Teaching about the Sept. 11 attacks, 15 years later

Photo Credit: WOOD-TV

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s difficult to miss the memorial to the victims of 9/11 above the main entrance to Rockford High School.

The memorial features a large picture of the Twin Towers, topped by a quote from beatnik poet Ambrose Redmoon: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

“I gave a project to our social studies department to come up with a quote, so that was found by a student,” said Rockford Principal Dan Zang.

The memorial has become a gathering place to remember and learn. The entire project was designed and produced by the students, who came up with the idea on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Many of them participated in the Healing Fields project, an event which marked the anniversary of the first decade after the tragedy. People gathered at the nearby Cannonsburg ski hill and placed approximately 3,200 hundred flags to honor victims of the attack.

Biographies of four of those victim are part of the school’s memorial, which went up in 2012.

Zang says the memorial has helped students, many of whom weren’t born in 2001, understand the impact of that somber day in U.S. history.

“Many students, even to this day, make a comment about this really brings it home. These were actual people. They had family members. They were involved in their communities,” said Zang.

Ryan Jamgotch was a toddler when terms like “Ground Zero” and “war on terror” entered the American lexicon.

“I don’t really remember much about it,” says the Rockford senior.

Go into any high school history class in any school and you’ll find the seats filled with students who don’t remember the events of Sept. 11. Some were not even alive then.

“We can sort of like understand what it was like, but not really,” added Jamgotch.

The important task of making sure those students know, care, and understand falls to teachers like Christina Purvis.

“It’s kind of like one of those events in history where you always remember where you at that moment,” Purvis tells her 9 a.m. history class.

Purvis was 15, about the same age as her pupils, when the attacks happened.

“It’s critical, it’s absolutely critical,” she says of the lessons on 9/11.

But how do you get someone who hasn’t lived the experience to embrace the importance of the day, the weeks and the years that followed 9/11?

“I show them some video clips, because it was one of the most recorded things in history,” Purvis said. “You read about people that survived. People that lost loved ones. And by sharing that with kids, it touches their hearts. Then it’s relevant to them.”

Purvis has her students prepare a visual presentation about 9/11 at the end of the lesson, allowing them to express their own feelings. She also tries to tap into their own personal history to get them to draw comparisons to events they’ve experienced.

“It changes our present day, our viewpoint on present day, so it’s critical,” said Purvis.

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