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New York City
September 2002

City Schools Observe 1st Anniversary of 9-11
By Katarzyna Kozanecka

September 11th falls on a Wednesday this year. Over a million children will be in school across the five boroughs. Or will they? “I’m sure many kids won’t show up, and those who do will be thoroughly upset,” said Alex Herman, speaking of her classmates at Stuyvesant HS in downtown Manhattan, where she is a senior. How to spend the first year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center is one of the most pressing issues that New York City educators face as the 2002-03 school year begins.

 No Specific Plans for Public Schools

“It’s going to be a day of reflection but at the same time as normal a school day as possible,” said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesperson for the New York City Board of Education, recently renamed the Department of Education, setting the tone for 9-11 commemorations in all public schools. In keeping with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s directive, schools will observe a moment of silence at 8:46, at which time the first plane hit. The rest is up to the discretion of principals, who know the needs of their faculty and children best.

Carmen Farina, superintendent of Community School District 15 in Brooklyn, will meet with her principals to discuss those needs. George Greenfield, her executive assistant, stressed that any commemoration would be “subdued, quiet, respectful. Were trying to put it behind us, he said. We had a couple of schools who were right across the river and you could look out a window and see. It was a tough year.”

One of those schools, MS 142, the Carroll Gardens Community School, will be the staging area for the Fireman Steven Siller Tunnel to Towers race through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. According to Michael McVey, the race director, this 5-kilometer walk/run retraces the route that the deceased fireman and father from Staten Island took on the morning of September 11. He had finished his night shift at the Squad 1 firehouse in Park Slope, Brooklyn and was driving through the tunnel when he got the news. He grabbed what gear he had and started running. The race will take place on Sunday, September 29, and is open to the public. Older student volunteers will be needed to hand out water and assist at the finish line. Benefits will go to the Stephen Siller Let-Us-Do-Good Children’s Foundation.

Elsewhere in the city, teachers may devote a lesson to Messages to Ground Zero, a collection of children’s writings and drawings published by Heineman. Ortiz suggested reading passages aloud. Helen Santiago, superintendent of Community School District 1 in lower Manhattan, said, “I would use this as a writing experience. The book could also serve as a jumping-off point for a discussion.” In a similar vein, Daylin Hull, Senior Class President of Francis Lewis HS in Queens, suggests displaying student’s artwork and writing in the auditorium or another central place. The hope is for young people to reflect individually and at the same time in a familiar setting, their school.

But for some students, especially those in the downtown area, school will not be a comfort but a reminder of last year’s horrible events. Students at PS 234, IS 89, HS of Economics and Finance, HS of Leadership and Public Service, and Stuyvesant will recall that morning’s panicked evacuations. Stuyvesant senior Christopher Lapinig said, “I do not believe that schools should force us to go on with our everyday routines of studying and homework.” Herman recalled her post 9-11 vigils and volunteering as healing experiences that should be repeated on the anniversary. Stuyvesant history teacher Anthony Valentin said, “My wish, though it would not be possible, would be to see the students who were with me at the time of the attack and our evacuation.” Stuyvesant Principal Stanley Teitel could not be reached for comment.

Some Stuyvesant parents wonder whether the school will even be in its own building by September 11th. Public schools are scheduled to open on September 5th, but Paul L. Edwards of the Concerned Stuyvesant Parents Association (a group separate from the Parents Association) said that the environmental cleanup of the school’s ventilation systems, which has been underway since July 12th, might not be finished on time. Within the last 2 weeks, additional testing performed by a PA environmental consultant showed that the auditorium is heavily contaminated by asbestos. “There have been some outright lies,” said Edwards, citing the BOE’s October 2001 reassurances to parents that the building had been subject to a thorough cleaning and asbestos abatement, when it had not. The continued finding of contamination at Stuyvesant should be of concern to any school in the area. But little action has been seen on the part of those schools. Edwards said some have dismissed the CSPA as alarmist. Incoming freshman Innokenty Pyetranker said, “The only thing that worried me is that [we] haven’t been getting any updates on a situation that is vital to us.”

Poly Prep Subject of Documentary Film

Poly Prep, a non-denominational private school whose full name is Brooklyn Polytechnic Preparatory Country Day School, took its share of 9-11 blows: eleven alumni died, a student lost her aunt, and a teacher lost her brother. The school is the subject of a Channel Thirteen documentary, a special of the New York Voices series produced by John DeNatale. “Lessons of September: One School Remembers 9-11” airs at 10 p.m. on September 5th. Robert Aberlin, business manager and history teacher at Poly Prep, co-produced the program, which does not include graphic footage of 9-11 but rather chronicles grief and recovery though actor John Turturro’s narration and interviews with members of the Poly Prep community.

Turning to nature for solace in the weeks after 9-11, the Poly Prep administration created a garden. Turning to art, Cameron Bossert wrote a musical about September 11th and performed it with his fellow students. First grade teacher Pat O’Berg, who lost a brother in the attacks, found strength to carry on in the children, who built the Twin Towers out of blocks and decided to let them stand.

Many students were gathered in the chapel, the central assembly room of the school, when news of the attacks reached them. Later, portraits of the lost alumni were hung on one of its walls, joining the portraits of alumni who were killed in wars. A moment of silence was observed for 9-11 victims at every chapel meeting this past year. This September 11th will begin with an extended chapel, at which the documentary will be shown. Athletic events but not classes will be cancelled. Aberlin expects the yearly commemoration of 9-11 to continue at Poly Prep for at least a decade, because the tragedy was so close to home. But the school will forever continue to award scholarships, matching current seniors with families of lost alumni.

In Jewish tradition, there is a prayer called the Mourner’s Kaddish which is recited daily for eleven months by anyone who has lost a close relative. Similarly, the past year has been one of mourning for (and celebrating the good deeds of) dear ones killed on September 11th. This month, with the airing of the Thirteen documentary, Poly Prep will begin a new year along with other New York City schools, all of whom have learned the same lessons.#


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