Sep 9, 2021 | Education | 0 comments

Helping Teens Understand How 9/11 Changed Us

We all know where we were when we heard the news on the morning of September 11, 2001.

I was in the newsroom of the NBC affiliate in Pittsburgh. I was the producer of the 6pm newscast. We were in the middle of our morning editorial meeting when the Today Show broke the news about the first plane. We sat, stunned as we watched the second plane fly into the south tower on live television.

We scattered, everyone knowing their role as we coordinated our coverage plans, called in every staff member not already in the building and started to dispatch crews to New York. We had no idea how much would change over the next hour, how close to home this would become.

For me, it was home. I grew up in an old coal mining town in Somerset County about ten miles from Shanksville. When our newsroom scanners began to chatter about a possible plane crash there it was surreal. Our assignment editor warned that it was not confirmed, it was probably someone panicking, heard a loud sound and called 911. Our news chopper happened to be in Westmoreland County, not far away from Somerset. It was dispatched to check it out. The aerial footage of the United Flight 93 crash site, that’s been played around the world, came from that chopper. After a few minutes it was ordered to leave the airspace by the U.S. military.

It was real, my hometown was now part of this horrific attack. My mom and siblings still lived there, I worried for their safety. As the days passed our ground crews talked to witnesses, many of them I knew. The Somerset County Coroner, Wally Miller, who was suddenly thrust into the spotlight, was a friend of my sister’s. He talks about that day in a beautifully produced podcast by NPR.

I watched a live feed from the control room at WPXI of a candlelight vigil lead by the pastor of my family’s church. The events of that day forever changed our country and assigned a new identity to my home county.

Last year, my husband and I took my daughter to the Flight 93 National Memorial. It brought me to tears. It’s beautiful, powerful, and painful to those who remember that day. To the children not even alive in 2001, it’s a pretty place with a sad history. Many have no understanding of how 9/11 impacts their parent’s lives. How we all changed that day.

How do we teach our children about that Tuesday that began with such clear skies and suddenly turned so dark? The Pennsylvania Department of Education has no specific content requirements for September 11th curriculum in our public schools. It’s left up to the districts to decide how it’s taught.

One way for teens to begin to grasp the long-lasting impact of 9/11, is through a young adult novel called Towers Falling. It’s by award winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes and is set 15 years after the 9/11 attacks. The book is described this way on the author’s website:

As the twentieth anniversary of September 11th nears, Towers Falling explores the thought-provoking question of how kids born after 2001 can find meaning in events they have no personal memory of, but which still have a monumental impact on their families, educators, and communities. In the tradition of her revered body of middle grade work including Ninth Ward, Sugar, and Bayou Magic, once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a story that is at its heart about friendship, family, and finding your way in a complicated world.

9/11 Memorial and Museum offers lesson plans that can be used in the classroom or at home. They’re interactive and geared towards kids in 3rd to 12th grade. They cover the attacks, their ongoing repercussions, and the history of the World Trade Center.

My mother tells the story of how she was mopping the kitchen floor when she heard the news of the Kennedy assassination. As a kid I found that odd. As I learned more about this event, the feeling of the country, how this man’s death saddened so many and changed the course of history, I began to understand. Our children will too.


How do we teach our children about that Tuesday that began with such clear skies and suddenly turned so dark?"

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