High School Students Use 9/11 To Reflect and Heal

July 7, 2008 - 8:20 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Students at a suburban Maryland high school spent the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks remembering the victims who lost their lives and reflecting on how the day impacted their lives.

Like thousands of high schools across the United States, the 2,000-student Largo High School, located on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., used its classes on Wednesday to teach students about the terrorist attacks.

Largo teachers and administrators spent about a week preparing for the one-year anniversary. Throughout the day, students in the predominately black school wrote essays, debated issues and discussed how the actions of the hijackers changed the course of history.

For some students at Largo, the attacks remain hard to talk about given the emotions of last Sept. 11. Since the school is a mere 15 miles from the Pentagon, several students had parents, relatives or friends who were directly affected.

Senior Quisharn Hamilton said she was fortunate not to have lost anyone in the Pentagon attack, but the events of that day still changed her outlook on life.

"I just value life so much more now," she said. "I find myself spending a lot more time with my family."

Most of Largo's curriculum on Wednesday was structured so students could talk about how their lives, and those of other Americans, have changed in the year after the hijackings.

Each of Largo's classrooms is equipped with a television on which the morning announcements are broadcast. Last Sept. 11 as students settled in for the beginning of their classes at 9 a.m., they witnessed the events as they happened. Before United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pa., students feared it could be headed near them in the nation's capital.

Those same television sets were on Wednesday, broadcasting coverage of President Bush's speech at the Pentagon and a memorial service in New York City.

In a Junior ROTC class taught by retired Air Force Master Chief James Jones, students reflected on topics ranging from religious extremism to the war on terrorism. While some students expressed anger, others advocated for peace.

Jones told his students that his service in the military makes such an attack difficult to forgive.

"I can't turn my cheek," he said. "I want vengeance against the people who attacked us."

Jones said he used Wednesday's class to assist students with their healing process -- a statement that was echoed throughout the halls of Largo.

Principal Richmond Myrick, who was new to the school last September, said the biggest challenge was stepping up as a leader at a time when so many people were distraught.

"I had an empty feeling," he said. "But in the end it made me know how much I really love what I do."

In addition to working with Prince George's County officials to plan some of the school's activities, Myrick sat down with teachers to discuss how to best address the attacks. He also called upon Junior ROTC members to participate in a noontime ceremony in which the U.S. flag was lowered to half-staff.

Starting at 11:45 a.m., student poems were read over the intercom system along with other reflections on the anniversary. The ceremony ended with a moment of silence in memory of those who died.

Leading up to the tribute, law teacher Jo Henry used her classes to compare and contrast past tragedies. She had her students interview their parents, grandparents or other relatives about events that shaped their lives.

"I was hoping to give them a little bit of perspective. They are not the only generation that had to face a tragedy," she said, noting that the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam War and the assassinations of President John F. Kenney and civil rights activist Martin Luther King topped the list.

Henry said the terrorist attacks hit last year's law class hard because students had recently visited both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on field trips.

Tonia Kallon, a senior in one of Henry's classes, said it was helpful to compare the Sept. 11 attacks to past events, even though she feels terrorism has had a more profound impact on the country.

"People think that because we're young, we don't understand," she said. "But we do understand the importance and the impact of what's happening."

Kallon said she has reshaped her life in the past year.

"For a while I was a really shy person," she said. "Life is not about being fearful, though. Now I stand up for what I believe in. [Sept. 11] made me feel I should treasure life."

Sophomore Steven Carter said he has no problem looking back but that coverage of the 9/11 anniversary should not be overblown.

"It is good to show the commemorations, but it is not good to dwell on what happened," Carter said. "It just brings back too many sad memories."

While most students spent the day behind their desks, four Junior ROTC students led a group of 40 classmates in the noontime ceremony. The school has 231 students in its Junior ROTC program.

Among the Junior ROTC leaders at Wednesday's ceremony were seniors Daniela Ramirez and Guillermo Howell. Both said the attacks made them proud to wear their uniforms in school.

"The uniform took on a new respect," Howell said. "Other students started to look at us as role models."

Ramirez said she felt the same way. Both she and Howell said Sept. 11 impacted their lives in a way that will shape their future. After graduation in the spring, they plan to serve their country by enrolling in a military academy, following in the footsteps of many Americans before them.

E-mail a news tip to Robert B. Bluey.

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