As attacks become history, young students learn of 9/11

"I remember my mom was crying, and she sat me down and told me ‘very bad people did a very bad thing,’” one student, Catherine, said.

Ten years ago, Courtney was teaching in the same classroom at Jackson Creek Middle School. He said he remembers when the principal told the teachers to turn their televisions so as not to upset the children.

Courtney also remembers that his students gathered around his computer with him to watch the day’s events unfold.  

Every year since then, Courtney has devoted entire class periods to conversations about the attacks.

But this year, he said wanted to do something special for the 10th anniversary.

His class was nearly silent as a History Channel video played on the interactive whiteboard. No one whispered, no one giggled —  there was only an occasional sniffle to cover up silent sobs during the footage from New York City and Arlington, Va.

The students barely spoke as Courtney switched to a video telling the story of the passengers of United Flight 93 who fought back.

After the class watched the heroism of the victims of Sept. 11, Courtney asked his students to write their own ideas of what makes a hero.

“Someone who commits a selfless act,” student Maddie wrote.

Another student, Sam, wrote, “I think that a hero is a person who puts their life in harm’s way to help save other lives.”

The third graders in Erika Peek’s class in Summit Elementary School were not yet born in 2001, but Peek wanted to find out what her students knew about the 9/11 attacks before she began the lesson.

“That bad guy Osama, him and his men stole some planes and destroyed them into buildings on purpose,” Jeff said.

Instead of showing her class videos of what happened ten years ago, Peek showed a few images of the burning towers and the damaged Pentagon.

Peek asked her class to gather around her as some stared at the photos, letting out the occasional gasp. She read them a children’s book, “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers” by Mordicai Gerstein.

The book tells the story of Philippe Petit, a French high-wire artist who walked between the towers of the World Trade Center on Aug. 7, 1974.

Only the last two pages mention the events of 9/11.

"Now the towers are gone. But in memory, as if imprinted on the sky, the towers are still there.”

Those two sentences were enough to make the students recognize the horror of a day not so long ago.

“I know how Osama bin Laden died,” said Luke, a quiet student sitting in the back of the group. “Now can we stop talking about all that violence? Because it’s making me really sad.”

“It makes a lot of people sad,” Peek replied. “But it’s important to talk about it because it makes us think ‘never again,’ and it makes us work to make ourselves and our community better.”

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