Street College Offers Insights About 9/11
to the film’s raw power,” Bank Street College provided “a small,
secure place for group discussion” after the showing of “Our School.”
Not one person took advantage of the considerate offer.
Are we that immune by now to 9/11? Or do people, basically in
shock, just react matter-of-factly to unspeakable tragedy? That,
of course, is the very theme of “Our School,” a film by Lori Hamilton.
Hamilton is a parent at P.S. 234, an elementary school with 620
students at Ground Zero, standing approximately three blocks away
from the Twin Towers.
this started out as just making a historical record for my son
who’s in the third grade there,” said Hamilton. “Then, as I was
shooting the film, it evolved into something different practically
every day. Just as the meaning of 9/11 does.” The movie is comprised
of interviews with teachers, aides, maintenance people, and the
principal of P.S. 234 months after the monstrous event, just as
they began the process of reoccupying the school (which was used
as a Red Cross center in the interim).
The movie is majestic in its very mundane-mess; the participants’
recollections are not that different from anyone else’s who’s
lived through that day of devastation. “As we were attempting
to run away from the school—a child holding my hand tightly—and
I were stumbling all over the darkness in my three-inch clogs,
I realized that not one of us was wearing the proper shoes,” one
teacher says. Another recalls that, as she expresses fear that
the towers might fall right ON the school, one of her second-graders
explains that, “in Manhattan, all the buildings were constructed
so they fall straight down.” “You’re seven years old, how
would you know something like that?” the teacher asks in amazement.
A school aide, who was instrumental in putting the school safety
plan together, confesses matter-of-factly that “the very first
moment, the entire plan was out the window.” Principal Anne Switzer
is in icy control of the unprecedented events throughout the entire
morning, only to collapse in hysterics on the steps of a store
in the early afternoon when “it was all over and I knew all the
children were safe.” Teachers go through the gamut of disbelief,
shock, consternation, fear, and anger, but never let go of the
idea that “the children come first”.
None of them display much on emotion on the outside. When all
the students gather in the lunchroom, they read books to them
and hand out snacks. Some kids begin to make drawings, needing
to process the event immediately. An office-guy has a whistle.
“As long as I heard that whistle, I knew everything was going
to be all right,” a young kindergarten teacher said. When everyone
must trod into the basement— something that was never done before—the
teachers turn it into a game in order to allay the children’s’
fear (shades of Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winning “Life is Beautiful”.)
Professionals retain control when everything around them is so
desperately out of control. And the main focus is always the kids.
“Those teachers put the children’s’ safety ahead of all other
concerns, even their own lives,” Hamilton said. “This film is
many things. But, mainly, it is a note of ‘thank you’.”#
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