When students open their history books this week to learn about Sept. 11, 2001, it will be the first time since the tragedy unfolded that most, if not all, of the students in the public school system were not yet born.
“It’s true history to all of our students,” said Gina Frasca, a Pinelands Regional School District English and social studies supervisor.
In the 17 years since members of al-Qaida hijacked planes early on a Tuesday morning and flew them into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, schools have incorporated lessons on the historic event. Another plane was hijacked that day and crashed in Pennsylvania.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 11, 2018
This year, the teachers who lived through 9/11 are trying to give students a sense of the emotions felt on that day and the lasting impact on American lives.
“Life is different now, and it’s something that obviously people who lived before that happened can see the comparison. The students, this is all they know,” Frasca said.
Robert Seelhorst, a history teacher at Buena Regional High School, said he doesn’t shy away from showing video footage of the World Trade Center or Pentagon to his students. He said the attacks on Sept. 11 were a definitive moment in his life, and his memories from that day will always stay with him.
“It’s a tightrope to walk as a teacher. Sometimes you have to know the class and whether they can handle it or not. There’s so much human tragedy there,” said Seelhorst.
Seelhorst said students also get a lesson in the history that led up to 9/11.
“I try and help my students learn that this was not an isolated attack that there were things that led up to that,” he said.
For Krista Verzi, a language arts teacher at Hammonton Middle School, the lesson on 9/11 begins in the summer reading book, which this year was “Eleven” by Tom Rogers.
“We piggy back off of that book with a poetry unit,” she said. “We do a pretty heavy amount of background and research on it. We introduce them to vocabulary terms specific to the event.”
The Hammonton students are also instructed to interview a family member who was alive on Sept. 11, 2001.
“The second we start talking about 9/11, the kids come back the next day with ‘My mom told me this, my dad told me this,’ so it really provokes a discussion,” she said.
Verzi said that the lesson, which is about four years old, expands throughout the week.
Kathy Styles-Landgraf, a seventh-grade social studies teacher in Margate, said her lesson revolves around celebrating Patriot Day and heroism.
“That’s how we term it and we have school spirit that day where the kids are supposed to dress in red, white and blue,” said Styles-Landgraf, who works for the Margate School District.
She said the students get a brief history lesson of what occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, but because of maturity levels, teachers try to keep the lesson focused on the heroes from that day and from the wars that followed.
“It’s very hard to teach. It’s emotional having lived through it. I do a history of what happened after 9/11: what did America do, what wars did we get into and how we show our patriotism now,” she said.
Styles-Landgraf and other teachers compared the feeling of 9/11 to when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. She said that for students now that didn’t live through it, it’s not as personal.
“They didn’t see the images. To them its history, it’s something that happened, it was horrible,” she said.
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