History in perspective

Published 5:30 pm Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sumner Elementary third-grader Shelissa Bentzin waves her flag during a ceremony remembering 9/11 Friday morning. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

School, veterans help students understand magnitude of 9/11

Local veteran Norm Hecimovich looked out among the crowd Friday morning, imparting words of wisdom about the American flag, pride, loyalty, courage and freedom. His audience, Sumner Elementary School students, listened more or less attentively.

Most of the students weren’t born when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

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They don’t have memories of where they were when it was announced 19 hijackers from the Islamist group Al-Qaeda hijacked four planes and crashed them intentionally or otherwise in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

They didn’t know the fear and uncertainty people experienced nor the rise in prejudice against Muslims, a growing embrace of security measures and the start of several wars and military operations since.

As 9/11 transitions into history, teachers and students approach the event differently every year.

Plenty of young people still have vivid memories of sitting in class while their teachers explained to them what was happening, but today’s students are more removed from the tragedy. By the same token, educators say students are more engaged in society.

“Something I’ve observed, since then, is that kids are more aware of what’s going on around them, more willing to step up and say this is wrong, that’s wrong, those sorts of things,” said Austin Superintendent Davide Krenz.

While elementary students learn about 9/11 in their social studies courses, high school students are involved in larger discussions about how 9/11 still affects public discourse.

“Every year since then we’ve incorporated small pieces in all of our history classes,” Austin High School teacher Andrea Malo said. “All the (social studies) teachers touch on it as an event.”

Malo discusses 9/11 twice in her classes, at the start and end of the school year.

She noticed about five years ago that some students didn’t remember 9/11. Since then, the number has grown, especially in freshmen classes.

“They probably have a little recollection of it,” Malo said.