Teachers target lessons of Sept. 11 for a new generation

by Michelle Saxton
Thursday, September 8, 2011

Staff photo by Allison Potter

Megan Slugg, 7th grade language arts teacher at Roland Grise Middle School, discusses some of the materials sheíll use to teach her students about the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Slugg was a student at Barnard College in Manhattan at that time.

Megan Slugg was a student at Barnard College in New York City when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks occurred. She remembers walking into math class when someone said a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. Not long after, she and others went to the tallest building on campus and saw the second plane crash just a couple of miles away.

"We realized something was drastically, drastically wrong," Slugg said recently.

While that date just 10 years ago is still a vivid memory for many, young children like Sluggís 7th graders at Roland-Grise Middle School may just be learning about this chapter in United States history ó they were only 2 years old then.

"Itís like somebody talking about Pearl Harbor," said Slugg, a language arts teacher.

Students that age know airplanes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and that nearly 3,000 people died, but many are unaware a fourth plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa., as passengers and crew members fought back against the hijackers, she said.

"They think itís extremely interesting that everyone worked together and really saved the White House, saved the Capitol. Wherever they were headed toward it was saved because of those people," Slugg said. "What a sacrifice."

Slugg, who has also taught at Trask Middle School, discusses 9/11 with her students each year, sharing her personal story, presenting articles and photos and answering questions. One photo that seems to really attract studentsí interest is of firefighters, as some of the studentsí parents are firefighters, she said.

"Thereís always a fine line when you talk to kids, especially about current events, to keep it very neutral, to give them the facts and let them go ahead and talk to their parents," Slugg said of her 9/11 discussions. "I donít like to tell them what I think; I like them to figure it out by themselves."

"You donít want to scare them," Slugg added. "Thatís the hardest part."

Slugg talks to her students about how frightened she was that day but also how she helped organize a Gatorade drive for volunteers.

"It was nothing for me to buy a case of Gatorade for people climbing into burning buildings," Slugg said.

Her students at Roland-Grise and Trask have helped with service projects over the years that have included making hats and scarves for the homeless, making pillows for children at Good Shepherd Center and raising money for schools in Afghanistan through Pennies for Peace.

"It really empowers them to know they can make a difference," Slugg said.

Giving back is part of a 9/11 lesson for Tiffany Adairís fifth graders at Wrightsville Beach Elementary School, too. Adair, a language arts teacher, encourages her students to send notes honoring the Wrightsville Beach police and fire departments.

"With the discussion from the kids I realized that it probably would be a nice showing of appreciation if we then just said a simple thank you," Adair said recently.

Adair also gives her class the option to also send thank you notes to her boyfriend, Marine Gunnery Sgt. D.J. Mansfield, and his fellow service men and women in the 1st Battalion 9th Marines from Camp Lejeune serving in Afghanistan.

Adair planned to have a lesson with information and videos from Scholasticís kid-friendly website.

"Sept. 11 was a horrific, terribly frightening event," Adair said, "Iím just trying to have students be aware, but not make them be uneasy."

Lesson information may include an article about heroes, such as search and rescue dogs, as well as students who started different organizations and charities to help firefighters and other groups. Other articles are about the Freedom Quilts and memorials set up in honor of those who died.

Adair also planned to show students some pictures Mansfield has taken of bomb-sniffing dogs and their protective gear that includes dog goggles, or "doggles," to protect their eyes from the glaring sun and dog booties to protect their paws.

Class discussions of 9/11 are geared toward global awareness, she said.

"Itís not a political debate; itís world news," Adair said. "I try to let them lead the discussion and just keep it as factual Ė and not opinion-based Ė as possible."

"The biggest challenge is that the students, (the) fifth graders that I have now, were infants when Sept. 11 happened," Adair said. "So the post-Sept. 11 era is all that they know. And so itís interesting to see that they think itís totally normal that it takes forever to get through the airport now. Some of these kids Ė all they know now is that weíve been at war with the terrorists. This is a way of life for our young kids."

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