Teaching 9/11 to kids

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September 11, 2013, 7:01 pm

(NECN: Ally Donnelly) - The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 are a part of American history but not so long ago that it's an easy topic to teach to children since some students weren't even born or too young to remember and many teachers can never forget.

Sandra Bastianelli reads the book FireBoat to second grader Dylan Ngwa at the Harvard Kent elementary school in Boston's Charlestown neighborhood. It's a picture book about Sept. 11, 2001.

"Miss B told me that there was like bad guys that went on airplanes and decided to crush down buildings and that's when a lot of people died," Dylan says.

Bastianelli says many of her students have at least heard about 9/11, but some come to school knowing nothing at all about a day of horror -- that came years before they were born.

Bastianelli says "why?" is almost always the first question. But then -- the younger kids anyway -- ask more practical questions, like how do two skyscrapers crumble to the ground?

"We didn't think that the buildings would fall, but they did," Bastianelli tells Dylan.

Figuring out a curriculum is tricky. Think back to history class, your teacher likely didn't break down talking about the Battle of the Bulge because it happened so long ago. For many kids, 9/11 may be history, but all their teachers lived through it.

"We all remember what we were doing at that specific moment and to hold back the tears is not always easy," Bastianelli says.

"I hadn't even anticipated how it was going to bring me right back to that day," Denny Conklin of Facing History and Ourselves says.

The Brookline, Mass.-based non-profit with teachers across the country to help them navigate difficult moral conversations. He was 16, living in the New York area on 9/11 and knew he always wanted to be a teacher. On Sept. 12, he rushed out to buy as many newspapers from that day as he could and passed them out to his own students years later.

"I sat back and I just saw them flipping through the pages, looking at the images, looking at the headlines. I realized as a teacher, I had to back off and give them that space," he says.

Conklin says there is no perfect lesson plan -- no one size fits all. For Dylan what he'll remember most about this day is getting to be part of Wednesday morning's school assembly.

"I got to say, we will never forget, we will never forget," he says.

And he never will.

Tags: Boston, Brookline, Ally Donnelly, Charlestown, Facing History and Ourselves, Denny Conklin, US history 9/11, US history September 11, Harvard Kent Elementary School, Dylan Ngwa, Sandra Bastianelli
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