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A High School Reacts

With a Crisis Team already in place, Newton South High School in Massachusetts was equipped to respond in the aftermath of September 11. Support services such as grief counseling were quickly deployed, and ways to participate in community projects and dialogue were created. Through these initiatives, both students and faculty were offered a means for constructively working through their anger, grief, and fears.

Initial reports

On the morning of September 11, news flashes of terrorist attacks began filtering in. The Crisis Team met to decide how to inform the school. Principal Michael Welch addressed students on the public address system. The hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center towers were announced, and students were allowed to go home with an adult's permission. While reports were varied, the Crisis Team decided it was important to disseminate information. The school continued to provide updates throughout the week.

Grief counseling

The next morning, September 12, the Crisis Team called a mandatory faculty meeting. Grief counseling materials were distributed to all faculty, and a moment of silence was observed on campus. The Crisis Team was equally worried about the emotional effects of the tragedy on both the faculty and students. A room in the library was set aside as a place where anyone could receive counseling. In the following days, many students and faculty came to speak with a counselor. This service was especially important for teachers who were struggling to manage their own emotional responses and those of their students.

P.A. announcement on Wednesday, September 12:

Good morning. This is Mr. Welch.

I'm interrupting this morning to give information about how the Newton South community is responding to the tragic incidents of yesterday.

In this time of heightened alertness nationwide, I need all of you to know that your teachers, your parents, and the Newton community care deeply about your safety and well-being. Yesterday's incidents have impacted some of us deeply and directly. Others have been less closely and personally affected. But we all, as a nation, have had our confidence shaken by these events. As a nation, and also as the Newton South community, we have always come together in times of adversity to support each other. We need to be sensitive to the different ways in which our diverse international school community feels and reacts to these events. We need to come together, not exclude or blame each other.

Tomorrow, after school during J-Block, there will be a voluntary meeting in the auditorium for students who are interested in discussing ideas for how to respond to this tragedy in a positive, caring way. We need ideas from students in order to channel the emotion of this occasion into productive outcomes.

At this time, I ask that we all observe a moment of silence in honor of those impacted by this tragedy. Again, we all care about you as a community. Please come together and support each other at this difficult time. Thank you.

Taking action

On September 13, the Crisis Team held a meeting for the whole campus to brainstorm ways to help. Together, students and faculty created a list of short-term and long-term projects: collecting donations of small change from students, inviting experts to talk about Islam, and a organizing a blood drive. The Enrichment Office was designated as the clearinghouse for all 9/11 initiatives. Establishing a communications center provided an outlet for the students' energy. "They were able to respond. That was very important for helping the kids work through the tragedy." (Donna Gordon, NSHS Enrichment Office).

  • In October, students organized a spare-change drive for the New York Firefighters 9/11 Disaster Relief Fund. This fund raiser gave everyone a way to participate. "We made a lot of money, but it wasn't just about that. [The students] felt like there was something they could do. You didn't need to be a New Yorker or make statues or sell flags -- just give a little. If everyone could just add a little change, it would help. And it wasn't just change. It made them think about [September 11], and because of that, they were nicer to each other. I became friends with people I never thought would be interested in a project like this, too. That was nice." (Yana Klimova, Newton South High School)

  • A Ground Zero Drive provided another tangible way for the community to respond. Students collected gloves, toothpaste, flashlights, and other materials to send to Ground Zero.

  • Newton's students participated with students across Massachusetts to create a United We Stand Flag. They created an American flag from hundreds of individual pieces of fabric, each with a student's words written on them. The flag was assembled on the Boston Common and displayed in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

Understanding the Middle East

In an attempt to offer something for everyone, the Enrichment Office presented regular forums about the Middle East and Islam. These lectures provided students with the opportunity to understand September 11 from an academic perspective. For example, Barbara Petzen from Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies spoke about some common misconceptions about Muslims, Islam, and terrorism. A question-and-answer period helped debunk some of the myths surrounding religion and the Quran. Students came away from this program with a clearer understanding of the distinction between Muslims and Islamists.

Islamist vs. Islamic Length: 3:06
Barbara Petzen, Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Harvard University

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