- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

ABOARD THE SKIPJACK ELSWORTH Standing in the breeze on the deck of a 60-foot boat as it floated down the Chester River, Krystal Young knew she had come a long way from September 11, when she and her classmates cowered under their desks after hearing the horrific impact of American Airlines Flight 77 slamming into the nearby Pentagon.
What the frightened M.V. Leckie Elementary School students didn't know that morning was that they had just lost their teacher, Hilda E. Taylor, and a classmate, Bernard Brown. Both were aboard the doomed flight.
On Tuesday, Krystal and four other students from Mrs. Taylor's class celebrated a big part of the 62-year-old teacher's legacy, with their school's annual trek to Maryland's Eastern Shore for an intensive three-day, on-the-water field trip to learn about the Chesapeake Bay.
The program, called the Chesapeake Heritage Initiative and run by the Echo Hill Outdoor School, had been organized each year by Mrs. Taylor.
For the 11 sixth-graders from Leckie, who were split between the Elsworth and another boat, the Annie D., the trip was a welcome respite from what has been a tough school year.
Five of them Krystal, Kenny Horne, Leshia Lindsey, Donte Harvey and Stacia Mathis began the year under the tutelage of Mrs. Taylor, a renowned teacher who knew how to score points with her new charges: "We got to choose where we sat," said Krystal, thinking back to simpler days.
Then, a week into the school year, Mrs. Taylor went on a National Geographic-sponsored trip with Bernard. The students say they heard and felt the impact of the Boeing 757, which had been hijacked by terrorists, crashing into the Pentagon at 9:43 a.m. on September 11, killing Miss Taylor, Bernard and 187 others aboard and on the ground.
Krystal, a thin, delicate 12-year-old with darting eyes, didn't know that Miss Taylor and Bernard were on Flight 77 until a friend called and told her that night.
"I went into my room and started crying," said Krystal quietly.
"My mother always wanted me to be in her class," said Roderick Hall, 12.
Krystal's classmate Kenny, 11, initially didn't believe what he heard. When he saw Miss Taylor's name and picture on the television, he got up and turned it off.
"I was mad, because the terrorists picked innocent people to die," he said. "So I was sad. But mainly I was angry."
But the pain didn't end for Leckie Elementary on September 11: In April, Leckie student Stephanie Petitulubin died of lung cancer, and on May 3, fifth-grader DeJesus Parker collapsed on the playground and died of a heart attack.
"We're just holding on to each other to get through, because we do have to keep living," said Leckie Principal Clementine Homesely.
On board the Elsworth this week, Courtney Daniels remembered the death of his friend DeJesus with the honest simplicity of a 13-year-old.
"It made me cry," he said.
Courtney and the 10 other Leckie students were chosen for the trip as a reward for good behavior and outstanding achievement in the classroom.
Kenny said he gets A's and B's in school. His classmates sometimes tease him and call him the teacher's pet. "But I don't care," he said. "Because every time I turn around, they're asking me a question."
"I do my work, and then I play."
The trip almost didn't happen because Miss Taylor was no longer around to organize the fund raising and logistics.
When the D.C.-based Cafritz Foundation found out Leckie was in danger of missing the trip, the foundation stepped in and provided the funding, in memory of Miss Taylor and Bernard.
The students arrived at the Chester River on Monday and returned home yesterday, after three days of the kinds of adventures that most children in the District don't often experience.
On Tuesday, the troop trudged inland from the river through a salt marsh 2 to 3 feet deep and 15 feet wide, lined on both sides by 6-foot-tall grass.
Elsworth Captain Nick Biles and Annie D. Captain Michael Brownley started walking up the marsh, expecting the kids to follow.
Some did, but others were hesitant.
"I'm scared!" shouted Kenny. "This feels like an alligator swamp."
Mr. Biles and his assistant Sara Bomar focused on teaching the students responsibility while they worked. That applied to cleaning fish as well as to docking a small skiff at a wharf. The latter gave Mr. Biles a chance to explain how Quaker Neck Landing used to be a steamship wharf and to talk about its history.
The approach worked, according to Kenny.
"It feels like a vacation," he said. "We're still learning, but we're learning a fun way."


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