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    Questions, worries fill students' day

    photo
    [Times photos: Michael Rondou]
    Teanna Rowell of St. Petersburg stares at television news reports during her psychology class Wednesday at St. Petersburg High School.

    By KELLY RYAN

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 13, 2001


    From tears to anger to bravado, teens react in different ways to news of the terrorist attacks.

    ST. PETERSBURG -- They're not sure who the enemy is. They're not sure how best to seek revenge.

    But one day after the world witnessed attacks on American landmarks that some are calling an act of war, students at St. Petersburg High School are sure they don't want to be drafted.

    High school students weren't even born the last time the United States used the military draft, in 1973. Yet the topic was on students' minds and among their top concerns on a long list of questions and anxieties.

    "It just scares me," said Pam Johnston, a 17-year-old senior who left her government class in tears. "If there's a draft, all my friends could go."

    "If there's a draft, that's way, way, way down the road," said government teacher Lee Bryant. "This isn't D-day. We're not sending hundreds of thousands of troops anywhere."

    The reaction at an urban high school of 2,350 students was about the same as that at a large corporation, a grocery store or a gym. The horror had not fully sunk in, but many students were subdued and confused about the world politics that could have precipitated such an attack.

    "This is America," said senior Teanna Rowell, 17, as she tried to concentrate on a study guide for an upcoming psychology quiz. "S--- like this isn't supposed to happen here."

    Some students wanted to ask questions and discuss how the attacks will affect them. Most classes gave students a few minutes to talk about their feelings, but then turned to abbreviated lesson plans. In social studies courses, hours were spent dissecting the tragedy, watching news reports and wondering if unreachable loved ones in New York were safe.

    photo
    Government teacher Lee Bryant discusses the World Trade Center disaster with his students and lists nations that may have been involved.
    Some students were moved to action.

    As principal Linda Benware wandered the halls Wednesday, a student stopped her and asked whether he could get a pass to donate blood during the day. Another student told Benware that she had already contacted the American Red Cross and planned to help the relief agency raise funds.

    To other students, the tragedy was simply an easy way to con teachers into skipping their planned lessons and let them watch television. Some mocked Palestinian peers, accusing them of being responsible for the attacks and saying they should be deported or sent to concentration camps.

    Mostly, they were typical teenagers -- making fun of how people looked on television, grudgingly standing and keeping silent during the Pledge of Allegiance, angst-filled about personal romantic dramas, debating how they would have acted if they had been at the World Trade Center.

    Cameron Hopewell, a 17-year-old senior, shouted across his first-period class to a friend built like a linebacker: "If me and you were on that plane . . ."

    "It never would have happened," his friend said.

    Tralonda Walker, a 16-year-old junior, was upset that so many people jumped from the burning skyscrapers before they collapsed.

    "That's like killing yourself," Walker said. "I couldn't do that. I'd rather burn."

    All day, teachers faced questions delivered rapid-fire.

    What's going to happen now? How did those planes disintegrate into the Pentagon and World Trade Center? Could this start an economic depression? Why do buttons make airport metal detectors beep but not all knives? How do you beef up security without trampling on individual freedoms?

    How come the government didn't know this was coming? Could the enemy unleash some strange diseases on certain cities? Shouldn't Palestinians be punished, especially those who celebrated and handed out candy, if they're responsible? Why can't we just turn Afghanistan into a parking lot?

    "He could have come and hit the president," said senior Jacquelyn Shotwell, 17. "He hit buildings that he knew had innocent people. Also, the difference is we won't be celebrating in the streets. That was bad."

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