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Schools discover ways to reflect on attacks

Activities appropriate to students' age and studies are selected for Sept. 11 this year.

By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 10, 2002

Activities appropriate to students' age and studies are selected for Sept. 11 this year.

For the county's schools, the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is shaping up to be a day unlike few others before it.

At West Hernando Middle School, all 1,300 students are expected to plant American flags in the ground during a ceremony. Then, they will join voices to sing God Bless America. A trumpeter will play taps.

At Fox Chapel Middle School, hand bells will ring and students will be called to silence precisely at the moments when, a year earlier, the planes crashed and the towers fell.

At Hernando High, students will raise an American flag that Marines carried with them while flying over enemy skies in Afghanistan and Iraq this past year.

Recitations of sacred American texts -- the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence, for instance -- will occur at several campuses. But there will be fresh material, too: poems and compositions, even video tributes.

"You know 9/11 was a huge day in American history. It ranks right up there with Pearl Harbor, and we need to pay it the respect that it's due," said Hugh Flournoy, an ROTC instructor at Hernando High.

"We never need to forget what happened and the impact that it's had on this country."

Some schools will mark the event in their own unique ways.

Springstead High School is sponsoring a "Remember 9-11-01" poster contest that will offer winning students cash rewards: $100 for first place, $50 for second and $25 for third. ROTC cadets will be stationed all day at the flagpole.

Parrott Middle School will hold a vigil in its gymnasium around a "unity" candle. It's a symbolic attempt to bridge the gaps between races, religions and ethnic groups.

Chocachatti Elementary will hold its own parade, with students decorating a float and marching with it around the bus loop.

It will be a day marked both by kindergarten students and graduating seniors. At Deltona Elementary, 5-year-olds will make a flag out of their painted handprints. At Spring Hill Christian Academy, 17-year-olds will make speeches.

While seemingly every school will mark the anniversary with a special event, it isn't clear how much attention Sept. 11 will get during classroom studies and discussions.

Educators across the county expect questions about the attacks. And most say they will let them play out to their conclusion.

But Flournoy said he has steered his Hernando High ROTC classes, which focus on citizenship and military decorum, away from the touchy topics of religion and politics. And that seems to be the rule, rather than the exception.

More common are reflections on the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.

At Parrott, advanced history students were asked to sit with their families and talk about how their lives changed. Some of those interviews will be shared at the unity ceremony.

One of the most poignant, said Parrott principal Marvin Gordon, was from a Muslim student who wrote about troubles his family has faced because of the anti-Muslim backlash.

In a few cases, the logistics of the Sept. 11 attacks will get at least some mention.

Chuck Moehle, an assistant principal and history teacher at Notre Dame Interparochial School, said he plans to use recent newspaper sections -- even those detailing the timing and the movement of the hijackers -- to describe the day's events to middle school students.

At Fox Chapel, a narrator will describe in detail the dramatic events at the precise time of the morning they occurred a year ago: from the first plane hitting the south tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. to the collapse of the north tower at 10:28 a.m.

"It was a very defining moment in our history," said Mark Griffith, an assistant principal at Fox Chapel. "The country has changed as a result of it. Our job is to keep kids abreast and informed."

Griffith said the assembly will be appropriate to the age of his students, that younger students should for now be left to their innocence. And that seems to be the route commonly taken in elementary schools, where graphic images and stark time lines are largely absent.

"We're trying to keep it low key," said Brooksville Elementary principal Sue Stoops. "You really don't know how to play this thing. You don't want to do anything that will upset the children. But you want to remember the anniversary and all that went on."

So Brooksville students will gather around the flagpole Wednesday morning, sing and have a moment of silence. The gym teacher will be dressed in an Uncle Sam costume.

At Deltona Elementary, principal Janet Dunleavy said her younger students -- those in kindergarten, first and second grade -- have no lasting memory of Sept. 11. For them, it will be a day to write letters to heroes (local firefighters and police officers) and to help make a flag with their painted handprints. "We didn't want to make it too heavy for the babies because they don't remember," Dunleavy said.

But she expects her third-, fourth- and fifth-graders to pose some tough questions. And they will be answered. "We're really looking to give kids a chance to talk," Dunleavy said.

Otherwise, discussions will focus on the Statue of Liberty and the First Amendment.

Above all, Dunleavy wants her students to take home a message of reassurance. So she will appear on the school's in-house TV channel to read a book about Sept. 12 -- the day after planes hit the towers.

It's about how recess returned to school, just as it was before. So did lunch. And so did the teacher's smile.

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