Terrorists brought down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center 18 years ago. Recent high school graduates and this year's seniors were born the year of the original attack in 2001. Educators now are finding ways to teach about a tragedy many Americans remember as a major event in their lives to students who never experienced it.
Mexico High School social studies teacher Tony Senor focuses on oral history. Students will hear from their teachers Wednesday about their memories of the day of the attacks.
"We actually kind of halt the brakes on what we're learning in class and talk about 9/11 exclusively," Senor said.
The process the high school is doing this year to teach about the day is unique, he said, since all freshmen receive lessons on the event through the freshmen boot camp program at the end of the day, along with all grade level social studies classes. Students are required to talk to a family member or a family friend about 9/11 and their memories of the event. Senor also holds a moment of silence in his class.
"I encourage teachers in my department to share their story, their background and what happened to them on that day,” Senor said. “We also show some newsreel footage and how the event played out that entire day.”
Students will hear different stories depending on which teacher is sharing their experiences. "The whole point of the exercise is that everyone has a story to tell," Senor said.
Senor was born and raised in Mexico and was a student at the high school the day of the attacks. He was with other classmates out on the track doing a 2-mile run as the first plane hit. When getting changed at the end of the class, their gym teacher told them there had been an attack on the U.S.
He was in his social studies class on the third floor later that morning when students huddled into a number of classrooms to watch TV news reports as they unfolded.
"Everything stopped in time. The curriculum, the learning, you know, everything and we just watched. We watched the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, all of it," Senor said.
He also remembers seeing teachers and other students crying. Senor was in shock and as confused as everyone else, he said. Football practice that evening was cancelled as people remained glued to the televisions, he said.
“One thing I do remember about that week in general is that we had a Friday home game,” Senor said. “That's the only time I remember a prayer over the public address system. I remember how energetic and emotional we were. There was a different feel to the game and it felt like we were playing for something bigger than ourselves.”
Teaching students who were yet to be born or just months old is interesting and offers a chance to impart a perspective on the attack the students couldn't possibly have, Senor said.
"It's very unique. I always remembered some of my teachers telling me where they were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated,” he said. “That always stuck with me because they could tell me very vividly what they were doing.”
Now he and the other social studies teachers at the high school are able to provide lessons similar to what Senor learned when he was a student at the school. The students are fully engaged when he teaches about 9/11, he said.
"When you start talking about 9/11, there is silence,” Senor said. “The kids, their eyes are upon you. That is the [lesson] where they really want to know what happened and they also want to hear your perspective. It's very sobering.”
His students also end up realizing the gravity of that day's attacks when they hear about it from their teachers or other adults who aren't their parents, he said. "It becomes more real to them," Senor said.