 'Where's my brother?' I had to find my brother," King said.

"My sister was in the gym. I had to make sure she was all right. Then I called [home]," Dominic said.

Niagara Catholic students Dianna Derigo and Sarah Signorelli, both 17, recalled the day of the bomb threat.

"Sarah was upset because she couldn't have her cell phone [out]," Dianna said.

After investigators had arrived at the scene and all students had been accounted for, students were offered the option to call home or stay in the auditorium for the duration of the lockdown.

"I was scared, [but] by the time I called [home] everything had died down," Sarah said.

"It didn't make sense to stay so close," Dianna said. "I would have called home sooner [and] ask to be moved farther away. I was so scared."

King notes that the teachers seemed to be making a "huge fuss," while the students weren't "taking it seriously."

"I didn't feel that I was threatened, but I didn't fool around, either," he said.

Brandon remembers a particularly funny moment in an otherwise serious situation. "The school has a 'no cell phones' policy," Brandon said, "but everyone had cell phones with them [to call home]!"

"We went to the 66th Street Administration Building. There were already parents there who had heard -- cells phones were rampant," remembers Dorothy Moore, a receptionist at Niagara Catholic. "We set up a station to allow parents to sign students out. We were lucky we had that building to go to. We were also lucky [we had] as many administrators as there were."

Moore said the incident was the first in the eight years she has worked at Niagara Catholic High School.

DiFrancesco was pleased with the efficient handling of the evacuation.

"I got a call [that] the bomb was set to go off at noon. The police were en route and [we] called in bomb-sniffing dogs."

Because St. Dominic and Niagara Catholic are connected by a glass hallway, DiFrancesco and other school officials decided to evacuate both schools immediately.

"Our primary concern is the safety of the children and the staff and the faculty," said DiFrancesco. "Therefore, all were evacuated."

Heather Kappel, 18, and Emily Daigler, 17, both of Starpoint High School, remember a similar incident that occurred on their campus a few years ago.

"Usually, you stay in the classroom, go in the corner, and turn the lights off," Heather says. "The teachers know what to do."

Starpoint teachers have a chart that explains the proper protocol during a lockdown.

"There was a bomb threat," remembers Emily. "We stayed in the classroom and I think we were dismissed early that day."

Even the novice history student will note that each era in America's past seems to come with its respective difficulties, even for schoolchildren.

Post-World War II students in the United States were trained to "duck and cover" in case of an attack. Students in frontier towns warded off attacks from wild animals and struggled against the elements. Today, in the post-Vietnam "age of terror," threats come to schools from both outside and within.

It is impossible to know what the next week, day, hour or even minute will bring, and, as the major news networks remind us each day, are we prepared?


Beatrice Preti is a senior at Niagara Catholic High School.