For many the image of the burning Twin Towers is seared into our collective memory. How can such a horrible moment be explained to those who have little if any recollection of the Sept. 11 attacks?
It is an issue educators all over Long Island are navigating this week.
When addressing the 10th anniversary of 9/11, educators aim to bring context to the discussion, bearing in mind age-appropriate take-away messages for their audience.
Depending on their grade, students will learn about first responders, civil liberties, research methods, literature, history and more.
David Meoli, principal of Sousa Elementary School in Port Washington, said his staff has responded to the changing perspective that a new generation of children brings to the classroom.
“We couldn’t shield kindergartners at the time, so we had to cope with it,” Meoli recalled.
“There was more discussion when it was a fresher occurrence,” he added. “Kids were asking a lot more questions.”
This year educators at the school have chosen Friday to touch on 9/11. That way if students see something on television or when passing by a newsstand, they’ll have a point of reference.
“Now we mostly treat it historically, proactively, letting them know something catastrophic happened that affected a lot people in this country and in this area,” Meoli said.
Students will hear an announcement over the Sousa Elementary public address system Friday with the message there is more good than bad in the world, and that brave people aim to keep the world safe.
The school librarian has pulled a number of child-friendly resources, so teachers can point interested students to suitable information.
“We try to make [students] aware in terms of tools – who to go to if they have questions, especially if they’re anxious” Meoli noted.
Joe Leavy chairs the humanities, English and social studies departments at the middle and high schools in the Huntington School District. To honor those affected by the Sept. 11 attacks, students will attend a 10-minute memorial service.
It’s a time for reflection, Leavy said. One colleague, he noted, is also an Air Force reservist, who always attends the service in uniform.
Depending on the grade, students will have the chance to explore and deliberate on terrorism, security and freedom, taking into consideration the Patriot Act.
They’ll back discussions with research and evidence. “It’s a teachable moment,” Leavy said.
Teachable moments also include lessons found in literature, said William Kiernan. He teaches English and philosophy at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington.
Just by being New Yorkers, St. Anthony students likely know someone who was affected by Sept. 11, Kiernan said.
At this time of year, Kiernan likes to share poetry with students without revealing the author or title. The poetry might include themes about nature and rebirth. Students tend to assume a poem was written about the attacks, only to learn later it was about a different point in time.
“We really try to show that literature can be this source of power and understanding for experiences that everyday humans go through and they don’t always understand why they’re going through it or what they can glean from it,” Kiernan pointed out.
Camille Corbisiero teaches fourth grade at Daly Elementary School in Port Washington. On Friday, she’ll tell students what Sept. 11 was like for her, and how concerned she and her colleagues were about people they knew who were in lower Manhattan that day.
To give students peace of mind, she tells them “so many people are watching out for you,” discussing police, fire fighters and soldiers.
Adding a personal note, she refers to her own children. Her son was a captain in the U.S. Army on that day, and later went to serve in Iraq and became a major, she said. Her daughter went on to work as an executive assistant for Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, she said.
Corbisiero guides students to chart what they know, what they want to know and – after they’ve conducted online research – what they’ve learned. On Monday, she’ll follow up to see if there are any questions.
Sept. 11 is “a frightening story,” Corbisiero said. “But I think it’s something they have to know.”