For many of today’s high schoolers, that fateful day in September 2001 is one that they cannot relate to on the same level as those who lived through it. This disconnect requires teachers to …
For many of today’s high schoolers, that fateful day in September 2001 is one that they cannot relate to on the same level as those who lived through it. This disconnect requires teachers to think outside of the box and find ways to bring around a more personal connection to tragic events of that day.
“The (reaction) has changed over the years,” said Cleveland High School history teacher Hilary Reid.
“This is my ninth year teaching and every year it has changed because we are now teaching students that were not born yet — all of these kids are now post-9/11 kids. They look at it very differently than we do, and it’s not that they are disrespectful or callous, it’s just that they don’t have that emotional connection to it like we do.”
CHS Principal Autumn O’Bryan, who grew up in New York state, had an especially personal connection to Sept. 11.
“I was working in the College of Education at Lee (University) and heard that it had happened and walked across the street to where my husband’s office and they were watching and talking about it. In the meantime, as I was walking over, I was very worried about my dad because he was traveling that day. I couldn’t get ahold of him. I was able to finally get ahold of my mom, who hadn’t heard anything either,” O’Bryan detailed.
O’Bryan was 27 years old at the time and was the head softball coach for Lee. Her father had been flying into JFK Airport on that fateful day and his plane was due to land around 9:05 a.m. She explained that his plane had actually come in early.
“My dad actually watched the towers fall — like was standing outside on the bridge and could see the towers and felt the earth shake,” she detailed.
O’Bryan was unable to reach her father or receive an update on him until later that afternoon.
“I remember vividly having this moment thinking about my dad and my family and having to snap myself into ‘I’m taking care of someone else’s child,’” she said.
“We didn’t know what was happening. The thing I remember most from that morning was vividly thinking in my mind ‘you have other people’s children — you need to take care of other people’s children.’”
For the CHS principal, Sept. 11’s legacy is one that demonstrated the American spirit.
“I think it changed us as a country — I would never want to live my life in fear and choose not to, but I do think the thing I learned the most from that is our united efforts to come together,” O’Bryan said.
“There are terrible people in this world, but when there is tragedy, there is a tremendous amount of humanity that is displayed during that time.”
For Reid, Sept. 11 is something she remembers vividly.
“This is my 9/11 story that I tell the kids: We were in Stephanie Pirkle’s physical science class and we were watching ‘Apollo 13’ and he had just said ‘Houston, we have a problem’ – it was just at that scene and she came in crying. We thought something was wrong with her daughter, who was in college at the time, because she called her every day,” remembered the teacher, who was a CHS sophomore at the time.
“We asked her what was wrong and she told us what had happened. We were all in shock because up until that time, TSA and traveling was so easy, we didn’t even think about it. What was scary here was we didn’t have any cable, because of the renovations that were going on … we had no cable, the internet crashed so we were huddled around radios, listening.”
Like so many other Americans, Reid recalls being extremely scared and unsure of what was really going on following the terrorist attacks.
“As a teenager it was scary, because then rumors started flying around that Oak Ridge was going to be targeted and we were all going to die — everybody was panicking,” Reid said.
“I think it was the first time we all really focused on the news. Yea, everybody kind of watches the news, but we were all glued to it — we wanted to read the stories, we wanted to see what was going on.”
Sharing her story and the stories of others who lived through Sept. 11 is especially important for the history teacher.
“They understand the seriousness of it and all their parents have stories that they can reference. It’s just an event in history to them, whereas to us, it was life altering,” Reid continued.
“I try and give them that personal connection and try to let them see how history affects people and how this event affected people they know, real-life people. I feel like it can make history come alive to them.”
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