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North Hills Monthly

Teaching Children about the Events of 9/11

Aug 31, 2016 10:31AM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen

The Ground Zero Museum Workshop, New York City

Families don't have to go far to learn about what happened to our country 15 years ago on 9/11. From New York City to the North Hills of Pittsburgh, here are a few interactive memorials that are especially designed for younger children and teens.

The Ground Zero Museum Workshop, New York City
A recent family trip to New York City was the impetus for Jennifer Haley of Richland Township to educate her three young daughters about what happened there on 9/11/2001.

"I think Ava (11) heard about the Twin Towers and that day in school, but we never talked about it as a family," said Haley. Anastasia is 7 and Anika is 5 years old. Haley herself is a kindergarten teacher who searched for a gentler way to approach the subject of 9/11 with her children.

"With young kids it's hard to have the news on,” she added. “You want them to be protected but not naive, because tragic things do happen."

A friend recommended the Ground Zero Museum workshop, and the Haley Family ended up learning more about 9/11 than they'd ever imagined. Located in the Chelsea (meat packing) District of New York City, the Ground Zero Museum workshop is an intimate look at the nine months after 9/11, in which New Yorkers and other volunteers spent grueling hours cleaning up the remains of the decimated buildings and recovered what was left of the dead. 

As the official photographer of the FDNY Fire Unions, Museum Director Gary Marlon Suson was granted full access to document the WTC recovery effort, and the intimate museum workshop was opened in 2005 as a result. The workshop is staffed by volunteers, including Suson, who funds it with his own money.

Haley noted that the recovery story is one that resonates with children. "It was powerful enough to hit you but not take you away to a dark place," she said, adding that artifacts like chunks of glass from the World Trade Center windows, crosses and Jewish stars made out of the remnants of the steel beams, and even a clock that was stuck at the precise moment the first tower fell were powerful reminders that taught unlikely lessons.

"It was a dark moment for our country, but without going into politics, the children were curious about why there was a shoe there or why there were toys that lay unscathed after falling from Windows on the World. How did that happen?

“The glass was mesmerizing, and we were awestruck at how dangerous that glass had become when it turned to dust and people were breathing it in,” Haley continued. “We felt honored to be guests there, and we learned a lot from Gary. It's a personal mission for him to get the word out, and there's deep meaning behind each photograph and artifact."

In addition to all of the visuals, the workshop utilizes the latest technology to broadcast accompanying stories of the recovery into headphones worn by visitors from all over the world, in their native languages. "That tiny room literally speaks volumes," said Haley, adding that Suson designed the workshop to resemble the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam. "I definitely recommend it for teachers and young families. The intimacy of it is so special, and it captures an important moment in our country's history." 

The Flight 93 Memorial, Shanksville, PA
Closer to Pittsburgh, the Flight 93 National Memorial is dedicated to helping children (and the rest of us) understand what happened on September 11, 2001. Education experts helped the National Park Service develop a less complicated version of the Flight 93 story geared especially for children. Visitors can ask for it at the Visitor Center and at the Memorial Plaza, which opened just last year and includes specialized children's programming through their Junior Ranger Program. 
Designed for ages 6-12, children visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial are presented with 11 activities of varying difficulty. There is also a Discovery Table in the Learning Center which offers interactive, educational activities for children and is staffed by park rangers and volunteers during exhibit hours.

Cranberry Township's 9/11 Memorial 
Located much closer to home in front of the Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company on Route 19, there is a permanent reminder of 9/11 in the form of a huge, twisted steel beam from the former World Trade Center. Dedicated on September 11, 2012, the local memorial is always open to the public, offering everyone the opportunity to touch a piece of Ground Zero and reflect on what happened that day. Every year on 9/11, the members of Cranberry Township's Fire Company gather to salute and honor all those who died. The plaque there is aptly titled, "We Will Never Forget."