- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) - For many people, the anniversary of 9/11 brings with it vivid memories of exactly where they were and what they were doing on the morning two Boeing 767 airplanes crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. But for nearly all students in school on this year’s anniversary, the date did not bring with it any personal memories because even the oldest students were toddlers in 2001.

“It’s easier to talk about now. It’s a historical event now,” said James Flynn, a social studies teacher at Platt High School in Meriden. “It doesn’t bring the same trauma it did for other students.”

Friday was the 14th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, when between 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m., hijackers crashed a Boeing 767 into floors 93-99 of the North Tower and another Boeing 767 into floors 75-85 of the South Tower. The latter collapsed at 9:59 a.m., and the former at 10:28 a.m. Including a third hijacked plane which was flown into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. and another that was crashed in Pennsylvania nearly 3,000 people died that day, making it the most deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

For teachers, it’s an anniversary that brings clear memories - similar to the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy for the generation prior.

An intern at New Britain High School at the time, Flynn recalled exactly what he had been wearing and exactly where in the high school he’d been when he got news of the attacks.

Platt math teacher Joe Laskowski likewise easily remembered being at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts on Sept. 11.

Asked what he remembered from the day, Platt freshman Christian Rios, however, said, “I don’t know. I wasn’t born yet.”

For Flynn and Laskowski and other school officials, this changes the conversation about the anniversary in the classroom.

“The difference between 10 years ago and now is that the students used to want to share their memories and wanted to learn why it happened,” Southington School Superintendent Timothy F. Connellan said in an email Friday.

“Now, there are no memories and it has become another historical topic to study, although we encourage (students) to begin a dialogue at home about their family’s memories. They are still incredibly curious about the why, but now also with the event itself. We have to clarify the event more than we’ve done in past years,” he said in the email.

Shawn Parker, assistant school superintendent in Wallingford, said that teachers consistently need to provide more context for students.

“Anytime there’s any type of special day like 9/11, some of our teachers in U.S. History for example, will focus on an aspect of that day,” Parker said. “They have to build that background knowledge, though, because students don’t have that knowledge to hang onto now.”

The atmosphere in schools on the anniversary has changed through the years as well.

“It’s a much less somber day,” said Meriden’s Maloney High School Principal Jennifer Straub.

The school recognizes a moment of silence at the time when the second plane flew into the tower.

While that’s still a poignant moment, Straub said it’s become less emotional in the 14 years since.

“The further away you get from something, the easier it gets, with anything,” she said. “It lessens the pain of the event.”

Teachers of different aged students need to approach the anniversary differently.

Considering some of Southington’s youngest students, Connellan said that while all elementary schools recognized a moment of silence, “a Grade 4 team is the only grade that did address it on their own, with parent knowledge.”

Students in that team read a story about the event, and students “made a paper quilt to honor heroes and remember people who passed away,” Connellan wrote in the email.

Locally, teachers of older students put more focus on the events and their impact.

Connellan said that in the town’s high school the social studies department as a whole addresses the day and its causes and effects.

At the town’s alternative high school, students watched a documentary on the events and all the staff shared their own memories.

A similar approach was taken in Meriden.

When asked what students think about the event now, Flynn and Laskowski say more of them are coming forward with conspiracy theories that they’ve heard or read about.

“That’s always kind of interesting,” Flynn said, smiling. He said he typically spends a short amount of time talking about the theories, but they come back up again later in the year during a whole unit on conspiracy theories.

“They’ve all read some kind of conspiracy about it, so I have to spend some time debunking them,” he said.

Laskowski on Friday gave students an explanation of the plane crashes and subsequent tower collapses from a more structural engineering viewpoint, as did at least one other science teacher at the school.

And of course, as more time goes on, more context about the impact of the attacks is available.

“It is a little more interesting to teach it now,” Flynn said. “There’s more information out there - you can truly teach it.”

“It has impacted these students’ whole lives,” Laskowski said. Flynn noted that the sophomores in his classes now have lived in an America that has been at war since they were born, as the war on terror began just after the 9/11 attacks.

They are also a generation who doesn’t know the New York City skyline any other way, Straub pointed out.

“These kids can connect with it on a different level now,” Laskowski said, referring to the nearly limitless amount of information available online.

Despite what’s available, educators still try to juggle what is appropriate to show students who don’t have visceral memories of the events of the day.

Marisa Volo, a social studies teacher at Platt High School, showed her freshman class part of a 9/11 documentary, which by its nature is somewhat graphic.

“Sure, I was wary of it at first,” she said, “but ultimately I decided that this is real, and I don’t want to censor what happened.”

It does appear though, that the poignancy of the anniversary, like Straub said, is not lost on students today despite their not having their own memories of it.

Platt freshman Shaslie Oquendo, who was a month old on Sept. 11, 2001, said she felt emotional watching the documentary Friday.

“I feel like I’m there,” she said. “It feels like a day when we’re all together.”


Information from: Record-Journal, https://www.record-journal.com

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