I was a fourth grader at Manchester Elementary School in the tiny town of Pinewood, South Carolina on September 11, 2001. We were tucked away back in the beautiful pines of Manchester State Forest far from New York City, Washington D.C., and the fields of Pennsylvania. Our teachers shielded us from what was unfolding all around our country that day. We could sense something was off but could have never fathomed the terror felt all around the world. At the end of the day, my wonderful teacher told us to be safe and careful on our way home with tears in her eyes. I got off the bus at my grandparent’s house where minutes turned into hours of watching planes crash over and over again.
Sixteen years later, I am entrusted with my own group of fourth graders at a school just 16.8 miles down the road from where I completed my fourth grade year. I have always been an avid historian, and love to share stories of the past with my students. September 11 is always a day of reverence in my room. We take great care to learn the facts of the day, remember those who were lost, and focus on building a better future. I instill in my children that history is happening right now. I am making history. They are making history. September 11 is the first day I am able to show them history didn’t just happen 100 years ago.
I talk about what happened first. We discuss how to show respect and reverence. Then we watch the video footage. We cry together. It is very hard to watch those planes fly into the World Trade Center Towers — even all these years later. For many of my students, this is the first time they have witnessed it. Their 2007 birthdays spared them from the horrors of that day. I stress to them we are safe now. I encourage them to talk with their seat mates about their feelings. It is okay to be afraid, confused, and scared.
Then we talk about the bravery. My students get to hear the calls made from brave passengers. They marvel at the shear fearlessness Flight 93 showed to our country. My babies gather around my board to inspect images of the breathtaking monuments that have been crafted to portray these individuals’ valor. They see firefighters, police officers, and EMTs standing on top of mountains of rubble covered in ash pulling people to safety. I show them picture of people sleeping outside of the American Red Cross and videos of convoys rolling down the highways to deliver supplies.
We watch America come together.
My scholars don’t leave my room sad and afraid. They leave my room proud to live in such a great country. My students realize they live in a place with many problems that all get pushed aside when trouble arises. I teach my kids about 9/11/01 because I want them to see how to be strong in the face of adversity. When the whole world was mourning for us, we were working harder than ever before. My scholars leave my room on 9/11 feeling empowered and ready to make their own history.