Everyone remembers where they were during Sept. 11, when the World Trade Center was attacked.
Most were at work or home, anxiously watching the news for updates.
Adults knew what happened and could understand the implications, but kids had a more difficult time comprehending the weight of experiencing such a deadly terrorist attack.
How did teachers handle it that Tuesday morning? What did they tell their students?
Patti Gray, who now teaches 10th grade U.S. history at Fenton High School, was a student teacher at Fenton Middle School at the time of the attacks.
Gray, who was 22 at the time, said it was hard to go back to teaching.
“It was kind of hard to act normal,” she said. “We didn’t want to scare them.”
She said the principal at the time, Neil McPhee, came around to each classroom and quietly told the teachers what happened, and asked them not to say anything to the kids. He decided to tell the students about the attacks at the end of the school day.
“A lot of the kids were just staring at us, they didn’t know what to do,” she said. “Sept. 11 is the very beginning of the school year. I had only been student teaching for a week. I had to be very adult, the kids were expecting us to tell them everything was OK.”
She now covers 9/11 as part of their history curriculum.
“They come in pretty much knowing about terrorism but most of them don’t really know much about 9/11,” she said.
Jack Prechowski was in his second year of teaching seventh-grade social studies at Holly Middle School during the attacks.
“The first plane went into the first tower about 8:45, as I recall,” he said. “I was in a conference.”
He went down to the library, where all the tech people were. A TV was on and they were watching live coverage.
“It was that time that I watched the second plane go into the second tower,” he said. “We were just ‘this isn’t happening.’”
They then got a hold of their principal.
“We kept it from the kids for the first day,” Prechowski said. This was before cell phones so kids had no way of knowing what happened.
After that first day, the teachers sat down to figure out how they were going to approach it.
On Sept. 12, the social studies teachers were supposed to be out of the building for an event, but they decided to talk with the kids about what happened instead.
“There were very few questions,” he said. “It really hit the teachers more than it hit the students in middle school. It’s one of those days that will go down in infamy, as one you’ll always remember.”
Prechowski said rumors spread throughout the school, and they spent a great deal of time trying to get kids to recognize facts and not jump on rumors or conjecture.
“The big issue at the time was who did this and why would someone do this? I remember the horror of actually watching on replay, and those people who are jumping out of the twin towers, folks who knew they weren’t going to get out of that building alive,” he said. “Just the horror of why would someone do this.”
Prechowski still teaches seventh-grade social studies at Holly Middle School.
“Interestingly enough, I recall that the eeriest part of this was there was a no-fly zone established over the country at that week’s time. That was really weird because I live on a lake. You watch planes pass over all the time. It was an eerie silence,” he said.
Jennifer Williams, a fourth-grade teacher at Torrey Hill Intermediate School for the Lake Fenton C ommunity Schools, taught at West Shore Elementary at the time.
“Our building, West Shore Elementary was a K-4 at that time and my fourth-grade classroom was a portable unit outside the building,” she said. “It might sound like the dark ages, but at that time, we didn’t have internet access or email in our classrooms, so I didn’t realize anything had happened until my recess at 10:30 when I came into the building and walked past the library where I saw people huddled around a TV.”
The school’s principal, Steve Bingham, called them into his office and told them that the World Trade Center towers had collapsed.
“For the rest of that day, our school was in the first lockdown that I can recall. All exterior doors to the building were locked, which was not normal practice at that time,” she said. “In order to minimize fear and anxiety in our young students, we did not discuss any events that had occurred that morning with students during that school day. We kept the rest of their day as normal as possible.”
She said the next day, they tried to shift the focus from the tragic events to the heroes, like the firefighters and police who helped in New York, D.C., and in their own community.
Brett Smith, who was a Linden Elementary fifth-grade teacher at the time of the attacks and still is today, heard about it from his co-teacher.
At first, he did not believe the news. He went online to the New York Times to see if it was true.
“That was the first time for me that seeing something on the internet made it real,” he said. “I think that’s what made it memorable for me. That was the start of us being able to get world news at our fingertips.”
He said they did not tell the children, and when news started to break, a few parents came to pick up their kids.
They incorporated learning about the attacks in their curriculum, Smith said. Every year they have a moment of silence.
“We just talk about what happened, we don’t get into detail at our level but we kind of just let them know that it happened,” he said.
Some parents choose not to have their kids participate because they do not want to scare them.
“Wars were happening in other places, they weren’t happening in the U.S. It was different to talk about here and how it impacted us,” he said.