Teaching through, after 9/11

Ten years ago on Sept. 11, Jan Herman and her seventh-grade class were studying a weather unit at Arndt Middle School. Using information from a weather broadcast on TV, the students filled in weather charts on pieces of paper.

Just before 9 a.m., The Weather Channel’s coverage was interrupted by a news broadcast. It was footage of the World Trade Center burning – smoke pluming into clouds high above.

Herman didn’t turn the TV off or change the channel.

“The students were scared to death and were afraid they were going to be hurt like that,” Herman said. “We had to reassure them that this is America and we will be OK. That’s why we let them watch for a while.”

Herman, now a Conover City Council member, is like so many other Americans that can remember exactly where they were, what they were doing and what happened during the terrorist attacks on 9/11. But unlike most, Herman had a classroom of 12- and 13-year-old students to deal with.

“That is one of the most unique days we ever had in our lives,” Herman said. “We watched and we talked, and the kids were scared and we had to reassure them that everything was all right,” Herman said. “They saw the second tower being hit. You couldn’t have turned that TV off if you wanted to. I’m sure every kid in there will never forget that.”

Herman said students and teachers talked about why it happened as well as the difference in religion between Arab nations and the United States.

She said one student asked, “Why don’t they like us?” – a question that she said is hard to answer and explain to a seventh grader. Another student asked “Will we be at school tomorrow?” – something Herman could address more easily.

“Yes, life will have to go on no matter what happens,” Herman said.

“This is America, and we will pull together and everything would be OK.”

As Herman says, school did continue for millions of students in the nation, including those in Catawba County. For some, the experience with 9/11 didn’t end on TV, as a group of students from Newton-Conover High School helped erect a Sept. 11 memorial just months after the tragedy.

A group of high school students led by NCHS teacher Eric Hicks helped build a brick wall that currently houses a 9/11 memorial made by Benco Steel in Hickory.

“Benco Steel made a replica of the Twin Towers damage on a smaller scale,” Hicks said. “It is a memorial and is encased in the brick work my students did.”

Hicks said his students feel proud after any masonry or construction project they complete, but he said this one was extra special.

“When I take them out in the public to do different things for our school system, they can see it from now on and know that they contributed to it. It’s a feeling of pride and accomplishment,” he said.

Benco Steel President Judy White said the memorial was dedicated in December 2001 and was the first memorial after 9/11 to be officially recognized.

“The day (9/11) happened, one of our guys in the warehouse said we don’t even have a flag up,” White said. “We got to talking and drawing and said, ‘We can do all of this in warehouse.’ We contacted some other people to see if they would be willing to contribute. Everybody we called said we can do anything you want to do, and we started a week or two after that.”

The memorial features Benco, North Carolina and U.S. flags as well as memorial plaques and the steel replica of the Twin Towers damage. It is located in front of Benco Steel off U.S. 70 in Hickory.

Teaching 9/11 today

Today, teachers of elementary, middle and high school students draft lesson plans for 9/11. At NCHS, social studies teacher Donna Schronce said her students study what caused the terrorist attacks in addition to the affects the attacks have on society.

She said teachers will do lessons on 9/11 today, Monday and next semester as part of the curriculum.

“It’s a matter of understanding the causes, the impacts and how we can resolve it today,” Schronce said. “We talk about what their responsibility as future citizens is as well.”

Schronce teaches mostly juniors and seniors, meaning those students were most likely in second and third grade on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Most likely, most of them watched it on TV when it happened,”

Schronce said. “Some of them do remember and some of them may not.

They do, however, remember the immediate response after it, and how patriotic citizens were.”