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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Highlands Middle School Students Share Lessons of 9-11 With Peers

Highlands Middle School teacher Lisa Birkley (l) and Principal Michael Howton and journalism students hold up 9-11 Hero cards from their project

by Robin Gee

For adults, the events of 9-11 are burned into our memories. Most of us can say where we were and how we learned the news that day. We can also list things that have changed. In fact, it’s not unusual even now to hear people say we live in a “post-9-11” world.

Yet, for young people who were babies or not yet born when 9-11 happend, this is the only world they have ever known. Students in the Highlands Middle School journalism class found that few of their peers understood exactly what happened on that day "long ago" or why it had such an impact. The class decided to make 9-11 the focus of a major educational project for their school.

At the January Fort Thomas school board meeting, Principal Michael Howton introduced a group of students from the class who described a presentation about the event they created to share with their entire school.

"I’m super impressed and so proud of what they’ve done...To me, the observation and the learning journey was spectacular because from the first presentation, which showed there was work to do, to the amazing final presentation, it was fantastic and a great display of our eighth graders being role models for students in other grades.”

Journalism teacher Lisa Birkley brought the idea to her class. It was early in the school year, and the eleventh of September was fast approaching. Despite the short time frame, the students wanted to take on the challenge. 

An intimate and positive presentation

Student Ava Lynn Jansen explained, "We talked about how we really don’t do anything in the school to commemorate or educate students about 9-11. As a class we decided we wanted our presentation to be authentic and important, and focus on the positive."

Jansen said the students quickly figured out that making a presentation to the whole school in an assembly or even breaking it down to presentations to each grade, would not have the impact that a much smaller, more intimate group setting might have. They decided to split into small groups to give presentations to just two classes at a time.

The class decided to create a PowerPoint presentation. "We divided it into categories of the World Trade Center, the North Tower, the South Tower, the Pentagon and Flight 93 with educational pictures, facts and videos," said Jansen.

"However, we did not want to scare anyone so we decided to put a positive spin on the day. We decided to focus on the heroes," she said.

Jansen added that a quote from Mr. Rogers gave them the idea: "When I was a little boy, I would watch scary things and then my mother would say to me 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helpers.'"

Another student in the class, Martha-Kelly Bone, shared hero cards and stickers with the board members. "We researched those who survived or did not survive and who helped others...On the card is a picture and a short paragraph about each person or rescue dog that we would pass out at end of our presentation. Each card tells the story of one hero from that day," she said.

As the students went through their presentation, they asked people to stand and share the stories printed on the cards, she said.

Hero cards like this one told the story of a person or rescue animal who helped others that day.


Understanding the impact

Student Campbell Smith said her classmates were surprised at the level of interest sparked by their presentation not only among the students but also faculty and staff. She noted that teacher Aaron Lense said he had a strong reaction because he experienced the day working in air traffic control.

David Parks, also a student in the journalism class, said he and his peers learned a lot themselves doing the research for the project. He listed some of what his classmates said they learned. People told him they learned how much the world changed after 9-11, how everyone came together and how anyone could be a hero regardless of race or gender, he said.

As most adults do, board members noted where they were and what they were doing on 9-11. Now the students at Highlands Middle School have a better understanding about why adults do this and why the day is etched in the memory of those who did experience it.

Board member Karen Allen asked the teacher and students to think about how the presentation could be repeated next year. "Right now it’s not a part of the curriculum...I appreciate what you guys did and I appreciate that you looked for the positives to help your classmates understand what happened on that day...It’s important for us to remember...really impactful."

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