‘More than just a paragraph in a textbook’: Teaching 9/11 in Fort Wayne classrooms 20 years later

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Like many Americans, Emily Oberlin, the director of New Tech Academy at Wayne High School, remembers September 11, 2001 quite vividly.

“It was my 18th birthday and I attended school here in Fort Wayne,” said Oberlin. “We went to school that day and it was you know, ‘Happy Birthday Emily! Hope you have a great day.’ Then, when we had our first break and there was just this buzz and I didn’t know what it was yet.”

Once Oberlin got to her next class, she recalls her teacher turning on the TV and feeling an overwhelming sense of confusion.

“I just remember staring at it and the room was absolutely quiet. Twenty seniors in a room and there was nothing,” said Oberlin. “We just stared at it because we weren’t really sure what was happening. Was it an accident? Were people dead? Was it terrorism? We didn’t know… but, we were all a little scared.”

The emotions she felt on that tragic September day is something she, along with other New Tech Academy teachers, bring into the classroom when telling their students about it.

Oberlin says the on the anniversary of the attacks, the school starts the day off with a moment of silence. Then, in class teachers stress to students that September 11 should mean much more than “just a paragraph in a textbook.”

“I can’t say there’s a teacher in here [that] if you ask them to share their personal story, it won’t evoke some type of emotion,” said Oberlin. “I think the more we allow kids to feel the emotions, the more they’re going to understand that this was significant.”

Before becoming New Tech Academy’s director, Oberlin was a history teacher.

She said she would start her September 11 lesson with a video and then the class would discuss what happened. To dive into the lesson even further, Oberlin would also talk relationships, stereotypes, radicalism, or opportunities that come from the 9/11 events and how it changed the foundation of America.

“I think having adults around us that were alive and them finding a way to let us connect with them and kind of understand what they’ve gone through why it’s significant, it’s definitely useful,” said Carson Danzer, a New Tech Academy senior. “There’s so many people still around me every single day to remember it’s just, it’s very humbling, I guess, to experience that.”

Another important part of the lesson is teaching students about how the country came together to help one another after the attacks.

“It helps us to remember that we’re stronger than our enemies,” said Hunter Ngo, a junior at New Tech Academy.

Oberlin says the hope is that the conversations in the classroom will help students understand the significance of the nation’s history.

“It’s so important to teach history and the more we can make it relevant, while it’s here, it’s, it’s going to help our students so really taking the time to pause and honor the day,” said Oberlin. “I think it’s so, so, so powerful for our young people to be able to be vulnerable with them and show what it meant to us.”

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