An image of the Twin Towers painted inside a teardrop on the wall of the Koda Middle School cafeteria ensures the students, both current and future, won’t forget the tragedy of 9/11.
On Wednesday morning, Mechanicville VFW Commander Duane Holt delivered a certificate of appreciation acknowledging the many projects undertaken by school staff and by sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, who were in first grade when the events took place. Principal Bruce Ballan and teachers have made it a priority to help youngsters process what happened as they mature into adults, forming their own perceptions of terrorism, loss and patriotism.
“As the anniversaries of 9/11 arrive, we get lists of books recommended for kids to read, but we try to personalize how we commemorate the day,” Ballan said. “For the students, it’s important to have hands-on activities, not just books to study.”
The results of the activities serve as backdrops in the cafeteria, including a massive paper flag, now framed, that covers an entire wall. Inside the stripes of the flag are cutouts traced from the students’ handprints, overlapping in a circle. On an adjacent wall is the teardrop, with lines of a poem called “The Dust is Gone,” and beneath it, a glass case with statues of firefighters lifting a flag, and a shard of rusty metal wreckage removed from the Twin Towers site.
Eighth-grader Erin Mossey said although she doesn’t sit in that area of the cafeteria, she is continually reminded of 9/11 when she looks at the artwork.
“I have a very clear memory of that day,” Erin said. “I was going to a Catholic school and the teachers didn’t tell us what was going on. We were never allowed to run in the halls, but they rushed us out of our classrooms to go to the gym and wait for our parents to pick us up. We’d only been in school about an hour when it happened. I thought it was a drill.”
Carolyn Stewart, also an eighth-grader, has an uncle who was working in Manhattan the day of the attacks.
“He worked across the street from the towers, but he was at a meeting in another part of the city that morning,” Carolyn said. “I was really shaken by the whole thing. We went down to New York City and saw what people did with the memorials, and it was overwhelming.”
Carolyn said she expects her future children will ask questions about what happened that day.
“My kids will come home and ask about it, and I’ll answer them,” she said. “It’s a part of history they should know about.”
Holt, who enlisted and saw active combat in the Vietnam War in 1965 and 1966, said he’s made it his mission to educate students on the realities of war.
“It’s good to see the schools are bringing more people like me who went through war and can talk about what it was like,” Holt said. “As veterans, we were all freaked out by 9/11. Now with the war, my thoughts are always about the troops over there. I volunteered to serve my country, but these boys were forced to go to war by the government.”
Holt’s wife, Jacalyn, accompanies him to many of his presentations. Their sons Danny, 19, and Duane Jr., 17, are graduates of the Shenendehowa district.
“They’re very proud of their dad and what he’s done to teach kids about this,” Jacalyn Holt said. “They’re all very patriotic.”
Koda’s Social Studies Department Director Mike Gutchell said while the most recent editions of American History textbooks contain the 9/11 events, hearing from veterans is the ultimate learning lesson.
“Veterans can show us that war is not a glorified thing,” Gutchell said. “As time goes by, the kids remember less and less about what happened. We need to do a better job of teaching them about terrorism and, without scaring them, giving them all the information they need.”
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