9-11 History Lesson Steps Outside the Classroom
“Never forget” became permanently ingrained in our heads and our hearts after the attacks of September 11, 2001. But now, 16 years later, our schools are full of students who weren’t even alive when history was made; leaving many teachers to decipher how and what to teach students about a moment in our history that changed our world forever.
“I think the further it gets away from these kids not even being born yet, the harder it gets to teach it. Teachers must use a lot of understanding of what led up to 9-11 and then what happened to our country afterwards and even what it means to our country now. A lot of it is a teacher talking," says Cimarron Principal, Chris Zimmerman.
It was tackling those issues and the questions that followed, that prompted the staff at Cimarron Middle School to step outside the classroom.
“One of the things that is so cool about this is kids get an understanding of what 9-11 is and how it shaped our country. They get to feel the emotions of the different firefighters that are here and talk to them and ask them questions and get to know what it’s all about. To bring in that empathy to our kids is something you just can’t teach inside a classroom. You can only get it from the men and woman who serve our country. For our kids, they get the best lesson they can at this event,” says Zimmerman.
This year, Cimarron Middle School, in Parker, sent all 500 of its eighth-graders to the annual Colorado Stair Climb at Red Rocks. Students got the chance to watch a memorial ceremony, hear some of the audio from dispatch centers as tragedy unfolded and meet countless firefighters who put their lives on the line every day for us.
“It’s hard to really understand the impact of it. We just don’t really understand. It’s hard to believe our world was different and there wasn’t security like there is now. Or that something could ever even happen like that,” says Hadley Kuosman, an eighth-grader.
More than 2,000 people attended this year’s stair climb, which is touted as one of the biggest events in the country. Participants marched nine laps around Red Rocks Amphitheater, which equals 110 stories of the World Trade Center in New York City.
“It's just really awesome to see all the people who came out to support fallen firefighters and the firefighters and emergency responders who are still here,” says Clara Phillips, an eighth-grader.
Before the stair climb started, there was a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. At 9:02 a.m., the time when the plane hit the south tower, the climb began.
“Most people remember everything about that day, like where they were, what they were wearing but we weren’t even alive yet. So coming to this event and seeing and hearing everything really gives us a better idea of what happened that day,” says Phillips.
In an effort to really show emergency responders just how grateful our students are, each of the Cimarron Middle School students created a handful of thank you notes and cards to hand out while the stair climb was taking place.
“It was pretty special. A lot of this job is thankless. To have kids like that appreciate what we do, we appreciate them a lot. It’s pretty cool. These kids are a different part of history. A lot of us saw firsthand the tragedy and watched it all unfold, unfortunately. For these kids to be able to take away what it means to us and know what that part of history is and what their role is, is pretty special,” says Thornton Firefighter, Sean Vanhouten.
“It was unexpected. It feels really good. I was just standing there, not expecting anything. I didn’t know what it was at first and once I saw it and realized what it was it really made me feel good,” says Aaron Baughn from West Metro Fire.
For teachers and administrators, watching their students step outside the classroom to learn a very important lesson in history filled with empathy, emotion and strength gives new meaning to conversations that were held when students were sitting at their desks.
“Every student was in the moment. We had no issues, all our kids really dove deep into it and were very respectful. This has been a great experience; one we hope our students remember,” says Zimmerman.
It’s opportunities like this that are providing these students a chance to “Never Forget.”