PLANTATION KEY -- The call went out at 11:35 a.m. last Thursday to the approximately 60 middle school students at Treasure Village Montessori: There's a man waving a gun in the main office.
The students knew it wasn't real. They'd been advised that they'd hear such an announcement at some point during the school week.
But still they hastened to get outside anyway they could. They ran through the nearest doors. They climbed through windows and leapt through bushes to the ground. Then they jumped the school's fence.
Within three minutes all the children had convened at their meeting point at the shopping plaza to the south of Treasure Village, Principal Kelly Astin said.
If all this sounds like fun for a 12- or 13-year-old, maybe it would have been if it wasn't so serious.
Instead, Treasure Village was becoming the first Monroe County public school to conduct an in-school session of what's called the Active Shooter Drill, a product of the post-Sandy Hook era in which school administrators now find themselves.
"I can't believe I have to do this," Astin said, harkening back to her schoolgirl days, when a massacre the likes of Sandy Hook was all but unimaginable. "But I feel like I need to prepare my kids for these types of situations."
Treasure Village isn't the only Monroe County school that has been doing new safety exercises of late.
In January, officers from the Islamorada sector of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office joined school safety officer Larry O'Neill at Coral Shores High School, where they fired blank rounds with a shotgun and a handgun so students could get a sense of what the shots sound like in the school setting. Officers conducted the same drill at Treasure Village last month.
Meanwhile, Sugarloaf School recently conducted a shooting incident simulation, complete with response from Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputies. That simulation was held outside of school time, just like a series of similar simulations that are being conducted at public schools throughout the Keys during spring break week. Students can volunteer to participate.
Astin said she was more than a little nervous when she decided to make her school the first in the area to implement a class time Active Shooter Drill. After all, a lot can go wrong when five dozen children ages 11 through 14 are jumping fences and sprinting across public roadways as fast as they can.
"The whole week I was terrified that something was going to happen," she said. "That it's going to mark a spotless 22-year career."
But Astin added that the students' parents were made aware of the drill, and among the middle school set, none objected.
Jill Gonzalez, whose daughter Olivia is a Treasure Village eighth grader, was one of two parents who signed up to assist with the exercise. She said she was very impressed by how quickly the kids got out of the building once the public address announcement was made. In fact, Gonzalez said, the children went out so fast that she couldn't even get the photo she was trying to take.
The other volunteer parent, Lori Guth, said it comforts her to know that her 13-year-old son Ryan and his schoolmates have had a chance to plan how they would make their getaways if the worst nightmare became a reality at Treasure Village.
"It was a great thing to see," Guth said. "But it was a sad thing that they even have to consider this."
But after Sandy Hook and other recent mass killings, the middle schoolers themselves understood the importance of the drill, said seventh grader Blye Hofstetter, who made his escape out a Treasure Village window.
"We took it pretty seriously because we knew that if this was happening in real life we could be in real danger," he said.