Remembering 9/11 Schools Plan Special Events for Today

Article excerpt

Byline: Maggie FitzRoy, Shorelines staff writer

Lynn Dean is not going to work today.

"It's my new Memorial Day," she said while donating a pint of blood Saturday during a blood drive organized by Ponte Vedra Beach public school parent-teacher organizations in commemoration of Sept. 11.

Dean visited the World Trade Center site in October, when it was still smoking.

"It was incredible, I felt a great sense of loss," said the Ponte Vedra Beach resident, who thinks Sept. 11 should be declared a national holiday. Until then, she plans to make it her own personal day, to reflect and remember.

Ponte Vedra Beach residents will be participating in events throughout the community today for reflection, remembrance and prayer. All public school students are being encouraged to wear red, white and blue and they will be participating in a moment of silence at 9:11 a.m. Many churches are planning special services or will be open throughout the day for those who seek solemnity and sanctuary.

At Nease High School, students will be decorating trees in front of the campus with red, white and blue streamers, then all students and staff will be gathering in the stadium for a ceremonial tribute, including a 21-gun salute by the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

"I think it's very important that there is a tribute," said Susan Minshall, Nease student activities director, who said the events of Sept. 11, 2001, affected children and teens as well as adults.

"It's their history right now," she said. "This is part of their history -- they will read about it in the future. They are living it right now, it's very important that they have some ownership."

Classes had just begun last year when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, Minshall said, and the students were informed what was happening by intercom. They watched events unfold via closed-circuit TV throughout the day.

That was not the case at the elementary schools. Kathleen McCarthy, principal of Ponte Vedra Palm Valley Elementary, said while staff knew what was happening in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, they decided not to share the information with the younger children because it would be too upsetting. Many of the children have parents who travel by airplane.

"It was a scary day," McCarthy said. "We didn't know what would happen."

When kids did learn of the terrorist attacks after they arrived home and watched it on TV, they needed to process it and talk about it in school. When they started to comprehend it all, they wanted to help. About $4,000 was raised in a fund-raising drive for the American Red Cross, and in November some second-graders put on a show, We Salute America, which honored service personnel, firefighters, police officers and medical workers.

About1,700 people saw the show last year, said McCarthy. A video of it will be played today for students. They will also be coloring flags and writing letters to servicemen and women in Afghanistan.

At Ocean Palms Elementary, students will be writing letters to military personnel. Tracy Williams was a weeklong substitute teacher for a kindergarten class last September, and she remembers the children's reactions to the events of the terrorist attacks clearly.

"It was stunning," said Williams, who was moved by the children's perspectives and emotions.

"They were afraid over the week; they were building towers of blocks and knocking them down, and talked about airplanes crashing."

She said it was difficult because her instinct was to shelter them from the news as the week went on.

"But it was too catastrophic," she said. "It was tough."

Williams was another donor at the PTO blood drive last weekend. She said she gives blood on a regular basis, and received a license plate that said "I DON8 Blood" in recognition of having donated a gallon over eight visits. …