About the Series

PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs and Student Television Network investigate how schools across the country are rethinking what it means to feel safe and be safe at school.


Since Sandy Hook many schools and districts have been taking a closer look at their protocols and plans for how to keep students safe in an emergency. The American Graduate team visited the NewsHour’s Student Reporting Lab from South Mountain High School in Phoenix, which has been tasked of creating a video for their peers on how to react appropriately in lockdown situations.  The young journalists talk about the challenges of taking on such an important task – and how working on this project has illuminated issues with their own school’s response plans.

Producers: April Brown & Mike Fritz
Camera: Mike Fritz
Editor: April Brown

Special thanks to the South Mountain High School Student Reporting Lab:

Heather Jancoski

R’Bryon Anderson
Jose Contreras
Julie Gunther
Christian Guzman
Terraney Hightower
Merce Mijares Lopez
Danielle Quihuis
Chris Reyes
Leilonni Robinson
Amanda Salameh
Nancy Santos
Armida Zepeda


Julie Gunther (L) and Terraney Hightower from the PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Lab at South Mountain High School in Phoenix, Arizona work on a video project to improve safety at their school. Photo by Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour

Julie Gunther’s first school lockdown drill took her by surprise.  The tall, blonde exchange student from Norway wasn’t expecting such drills when she enrolled as a senior last fall at South Mountain High School in Phoenix, Arizona.

“I had never experienced anything like it, so I was like, ‘What’s happening?’” Gunther said.  “I just followed the crowd to see what they were doing.”

The fact that so many students were unprepared struck a chord.

Gunther hails from Norway, where a July 2011 bombing attack in Oslo and a massacre that followed at a summer camp took the lives of 77 people and injured 300 more. This in a country that usually has fewer than 50 murders a year.

Anders Behring Breivik, then 32, admitted to bombing the government center in central Oslo and carrying out the attack on the summer camp for youth that had been organized by the ruling Norwegian Labor Party.

“It’s very, very sad, and it’s very, very emotional for every Norwegian citizen,” Gunther said. “I knew people who were there, and I know how serious it was,” she said and described how a lone gunman shot dozens of students at the camp on the island of Utøya, about two hours northwest of the capital.  In all, 69 people were killed there, most of them teenagers, and more than 100 more were injured.

“We could not believe that this had happened to us, and it took a long time for everyone to accept that this was a Norwegian person with blonde hair and blue eyes,” Gunther said.  “But after understanding that, we went from being very naive to understanding things can happen in Norway too, even though we’re a peaceful country.”

After the first school lockdown at her school in Arizona, Gunther and other journalism students were asked to create a video for their peers explaining how they should respond in various emergency situations. It was a project she took very seriously.

“There’s a reason why we have a drill and there’s a reason why we practice this, because if it actually happens we have to be prepared because we don’t want to lose any lives,” she said.  “I think the most important thing is that everyone take this seriously because this actually happens.”

This American Graduate/Student Reporting Labs collaboration is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.