9/11 Memorial is ‘classroom’ that helps shed light on dark day in history
By KARA YORIO STAFF WRITER | The Record
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is a lot of things — a place of reverence, remembrance, history … hallowed ground.
“It is also a place of education, a classroom,” said New Milford High School teacher Colleen Tambuscio. “It’s probably the most profound classroom we can bring our students to teach about 9/11.”
Tambuscio is one of many North Jersey teachers who take advantage of the proximity to Manhattan and brings her class to the museum while studying about the terrorist attacks. The museum offers age-appropriate educational experiences for the public as well.
Within the walls that house artifacts big and small from that day are actual classrooms where generations with little to no memory of the attacks are learning about what led to that day, the timeline of 9/11 itself and the aftermath.
The Education Center consists of four classrooms. One is open to any visitors with children, not just school groups. It is bright and colorful, an almost startling counterpoint to the solemn gray of the rest of the museum. It offers families the opportunity to better understand artifacts and topics related to 9/11. It is a place for adults and children to come together and experience the museum in a unique way.
Paper cranes (a symbol of peace and healing) fly from the ceiling and children’s art projects hang on the walls. In a corner is a reading area with beanbag chairs and shelves of books. The museum often has people with a connection to 9/11 read to kids and do a related activity.
The room and activities focus on the response and the personal side of the day, not the terror, graphic details or sadness. It connects different activity stations to artifacts in the museum. At one station, children trace their hands on paper and write on it how they can help their community, like people helped on 9/11. Another lets them make tissue paper roses and search the museum’s app filled with victims’ names to find someone (if they didn’t know one personally), learn a little about that person and then place the rose on the name outside at the memorial.
“The parents have really been very interested and involved,” said Noaa Stoler, a West Orange resident who is manager of youth and family programs at the museum. “They are also learning. That’s what personalizes it and humanizes it, once you start learning those individual stories.”
The Education Center also provides handouts with activities, talking points and questions for families as they walk around the museum and view artifacts. (The historical exhibit, with its more graphic images and artifacts, is recommended for children 11 and older.)
The room often has a mural in progress hanging on the wall for children to contribute to before it is sent around the world. The latest was headed to Gander, Newfoundland, the Canadian town that took in airline passengers when their incoming overseas flights were diverted there that day.
During the school year, because it is in use weekdays by schoolchildren, the activity room is open to visitors only on weekends. During the summer it is available all week.
The museum uses the other classrooms for more structured student workshops and school self-guided tours. These programs, especially for high school students, are not strictly about learning the facts of the day. After an introduction from staffers explaining what the students are about to see, high schoolers view some artifacts. They return for a discussion that does not avoid the difficult issues.
“Then we came back and we were given a variety of questions specifically focusing on pretty controversial topics — such as should Guantanamo Bay stay opened. Or if American lives would be spared, do you think more hands-on, invasive questioning techniques should be used?” said Katie Fernandez Blake, a teacher at Bergen County Academies in Hackensack who brought her class to the workshop.
Christine Kamper, who teaches at Indian Hills High School in Oakland, took a trip with her students as well.
“It’s like walking through the Holocaust museum in D.C., it just immediately overwhelms you,” Kamper said. “That is something you can’t experience in the classroom. You’re just not going to get that. I have all The Record’s newspaper coverage. I have it all laminated and I show it to my kids every year. These were the newspapers; this is what it looked like for those next couple of days. So they see those images. They see those pictures. But it’s not the same as being there.”
For those who can’t get there or whose students are too young, the museum’s website, 911memorial.org, has lesson plans for students in Grades K-12, teaching guides, tips for taking kids 8-11 years old through the museum (not the historical exhibition, which is recommended for 11 and older) and primary sources — speeches, reports, personal recollections — to be used by teachers and students. It also offers professional development courses for teachers to learn how to incorporate the museum’s collection and “inquiry-based teaching strategies” into the classroom.
Experiencing the museum exhibits themselves, however, is an indispensible addition to the instruction, according to these teachers.
“Anytime you can create an authentic learning experience, it’s going to be much more memorable, much more meaningful,” said Fernandez Blake. “What better way than to actually physically be present in the place of action and have the students look at those warped steel beams and have the students look at the firefighter’s helmet and look at a handwritten note from a wife looking for her lost husband that she posted on this makeshift memorial? It’s very impactful for the students. It makes it real.”