McKinley Elementary School second and third grade students Alysa Boddy, 8, Savannah Fox, 7, Claire Leitner, 7, Janay Oliver, 7, Clifford Brown, 8, Destiny Fisk, 7, Ione Sito, 7, and Andrew Kloss, 7, dressed in red, white and blue in order to honor the victims from September 11, 2001. The students stood for a photo with their principal Stacey Gatten and second grade teacher Sarah Harding.
KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE Enlarge
ELYRIA — Students at McKinley Elementary School observed a moment of silence Tuesday morning, recognizing the 2,977 killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
While none of the kindergarten through fifth-graders in the building were alive for the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Flight 93, teachers took time in the days leading up to the 17th anniversary to teach students about the events, Patriot Day and the military men and women who “rose to the occasion.”
Principal Stacey Gatten started her fourth day in the building with an announcement recognizing why students were asked to wear red, white and blue to school.
“This is a day when the United States pays their tribute to those who were injured or lost their lives in the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001,” Gatten read over the school’s PA system. “Including the people of New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania … Patriot Day is held … every year on Sept. 11 and we wear red, white and blue today to show our respect to those who were injured or are no longer with us.”
Like many, Gatten remembers watching news coverage during the attacks.
“Just being there and living through it and the terror and the fear of that day and the unknown, I think, was one of the most difficult things. I was in college … It’s crazy because there’s so many things I don’t remember from 17 years ago, but I vividly remember that day, as I think most people do.”
Students with patriotic hair ribbons, or shirts, took their seats as school began. Gatten said her staff was wearing red, white and blue, including second-grade teacher Sarah Harding.
Harding said she’d used some children’s literature to explain the significance of the day to her students, focusing more so on the days following the event than the specifics of the attacks.
“We have some great children’s literature that covers the topic and doesn’t focus on the sad parts and the scary parts, so we usually focus a lot on that and talk about not just what happened but the day after and the people who rose to the occasion and were the helpers and the good people in the situation — so usually that’s how we end the topic and they go away feeling like they know what’s going on but also feeling good,” she said.
She recognized the 7- and 8-year-olds in her classroom don’t have the same relationship with the material that her students did years ago.
“It is very different now,” she said. “Now it’s almost just kind of like another topic that we teach, they don’t have a connection as much to it. Already they were talking about ‘Well, my dad knew somebody that was there and helped’ so some of them do have these conversations at home. I think before, when it was a little newer to everyone, it almost feels a little more … harder to talk about because it was so raw and there were kids that remembered seeing something about it.”
Harding, like Gatten, was in college during the attack and said relaying the material has gotten easier for her as time goes by.
“I feel like I can discuss it more factually with them,” she said. “And I’m somebody that likes to share with them a lot of what I’ve experienced and what I know. For instance, this year we were in New York City, my family, over the summer. So I can tell them this is a day where we celebrate and we honor and here’s what they do … in New York City, and I’ll show them a few pictures of the memorial later and just kind of explain to them how this is a way that we honor the people who were lost.”
“Not focused at all really on the tragedy part but really on the honoring and the memory and how we can all rise to the occasion and we’re all a family and that’s kind of how we live around here,” Harding said.