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As the world stopped 10 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001, frozen in the aftermath of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, educators in Hardin County juggled watching with guiding classrooms of children through an event some were too young to understand.
Wynna Mabe, a teacher at Lincoln Trail Elementary School, said she felt many of her students saw the crumbling towers as a scene from a movie, instead of realizing it involved real people. It was hard for elementary students to comprehend the enormity of the attacks, she said.
“The kids, I really don’t think understood how important it was,” Mabe said.
While she and her class watched for a period of time, the principal asked teachers to turn off televisions, afraid of the content’s impact on young viewers.
“The rest of the day we were kind of shocked,” she said.
She realizes that for the entirety of most of her students’ lives, the United States has been at war.
“It’s kind of sad,” she said.
Other teachers and schools kept TVs going through day, including in the classroom of Sue Steffy, a teacher at T.K. Stone Middle School.
Steffy said she and her students watched news coverage of the attacks for almost the entire day, “stunned” by what they were witnessing.
“It just sucked the life out of us all,” Steffy said.
She recalled that at one point, when she was discussing the attackers, she referred to them as “they,” and a student raised his hand and asked, “Who are they?” But at that early stage, she didn’t know how to answer.
“That really has stayed with me,” she said.
It was those kinds of questions and emotions educators dealt with through the day as they witnessed the attacks along with their students.
Jon Thomas, principal of West Hardin Middle School, who taught at the school at the time, tried to maintain lessons for the day, but saved time in each class to discuss the attacks.
He remembers one boy finally asking him to stop talking about it because it was frightening him so badly.
Mike McCune, a teacher at John Hardin High School, said he spent the rest of the day talking with students about the attacks and what the future would bring. He said it would have been difficult to teach regular lessons on that day.
“Most of the kids were pretty glued to it,” he said.
He just tried to educate them as events unfolded, something he said comes naturally to a teacher in a classroom full of students.
Some teachers try to address it now, such as Kerrie Bal at T.K. Stone, who is having her students work on a project with a 9/11 theme this week, and Steffy, who every year has students write about their feelings about 9/11 during a creative writing exercise.
Adam Cobb, teacher at West Hardin Middle School, has a unique perspective on the attacks. Cobb was in eighth-grade at Bluegrass Middle School on Sept. 11, 2001. Now he’s teaching students in that same phase of life. He plans to tell them about learning of the attack when he was their age and what that experience was like. It shaped the environment in which they were raised, he said.
“This is the world they’ve been living in,” Cobb said.
There are teachers who remember hope following the heartache, too.
Lisa Oliver, a teacher at Central Hardin High School, was teaching Kentucky Studies that morning, and had scheduled a woman to give a presentation on the dulcimer in the library. During the presentation, she saw the news coverage on a TV in the back of the library. She continued going back and forth between her class and the back room, hearing the soothing dulcimer music and watching horror unfold on television.
“It was like going in between two worlds,” Oliver said.
She didn’t interrupt the presentation and students had “no clue that the world was falling apart around them.”
Oliver found some reassurance the following day. Students say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and Oliver said it often was difficult to get everyone to participate. But that morning every student stood and recited the words and Oliver said she’s never heard it spoken so proudly since.
“They changed in that day,” she said.
Their reaction made her hopeful about what was to come.
Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or email@example.com.