Natasha Lewis was a third-grader at Emerson Elementary School when a classmate came in and shared the news with everyone.
Olivia Cain was in first grade at Mount Healthy Elementary School when the televisions were turned on and everyone started talking about it.
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Keeli Bowling was in a half-day kindergarten class at Lexington Elementary School, and when her father came and picked her up, she went home and sat in front of the coffee table watching the news coverage.
They remember where they were and what they were doing Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists crashed two hijacked planes into the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. Then, later in the morning, planes crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Bowling said her aunt worked at the Pentagon at the time but happened to not be there that day.
“I had no idea really what was going on, but I remember watching it and everybody being so terrified,” she said of the news coverage.
Now, Lewis, Cain and Bowling are in their first year of teaching at Crothersville Elementary School. On Tuesday, the 17th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, they felt called to educate their students about Sept. 11.
In their classrooms, they talked about what happened that day and the heroic acts that occurred. They also discussed patriotism and read “America is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell” by Don Brown.
Then the fourth- and fifth-graders headed down to the cafetorium to make a memorial for those who lost their lives. Divided into four groups each with different colored markers, they wrote words describing heroes.
Two groups wrote on long pieces of paper shaped like the twin towers, one wrote on a heart-shaped piece of paper and the other group wrote on a pentagon-shaped paper.
The goal was to write 2,977 words to represent the number of people who died. While they weren’t able to accomplish that in the hourlong project, the teachers hoped the kids realized how many people were lost that day.
“For them, it’s hard to take away the seriousness. They weren’t there, so they don’t take away that seriousness,” Lewis said. “But I think they do take away that this was something big that happened and this did affect a lot of people. I think them having to write almost 3,000 words to represent everybody that lost their life, that kind of hits home with them that ‘Wow! This is a lot of words.’”
Growing up, Bowling said Sept. 11 wasn’t discussed at school.
“But then stepping into the world as a teacher, I think it’s something we need to talk about,” she said. “I think part of that is just the memory, so honoring those people that lost their lives. That’s why we’re doing this activity because it gives them a reason to write those words and think of what a hero is because I think a lot of them are going to really attach to that.”
Cain agreed with the importance of educating students about Sept. 11.
“I think that it’s just as important in our history as Pearl Harbor was or as the Titanic was,” she said. “Those are the things that are important to us, and something big like this happening, especially while us as teachers were old enough to remember, it’s something that’s important.”
The teachers wanted the activity to focus on the positive, so that’s why they had students write words describing heroes.
“In elementary, it gets too heavy, so I feel like you have to focus on the good things,” Bowling said.
“I want them to take away that even through bad circumstances that heroic actions can shine through,” Lewis said. “I want them to focus more on the positive and not just so much negative. We’re just going to talk about the heroic actions that day because I don’t feel like you want to give the bad guys the light. You want to enlighten those who did good that day.”
Fifth-graders Baron Riley and Mady Hughes both said they had an idea what happened Sept. 11, 2001, before doing Tuesday’s activities.
Baron, however, said he didn’t realize the number of deaths was that high, while Mady said she learned that even though 184 people died when the plane crashed into the Pentagon, there were thousands of people who got out of the building.
Both saw the importance of highlighting the positives that came out of a tragic day.
“They were being really heroic, and they could have just ran away, but instead, they risked their lives to save other people,” Baron said of first responders who went into the buildings to help others.
“A lot of people tried to save their lives but other people’s lives, too,” Mady said.
They took the activities seriously.
“I think it’s good to honor the people that were here that served and did everything that they did to help us be here,” Baron said.
By the end of the day, Lewis thought the students understood the magnitude of Sept. 11, 2001.
“That was a very critical turning point in America, and I think that’s important for them to realize that and take in that American history side that this is a big deal, this was an important factor in what’s happening now, it still affects what is happening today,” she said. “I hope that they just take away how big it was and that it was important and changed the way that the world works.”