Sept. 10, 2002 – The first anniversary of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, will be remembered at various times and in various ways in schools across the Virgin Islands on Wednesday.
Whether they meditate, raise a flag, sing a song, pray or thank a firefighter, students, faculty and staff at almost every school in the territory are commemorating 9-11 in a self-selected way, following plans laid down earlier this week, if not before.
Many administrators say their schools will observe the national moment of silence at 8:46 a.m Wednesday, the time when the first commercial airliner struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York a year earlier.
At some schools, including Charlotte Amalie High on St. Thomas, elaborate ceremonies are planned, in most cases with the help of the students. At CAHS, the observance will begin with a series of student-led prayers, to be followed by speeches and a flag-raising ceremony conducted by the school's ROTC. Representatives of the Police Department, Fire Service and St. Thomas Rescue have been invited on campus to take part.
Carmen Howell, CAHS assistant principal, said the memorial observance is important "because all of our lives have changed based on what took place last year. Our lives have changed forever."
At Antilles School on St. Thomas, Headmaster Jay Buckley said, the terrorist attacks brought some important lessons. "The students became much more aware of their backgrounds, of our history," he said. "Students became much more aware of the need to be more tolerant of other people." In observing the moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., he said, "We just want to express solidarity with the rest of the country."
Solidarity is also the message for the observance planned at Country Day School on St. Croix, where, as is the case at many private schools, a number of students are from the territory's Arab community. The ethnicity of the terrorists in the Sept. 11 attacks has made Arab-Americans the focus of mixed emotions since then.
"We have a marvelous and a very diverse population," Jim Sadler, Country Day principal, said. "When we talk to parents and students, I like to say we are all minorities. It gives us strength, and it gives us challenges. We try to work toward our strengths as a community."
The Country Day commemorations — a flag-raising ceremony for the elementary students and an assembly for the middle-school and senior high students — will focus on the contributions and sacrifices made by emergency workers such as firefighters, police, doctors, nurses and construction crews, Sadler said.
Different meanings for different students
At Sts. Peter and Paul School on St. Thomas, administrators have decided to observe several moments of silence throughout the day, incorporating much of their 9-11 activities into the daily classroom instruction. Prayers will be offered for the dead and the survivors at the daily assembly, according to Barbara Kenny, assistant principal. "Sept. 11 will mean different things to different students because of their families, their religion and even their nationality," she said.
Prayers are also prominent in the commemoration planned at Nisky Moravian School on St. Thomas. "We are planning during our devotions to have a prayer time for all those families who lost people and also for those who are still fighting the fight against terrorism," Principal Lena Harris said. "After the service, students will go outside, raise the flag and sing patriotic songs."
Nisky Moravian students in the upper grades also are expected to take part in a program called "America Remembers" where they will read poems they have written for the occasion.
Principals of public elementary schools say they, too, want to sound the theme of unity for their children, some of whom are still too young to know what 9-11 means.
At Joseph Gomez Elementary School on St. Thomas, Principal Freida Farrow said sensitivity is a trait that children grow into. "Some kids who didn't have a lot of information had a lot of things to say — some of it not nice — about the people they think did this," she said. "There are kids who are deadly afraid of traveling, and kids who don't say a whole lot."
On Wednesday, the nearly 700 pupils at Gomez will have a chance to express themselves, singing patriotic songs and honoring firefighters who died at the World Trade Center with ceremonial bell ringing. Some of the Girl Scouts attending Gomez will form an honor guard for a flag-raising ceremony.
Janis Esannason, principal at Pearl B. Larsen Elementary School on St. Croix, said she wanted her 625 students to remember 9-11 as a day Americans came together as a nation."So, we as principals decided … give them an opportunity to see how we can be positive, contributing members of society instead of dwelling on the negative," she said.
Wear red, white and blue — or not
Students at Pearl Larsen school have been asked to wear red, white and blue to class on Wednesday and to bring newspaper clippings with stories on the events of 9-11 to discuss with their teachers and classmates.
Red, white and blue also will be the colors of the day at Central High School on St. Croix. But in the spirit of patriotism, student organizers of Wednesday's program also encouraged the idea of dressing in the cultural attire of their choice, if students prefer that. There will be an assembly in the school gymnasium from 8:15 to 9:30 a.m.
The commemoration for Elena Christian Junior High School on St. Croix has been planned to focus on the lessons the tragedy conveys, Principal Susana Callwood-Smith said. "We have a well-rounded program to help students focus on security measures and what's being done to keep the islands safe," she said, "but also on patriotism and our role as Americans."
Members of the Virgin Islands National Guard are expected to take part in the assembly at Elena Christian, along with Emergency Medical Services personnel and a pastor who will discuss the spiritual aspects of loss and recovery.
Administrators at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School on St. Thomas have planned an assembly in the school courtyard recalling the events of the 9-11 attacks.
Public and private schools on St. John are putting a lot of thought into their 9-11 programs. One administrator, who asked not to be named, said she decided to forgo a school assembly because she felt too much attention has already been paid to the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. At Guy Benjamin Elementary School, Assistant Principal Lisa Penn said a modest program is scheduled for Wednesday, with students to show works they did in art class on the theme of the World Trade Center attacks.
At Pine Peace School on St. John, headmistress Beth Knight said she spent part of Monday afternoon checking an educational Web site on the Internet to see how schools on the U.S. mainland were approaching the 9-11 anniversary. "I was originally going to have an assembly," she said, but she reserved a final decision until after polling the teachers at a meeting on Tuesday.
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