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Try moving the images to an internal drive.
That seemed to help, though this is in a student computer lab so students are supposed to be using external drives to store and work on their projects. Isn't it generally better to work on an external drive vs. an internal to prevent dropped frames?
Everything depends on the connection type, and the speed of the drives, themselves. Same for a USB 3.0 to a fast external.
An eSATA connection to a fast external will be just fine. A USB 2.0 connection to a slow (say 5400 RPM) external will lag. Same for an IEEE-1394a (FireWire 400), which will be only slightly faster.
An IEEE-1394b (FireWire 800), will fall in between those two connections.
A fast internal HDD through SATA will be the ideal, but eSATA, and USB 3.0, should be close behind.
A problem with purchased external drives for video editing, with its high data rates, is that many of the enclosures contain "green" drives, which are simply not fast enough for video editing.
I always buy empty enclosures - usually Icy-box brand - and fit something like a Western Digital Caviar Black 7200 rpm drive. Unfortunately in your situation, this solution may not be open to you.