Monday, March 30, 2009

Alise Steiner - Class of 2000 - Teacher/Coach

Describe your experience during the tragedy.

When the shooting started I was in Mr. Smith’s math class. We had a sub that day and I remember being somewhat relieved when the fire alarm went off. As my class entered the hallway everyone was extremely pushy and I remember saying to my friend, “aren’t we supposed to remain calm during fire drills?” We proceeded to cross Pierce Street and jump a small fence. I wondered why were going so far away from the school. Maybe it was a real fire? I saw one of my friends who looked pale and I could tell she had been crying. I asked her what was wrong and she said people where shooting outside the cafeteria. A second later, someone said it was just a senior prank. I remember thinking my friend was just having a bad day. It had to be a senior prank. A few of us from Bible Club gathered together and prayed while we were waiting for further instructions as to what we should all be doing. I remember watching as more people exited the building and I thought it was strange that it took them so long to get out. Maybe they were in the bathroom? I tried to rationalize everything. Everyone was searching for someone else. People were split up as they ran out of the building. I did not worry though, I felt confident it was just a prank. I decided to walk over to ask a teacher what to do. As I walked toward my French teacher, the entire group of students started running. I turned around and yelled for my friend to wait. I grabbed her hand we ran into the neighborhood. It was at that moment, I first felt scared. We ended up following a group of students into a home near Columbine. As I watched the story unfold on television, I thought the media was overreacting. This was no big deal. At most someone shot one other person over a girl. At 5pm that night, the news said up to 25 people dead. That’s when it hit me, and I started to worry about where my friends were.

The initial days following the tragedy were kind of a blur. Rumors were flying about what had happened and who had been killed. When the official list of students who were killed came out it was heartbreaking. I did not know how to deal with the loss of friends and classmates. After attending Rachel Scott’s funeral I felt I could not go to more funerals. I did not want to feel more sadness. I started journaling and praying, trying to deal with the pain. When we returned to Chatfield, it was good for me to be with people, and to hear stories from my peers.

How has the healing process been for you over the past ten years?

I think the healing process started when I was able to tell my story. After graduating in 2000, I went to Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Everyday I would meet new people and tell them where I was from. Immediately they would ask if I went to that school. As much as it still hurt, I needed to talk. I needed to tell my story and process it. It was good for me to open up and share with others. Most people were kind and encouraging and shared where they were when it happened and what their experience was. I was and still am amazed by how many people were impacted by what happened.

Even though time has eased the pain, I believe everyone is still healing from that day. What each person experienced that day will never be forgotten. I was lucky in the sense that I did not see any violence that day. But my world was changed. I will forever be different because of what happened.

Update me on your professional life - what have you been doing over the past ten years?

Today, I am a teacher and a coach. This is the end of my 4th year teaching and coaching at Columbine. I teach math (Pre-Calc, Honors Geometry and Algebra I) and coach cross-country and girls lacrosse.

What is your current job title and where?

Math teacher/coach at Columbine High School

Why did you decide to teach at Columbine?

Wow, I don’t think I really expected to come back to Columbine. I wanted to return to Colorado and be close to my parents and my sister. I applied all over Jeffco but I did not have my Colorado teaching license at the time I was applying. Mr. DeAngelis remembered me and hired me without the teaching license. I was thrilled to have a job and be hired at a good school. The fact that the school was Columbine made me nervous, yet excited. I have great memories from high school even though I experienced great sadness there as well.

Were there any particularly hard moments about returning to teach at Columbine?

Sure. The building is different. It’s weird every time I have to walk to the ISS room or the new library. Hearing Mr. Moore shout “We Are. . . .” and all the students respond “Columbine!” always plays on my emotions. Even though I am constantly reminded about the events of that day, I think those moments also remind me why I am there. To make a difference in the lives of the students. I believe students in high school need someone who will listen and encourage them. They may have great parents, but sometimes a parent’s encouragement is just not enough. Each day I enter the building I hope the students see a place to belong and a place where they feel encouraged and cared for.

Describe your professional goals.

I plan to continue teaching and coaching. I am finishing my masters this summer.

Has Columbine influenced your career goals? If so, how?

Yes, I think my experience at Columbine influenced my decision to become a teacher.

Do your students ask about your experience during Columbine? What kinds of questions come up?

Yes. They are always shocked to find out I went to Columbine and was there the day of the shooting. They ask where I was, what it was like and if I knew any of the people who died that day.

How do you explain your experience? What sorts of messages do you convey to your students about your experience?

I tell them about that day – that’s the easy part. Sometimes I tell them what I learned from that day and why it is so important that they accept each other and stop putting themselves above others. I stress the importance of kindness towards each other – no matter who that person is or what kind of group they hang out with.

What are their reactions to your experience?

Many of them have their own stories to share. Even though they were young, many remember that day. Others have siblings or cousins who were there. Mr. Sander’s grandson attended Columbine and ran cross-country for me a few years back. This is still the same community of people. Even this group of students is impacted by what happened 10 years ago.

Does a particular conversation with a student stand out? If so, please describe.

Oh wow, there have been many conversations with students. Usually I listen. High school students already have many experiences that have shaped who they are. I am amazed by their maturity and depth. Students understand much more than we realize.

How did Columbine affect your spirituality?

I grew up going to church. I went to youth group throughout middle school and high school. When Columbine happened, I questioned God and many of the leaders at my church. I believe the events at Columbine stretched me and made me see who I really was. I realized I needed to change. I was living a selfish life. But I wanted something different and I needed to be something different. I hope I became more Christ-like.

Had Columbine happened, how would you be different personally and professionally?

Many events and people in my life shaped who I am today and Columbine is one of those events. I believe Columbine impacted me both personally and professionally. I am more aware of how I treat others. I realized each person has a story and his or her story is important. God places each person in our lives for a reason, and I am more willing to listen and more willing to accept others for who they are and where they came from.

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