By JEROD CLAPP
The second-graders she taught when terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, are now old enough to be in college or in their own careers. But Shawn Turner now teaches sixth-graders at Henryville Elementary and they’re among the last students to say they lived through it.
Before commemorating the attacks in the national Freedom Walk, she handed all of them a small United States Flag. Though some of them know what happened, none of them could give their own account of the day.
“You could tell their parents had talked to them about it,” Turner said. “This will be our last group of students who were alive during that time, but even so, they were just newborns.”
Students walked in gyms or through the hallways in remembrance of the attack and lives lost as other schools across the country did all day.
But many of them weren’t old enough to remember the day from their own perspective.
After watching videos, reading articles and hearing a little about 9/11 from parents and teachers, students got an idea of what happened. But everything they know is from secondhand accounts of adults who saw the events unfold.
Alex Powers, a sixth-grader at the school, said he knows some of the details and repercussions, but his understanding doesn’t go much deeper than that right now.
“It was done by a foreign country and they did it on purpose,” Powers said. “All I know is that the Twin Towers and the Pentagon got hit. That’s all I know.”
Glenn Riggs, principal of the school, said while the students are just beginning to learn about the events and how they changed the world, he has to remember they don’t have the same perspective on it that he does.
“I don’t think they know or understand all of the ripple effect of it,” Riggs said. “With a 12-year-old, I don’t know that they understand that air travel, by comparison, is quite cumbersome now. But a child may never understand that difference.”
He said as their day started off with their usual word for the day, he explained why Wednesday’s word was “strength.”
“I said that we need to have strength in our minds today not only for ourselves, but for our president who has some weighty subject matter to take care of right now,” Riggs said, referencing the ongoing tensions between the United States and Syria.
But he said it was also important to give them a better understanding of the freedoms they have as Americans. He said he hoped the Freedom Walk gave them a better sense of that.
Sam Kelly, another sixth-grader at the school, said he knows the world is a different place as opposed to how it was 12 years ago, but he hopes it continues to get better.
“The laws are tighter on the planes, they have to scan you for guns and things,” Kelly said. “But it’s also changed how people think about national defense.”
Riggs said though 9/11 can remind students of how the world can be a scary place, he hopes they also learned that the solidarity of Americans in dire situations also sticks with them.
“It’s just a great time to be able to celebrate the place we live, the place we love, the United States,” Riggs said. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”