by VIVIAN ROSE
OHS — As a high school senior, I have been a part of many school events over the past four years; this year, however, proved to have a unique start unlike any other. The 20th anniversary of 9/11 fell on a Saturday this year, which meant the school wouldn’t be able to have the usual moment of silence commemorating the actual day of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. However, Mr. Manning and Mr. Nussen, along with the help and support of Dr. Bickman, the head of the Social Studies Department in Oceanside, weren’t going to let the 20th anniversary of 9/11 pass without a special day commemorating the attacks. Fortunately for me, I was able to speak with Mr. Manning and Dr. Bickman about the inspiration for the district-wide event
Before I was able to interview them, I stood off to the side, waiting for a quiet moment in between the classes coming and going to help put up flags in the front of the school. Behind the table they had set up in the lobby, Mr. Nussen was piling flags into Mr. Manning’s arms, impressively saying all the names of the flags that still needed to be put up. As Mr. Manning and Mr. Nussen distributed the flags to students, I was able to ask Dr. Bickman some questions:
Q: What do you think a social Studies department owes to the students when it comes to more recent history like 9/11?
A: 9/11 is an historical event, but it’s so important nationally, but especially in our region because it impacted this community and our surrounding communities in a profound way that shifted and changed the directions of so many lives. So, because you and your peers are growing up not being born when this event happened, it takes added importance for us to provide context for the day and discuss the events of 9/11; what happened, what transpired in the days, weeks, months, years after it, and make sure it doesn’t get relegated to the past as an event that did have an impact — and a profound impact — on our area. It’s our job and our responsibility to forefront it and talk about how this connects to the students’ lives, our region in the world, and ensure that this day is one that students have a true understanding of.
Q: At what age does your department first tackle this subject as a part of history?
A: We feel that it’s important to discuss the events — being age appropriate — as young as kindergarten. We are district-wide in different capacities, talking about 9/11. In the spring, Mr. Manning and Mr. Nussen helped organize an event for all of our district’s elementary kids, so K through 6 students created these flags in remembrance of an individual who lost their life on 9/11. We — in only elementary — taught a lesson around, “What does it mean to be a hero?” So it was a great way to introduce the youngest kids in our district to the events of 9/11 and talk about the first responders on that day. So tomorrow, when people come to the high school [for the 9/11 soccer game], they’re going to see 3,000 paper-maché flags made by elementary students with an American flag, each one representing the life of someone lost on 9/11 or the days, weeks, months, years after that. So that was as early as Kindergarten that we were talking about what it means to be a hero, first responders, and an introduction to this material. And then, of course, when kids get older, we delve a little bit deeper into the events of the day in more depth and we cover more of the history itself.
Q: In every elementary school, will they be doing something similar?
A: Every elementary school started the day with an announcement, to pay respect to the lives lost on 9/11 and the days, months, and years after. Then, the older grades are talking about it in some capacity and the other grades are focusing on the “hero” aspect. And then today, on the high school and middle school level, we’re delving a little bit deeper in Social Studies classrooms and English classrooms too, talking about the context behind the day.
As we talked in between questions, Dr. Bickman also commented how “wild” it is for it to be 20 years already. Later on, when I spoke with Mr. Manning, he also held that opinion, but he explained to me that he was happy that he and Mr. Nussen could share the story of 9/11 with the students of Oceanside so that when it’s this generation’s turn to forefront the remembrance of 9/11, we will have the experiences of the last few generations and some of our own to give to the generations to come.
When Mr. Manning had a few free minutes, I was able to ask him some further questions:
Q: What served as inspiration for organizing today’s events? How did the idea come about to devote an entire day to commemorating the 9/11 terror attacks?
A: I can tell you the origin story of this whole day. Mr. Nussen and I were fortunate enough to study at the 9/11 memorial and museum; we’ve been there a couple times as educators, and we did a study with a fellow at NYU who was doing research for educators. We were asked to walk around the museum and just listen and reflect and come back with our insights as teachers as to what people were doing in the museum and how they were interacting. There was one display that caught both of our attention; it was a really big picture, and it was a line of people along the blocks of Manhattan. When you step back and look at the picture, you can interpret that people were trying to flee downtown Manhattan. And then when I got up and read the caption underneath the picture, “In the Day After’” — so 9/12/2001 — it was people that were lining up to donate blood. So in the immediate tragedy of 9/11, all people could think about was ‘How can I help?’. That was really the inspiration of ‘okay how do you deal with trauma, how do you deal with a tragic event in the country’ when you feel like you don’t know what to do? The answer is you can just help; help somebody…in any way. So that was the inspiration for the day. That’s why Mr. Zylbert is running a blood drive tomorrow — if you don’t know what to do on the anniversary of 9/11, you can donate blood. You can come to the school and stock a food bank or you can be kind to others. That’s what Mrs. Trongard and Mrs. Patton were planning with the Wall of Kindness. There’s something you can do today, and it could be as simple as a smile for somebody else.
Q: What are you hoping the students learn or gain over the course of today’s events?
A: If — somewhere in the course of the day — a student just stops and reflects, I think that that’s the goal. We understand that this is the post-9/11 generation, so for me being a history student first, it’s the equivalent — when I was in high school — of learning of the Kennedy assassination or World War II. You knew it happened, you knew it was important, but you don’t have any connection or perspective, so it’s just to make students aware. I told my first period class that, you might not remember 9/11 but maybe in a few years you’ll look back and say, ‘Well, I remember the 20th anniversary, and taking part in something’ and that’s the whole idea.
Q: What specific memories or thoughts can you share with the students about that terrible day?
A: I was a senior in college, on 9/11. I was actually working at an internship in downtown Albany, and like what many others experienced, there was a lot of commotion in the office. I remember being sent back to campus and being told everybody could leave. And when I got back to campus, it was an eerie feeling, because I didn’t have a family connection, but the school I went to in Albany had a significant population from New York City and you could feel it with their reaction. I look at it as a pivotal moment in my career because I knew that I wanted to teach, so I’ve always looked at my entire career being post-9/11. The events of that day really shaped me as an educator and the way I teach. It really wasn’t until I got to Oceanside, which was a couple of years later, when I really felt the connection because this community was so deeply connected. I think about, daily, my first teaching partner, Gabrielle Hoffman, who lost her husband. I was extremely fortunate to coach Erin and Colleen Kelly in basketball a few years ago, two sisters who lost their father. So my personal connection is through Oceanside, and part of the inspiration of today is to give back to Oceanside.
Q: Where does the t-shirt money go?
A: We’re still in the process of vetting. We want to do something connected to Oceanside…we want to speak to the families first, because we can give it to a national organization — like the museum and national memorial, because we have connections there — which would be helpful, but we want the money to be connected to Oceanside too.