Tuesday, December 15, 2009

After September 11, 2001 — How are our kids coping?


Our community and schools come together in time of need.

More than two months after Sept. 11, our community and schools are still trying to absorb what happened to our country on that fateful, fall day, in a month of so many new beginnings and promises of things to come for our own students. In the weeks that have passed, many of us have come together to do what we can to ease the pain for those directly affected by the World Trade Center attack and for all Americans.

And like their teachers and parents, many students are exhibiting a new thirst for knowledge about foreign affairs and the events that led up to our new war. “This time in our history is an educable moment that we must all learn from,” said former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett speaking on NBC’s Today Show.

In Chappaqua schools, as in schools across our land, students are asking many
questions. “What does this mean for our country?” “What is patriotism?” “What is good and what constitutes evil?”

Taking over this fall as the new Superintendent of the Chappaqua Schools, Dr. James Donovan recognized, “this year will forever be different than any school year we have ever experienced.” Speaking to parents, he said, “I want to thank so many of you for your wishes of encouragement and thanks for our staff’s efforts during the past two months. They have
approached difficult topics in a very sensitive, age-appropriate manner. We are fortunate to have such a dedicated staff who truly keep our children’s interests at heart.”

In response to the tragedy our students and staff have joined together in many inspiring ways. Here is a look at a few:

At Roaring Brook, a school-wide “Children-to-Children”
Walk-A-Thon organized by the school’s student organization and PTA reached out to the community for sponsors and raised $58,000 for the Red Cross Relief Fund — the highest
amount of money raised by any elementary school in Westchester, according to Red Cross officials.

“We wanted to do something for the children who lost their parents,” said Rachel Libowitz, 9, a fourth-grader. “It was so sad when the towers came down.” Principal Mark Soss said the idea for the Walk-A-Thon was born a few weeks ago when parents, teachers and administrators discussed how to make Halloween more meaningful for students this year. So on Oct. 31st, instead of coming to school in traditional costumes, students were asked to wear patriotic colors and get sponsors for the Walk-A-Thon, which took place on the school field. “We wanted students to feel a sense of empowerment... that they were doing something
to help others,” said Soss, who thanked the many Chappaqua parents, staff and local corporations who supported the students’ efforts.

On Nov. 5, the school held a special assembly where students handed over the check to Katherine Cintron, director of philanthropy for the American Red Cross in Westchester County who thanked the students. “You students are terrific,” said Cintron. “Do you know what you have done?”

Roaring Brook’s “Children Helping Children” Walk-a-Thon

Roaring Brook students dressed in red, white and blue, who participated in the school’s “Children Helping Children” Walk-A-Thon on Halloween raised $58,000 from sponsors who donated the money to students who walked around the school field in shifts all day. The school held two spirited K-5 assemblies — one to kick off the walk — and the other to present the $58,000 check At Greeley High School, a school-wide Forum discussion was held on Oct. 25th to help students learn more about the history and politics of Afghanistan and the region where our new war is taking place.

Principal Kathy Mason said she was pleased with how interested the students are in learning more about what led to the terrorist attacks. At the Forum, the entire school population of 1,100 students assembled in the gym to hear a panel discussion led by four of Greeley’s social studies teachers: Steven Houser spoke on the history of terrorism; Mark Jagels, on Islam; Mary Devane talked about Kashmir (disputed region between India and Pakistan) and Stephen Walker discussed the present challenges facing our country since Sept. 11th. After the teachers spoke, students broke into smaller discussion groups led by student Forum leaders who raised questions that explored how our country can keep its freedoms in a society threaten by terrorism. “How long should we be able to detain suspects we think may have terrorist ties, but who have yet to commit a crime?” “Many students are waking up and appreciating our freedoms,” said junior Forum Leader Matt Goldshore. “Students want to learn as much as they can about America’s new war in Afghanistan,” said Greeley history
teacher Stephen Walker, a former U.S. diplomat who uses what is going on in today’s headlines to teach students in his American History class and foreign policy elective classes.

“History is more relevant to them than ever before.” At Greeley’s new LIFE alternative school, where students start the day in a 40-minute “community” dialogue session, what happened on Sept. 11th., took up several days with students sharing emotions of sadness, fear and uncertainty.

However, after several days, the students agreed they didn’t want to talk about terrorism anymore. “They wanted to talk about school related things like how they were being graded, and what teachers were going to tell their parents at conferences,” said teacher Susan Peters. “They wanted to move on.” But there are some changes. Peters, who was scheduled to teach students a semester of forensic science, is spending more time teaching students about bioterriorism and bacteria, topics taken from headlines that have peaked students’
interests in science, since the Anthrax scare.

Moved by the magnitude of the disaster, Greeley students too, pitched in to do what they could to raise funds to help victims and relatives of those who died. Inspired by Jennifer
Simon, a new biology teacher at Greeley, who lost both her father and brother at the World Trade Center, Greeley students made ribbons and sold them in the cafeteria. “I want to thank everyone at Greeley for their kindness and support which is helping me get through each day,” said Simon, who has returned to work and to her students.

On New Castle Community Day, many organizations pitched in, including the Greeley Football Team which raised $8,000 for the Rotary Club, which donated the money to the
World Trade Center Disaster Relief Fund.

At Bell Middle School students are writing and creating poems and pieces of sculpture that are helping students cope with the disaster by expressing themselves in many creative
ways. “We’re not pushing them to talk about it, but if they feel the need to relate their feelings in their school work, we’re encouraging that,” said Bell English teacher Sara
Golfinopoulos, who is a working with students on a unit on bullying in literature. “Students are naturally drawing comparisons between "bad” or “evil” characters in fiction and Osama bin Laden, who they characterize as the “bully of bullies.” In one of her student’s biographical poems that hangs on the wall, a student asks,“Where do I live?” “I live in a world of uncertainty now.”

Moved by the plight of Greeley science teacher Jennifer Simon whose father and brother were killed in the World Trade Center, students raised funds to go to the Simon family.
Pictured here: Greeley students sold homemade ribbon pins and flags in the Greeley cafeteria. Also, at the Nov. 10th Powder Puff game, proceeds from the concession stand were
also donated to the fund.

A Wall of Remembrance
Greeley music teacher Maureen Callan stops by the cafeteria to read the messages, like “America will Prevail” written from the heart by students and staff days after Sept. 11th.

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