Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wilmington Inspired by Primary Source: War and Society course!

In the summer of July 2011, Mark Staffier and I took the course offered by Primary Source, a History Connected summer institute, which focused on War and Society. After listening to our guest lecturer and viewing Lowell monuments on our final day, we began discussing the commitment our town has to honoring veterans and its strong patriotic values. It was there, as we sat around a table on the bottom floor of the Pollard Memorial Library, during our final hours of our week-long course, that we decided we would like to try and get momentum going for a 9/11 Memorial in Wilmington. Two months later, I can not believe how our initial discussion has led to a town-wide, student-driven initiative to have a 9/11 Memorial! I shouldn’t be surprised though, because Wilmington Public Schools and the Town of Wilmington have always been supportive of me, personally as a teacher, and of the values this memorial would represent. Most importantly, Mark and I knew that we had the student-body at Wilmington High School that would bring the energy, enthusiasm, passion and hard-work to make this a reality.

Since July, Mark and I have met with and spoken to school and local officials to see what options were available to us. Wilmington Superintendent, Mrs. Joanne Benton, immediately gave us her full support. She single-handedly helped shift this memorial from an idea to a project. After that, we received support from Town Manager, Mr. Michael Caira, building principals, and local groups in town. With their collaboration, we now hope to make this memorial part our newly anticipated high school!

When school started, our colleagues in the Social Studies Department jumped right in, offered their help, and got students in their classes on board. We held an informational meeting and that is where the heart behind our project developed. Much to our delight, the students took over! One student, who was nominated President of the committee, Senior Matt Palermo, came to the meeting with a computer animated image of a design, which spring boarded our discussion as students offered their suggestions. From there, we talked about fundraising ideas and outreach initiatives to the town. Since then, we’ve had an endless stream of students stopping by our classrooms. Some are new faces that want to get involved, while others are ones that attended our meeting and have logo designs and new ideas. They simply can not wait until our next meeting to talk about this with us! All of these students are excited, which really brings such positive energy into my day! What amazes me the most is that all of these students have really only experienced 9/11 second-hand, yet they are full-committed to this project. We are so lucky to have students like that!

On the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11th, Mark and Matt were invited to speak at the Town Common at a ceremony to announce our initiative. For those of you that know me, you are probably not surprised to know that I suggested Mark do the speaking! I am more of a behind-the-scenes person, to say the least! As I stood out there with some fellow colleagues, parents, students, committee members and people from the town, I was again inspired to commemorate the lives that were lost on that horrific day.

I spoke with people around me about where I was that day. Like so many others old enough to remember, I will never forget that day. I was two weeks into my teaching career and had no idea how to explain to a room full of teenagers what I had seen when I snuck into the back of the library, during my free period, to see some of the coverage. By the time I got there, I saw the towers collapse live....then twenty minutes later, I had to go back to teaching. At that point, we did not share what was happening with our students. Then, after our principal made an announcement and gave us permission to discuss it, I was still at a loss. No one had talked about that sort of thing in an edu class or student-teaching. In retrospect, I see that nothing could have prepared any of us and that there was no right/wrong way to deal with it. Years later, I am able to appreciate being in a Wilmington school when that happened. Back then, the staff was very tight-knit, with many young colleagues that bonded during their first few years teaching and were welcomed by the veteran staff. I am still close with those people today. So in this way, I can tell you that being part of a project of this magnitude serves two purposes for me on a personal level. First, I want to show my gratitude for the town that supported and encourage my professional endeavors, both ten years ago and today. Secondly, as I am now having students in my class that do not remember experiencing 9/11, I would like to share with them all of the positive things that came out of living through that event and acknowledge the sacrifice and loss of the lives that perished.

If you want to stay posted on our project, check out our website for updates: https://sites.google.com/site/wilmington911memorial/

Thank you to Primary Source and History Connected, funded by the Teaching American History grant for providing the inspiration for something that will forever impact the students of Wilmington High School and the Town of Wilmington and honor the lives lost because of 9/11.

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