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    Teachers, students try to cope with tears, fears

    Schools tried to make the day as normal as possible, but allowed students to talk about the terrorist attacks or watch news coverage.

    By MELANIE AVE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 13, 2001


    TAMPA -- The devastating reality of Tuesday's terrorist attacks rippled through Christie Gold's second-period English class Wednesday morning when one of her students crumbled in tears from fear and uncertainty.

    The destruction that had seemed a world away, playing out on televisions and radios everywhere, now had a human face they saw every day in the crowded halls of Gaither High School.

    The girl, an editor for the school newspaper, had not heard from her father since two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, causing the collapse of both towers.

    Her father was supposed to be in one of the towers for a 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday and has not been heard from since, the girl's friends said.

    She went to school Wednesday because she couldn't stand the waiting and wondering, but left class crying. School officials declined to release the student's name to protect her privacy.

    It was a poignant moment among many at the northern Hillsborough County high school of 2,800 students.

    Teachers tried to make the day as normal as possible, but allowed students to talk about the hijackings if they wanted.

    Some students and teachers wore ribbons with tiny red, white and blue paper pinned to their shirts.

    Outside, an American flag flew at half-staff. About 50 students gathered around the flag pole before school to pray for President Bush, the rescue workers in New York and Washington, D.C., and the grieving families.

    Senior Jessica Nix, 17, described the day as "eerie."

    "This is just a reminder that some people have no heart," she said. "They had to hijack civilian planes. Can you imagine if you were on those planes?"

    Math teacher Scott Hopkins let his classes watch news reports if they requested. He felt it was important for them to hear updates about the worst disaster on United States soil.

    Reading teacher Randy Grenon showed maps to his students, helping them understand the possible reasons behind the attacks and possible ties to Middle East extremists.

    On Tuesday, he had shed tears in his class because he had not heard from a female friend in New York City.

    "Today, I wore this tie," he said, pointing to an American flag tie wrapped around his neck and noting a call from the woman's mother saying she was unharmed. "I wanted to show them I'm okay."

    Even Gold admitted the difficulties of putting on a straight face for her students despite her own worries.

    The shared sadness was palpable among the upset classmates of the girl whose father is missing.

    One girl sat at the back of the room, hunkered down at her desk, wiping away tears with the back of her hands.

    "What are you going to do?" Aron Stevanus Jr. asked of his classmates, breaking the silence. "I'm going to get her a teddy bear, some candy and a card. Do you want to get her some flowers?"

    Gold handed out an assignment to divert her students' attention. The class seemed almost relieved to have something to do.

    "I know we're having a hard time focusing today," Gold told her class of juniors.

    She told them their classmate is "going to be fine. The best thing to do is keep her in your thoughts. We need to go on and not validate what happened with those evil people. That's why (she) came to school today. She wanted to work and not think about it."

    From the looks on the high schoolers faces, though, that seemed easier said than done.

    -- Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or melanie@sptimes.com.

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