GREAT FALLS — “When I started there was one level to security, you practiced fire drills,” said Great Falls High School math teacher Beckie Frisbee.
She says before becoming an educator 25 years ago, the threat of an active shooter never crossed her mind. “It wasn’t even part of the conversation when I was becoming a teacher,” she said.
For Frisbee, that threat hit home for the first time after hearing about the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20th,1999.
“As a parent hearing about Columbine or events like 9/11 terrified me,” she said. “As a teacher, I took a look around my classroom and thought, it is my job to keep them safe. How do I do that?”
She says GFPS was one of the first districts that sent teachers to receive updated federal training for school safety after Columbine.
“That’s our number one job - they’re here, we want them to be safe, because they can’t learn if they’re not safe,” she said.
The training was a start, but Frisbee says best practices are always changing.
“You have to be ready, and every teacher has to decide where they’re at in that particular journey.”
While methods continue to evolve, one thing that’s remained unchanged is the dedication of school resource officers, or SROs, according to GFPD officer Aaron Frick: “Columbine opened our eyes as far as law enforcement, as a school system, how to respond to things, to horrific events,” he said.
The attacks often devastate schools and communities, but officials are repurposing some of that pain to better protect today’s students.
“We learn from it, we improve from it, we get better,” he said.
With the school year just beginning, Frisbee says district staff had already been through several safety drills: “We’ve talked about things, we’ve ironed out things, and then we’re ready for them when they get here.”
And no matter the classroom or campus, officials have laid new groundwork for safer schools.
“Crime prevention through environmental design,” he said. “How can we improve how our buildings are built?”
The district continues their work with Great Falls police to stay proactive and protected.
“We’ve gone with the change. Whether we like it or not, we’ve gone with the change,” said Frisbee.