Children discover lessons amid tragedy; Week’s events give way to discussions in the classroom

Friday, September 14, 2001
Page 21A

Children discover lessons amid tragedy
Week’s events give way to discussions in the classroom

By Dan R. Barber and Katie Menzer
Staff Writers

The attack on America has come to the classroom.

In planned and unplanned lessons, teachers and students have used the week’s events as a way of learning.

For some it was geography, for others letter writing. Many just learned about the give and take of emotional discussions.

At his desk in Spring Creek Academy, a private school in Plano, Jared Ostrov was puzzled.

The 12-year-old and his classmates opened their seventh-grade world history books to Thursday’s lesson on Germany and war, what it meant more than 60 years ago. And what it means today.

“I heard they declared war on a country,” Jared said. “But my question is, who are we at war with?”

An unknown enemy’s attack Tuesday, sending two commercial passenger airliners into New York’s World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and a fourth into a Pennsylvania field, has become part of the curriculum in public and private school classrooms in the area.

A blunt, sobering exchange between Jared and another student Thursday echoed conversations nationwide.

“If you go over and start bombing people, innocent people will die,” said Allison Taylor, 13, as the history class discussed how war would change lives.

“They started it,” Jared replied.

At Meadows Intermediate School in DeSoto, students reviewed the attacks during social studies and reading and language arts classes.

Kitty Hickerson, Meadows’ principal, said the students used maps to locate New York; Washington, D.C.; Pittsburgh; Britain; Pakistan; and Afghanistan.

The tragedy is also helping students learn how to write letters, Mrs. Hickerson said. They will write condolences to President Bush and to New York police officers and firefighters, she said. Most of the letters expressed fear about the possibility of war, she said.

One child suggested that the president hide inside the Statue of Liberty because it is the “safest place in America,” Mrs. Hickerson said.

Chuck Corona, principal of J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, said students there have talked constantly about the tragedy, but social studies class seemed to be where it was most often used as part of the curriculum.

“They have used it in the classroom to talk about things and ease everybody’s minds, and that was appropriate,” Mr. Corona said. “They handled it very maturely and asked the right questions. I’m proud of them.”

At Lamar High School in Arlington, the students in Barry Wilmoth’s U.S. history class did more than talk about history. They watched it unfold on television.

“I’ve tried to work this into the lesson plans and answer any questions they have,” he said. “When we talk about World War I, World War II or Pearl Harbor, they’ll understand how people felt.”

John Ashton, who teaches English and humanities to sixth-graders and juniors at St. Mark’s School of Texas in North Dallas, said classes normally spent on novels were turned into discussions.

“It was, ‘Put your books away, let’s talk,'” Mr. Ashton said. “There’s a sense in the classroom that, from the start of class to the end, this pressure valve has been released a bit.”

Mr. Ashton said the events affected the age groups differently.

“The older boys have come in willing to talk about the emotional side,” he said. “The sixth-graders want the facts, the specifics of how these things could have happened. They want to solve it.”

The attacks left two other students at Spring Creek Academy wondering what their families might be thinking.

Seniors Hanh Truong and Ha Nguyen, 17-year-old exchange students from Vietnam, spent part of the day Tuesday using the school’s computer to contact home. Their parents did not know how far Dallas was from New York, they said, and family members were worried for their safety.

Although the girls said they were deeply saddened by the events. Neither was surprised at the terrorism.

“Everything can happen in America,” Hanh said.

Staff writers Toya Lynn Stewart, Joshua Benton, Kristine Hughes and
Michael Tate contributed to this report.