Teachers empower students with 9/11 discussion

Fariha Beig, Author

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In rememberance of Sept. 11, 2001, Palo Alto High School teachers are engaging students and members of the community through a student-created memorial project in the Paly library as well as a thought-provoking author visit.

Margo Wixsom’s photography classes designed illustrations on the library’s chalk wall to represent the 9/11 tragedy, including sketches of rescues, the rebuilding of the city, memorials and rememberances of 9/11.

Posters with poems and complementary images have also been put up along the library walls, inviting students to examine the images and share their thoughts and impressions of 9/11, Wixsom said.

“The memorial project is an opportunity for students and staff to explore the power of images to shape as well as transmit culture and knowledge,” Wixsom said. “Many of our students were four to eight years old on Sept. 11, 2011 and the destruction of the World Trade Center had little meaning at the time, yet this single event has most profoundly shaped their world in the last decade.”

As a New Yorker, Wixsom feels that 9/11 is a personally important event, but it is also a hard topic to bring to the classroom.

“I think that it is essential to provide opportunities for students to discuss tragedy, death and learn grieving strategies,” Wixsom said. “Especially in the Paly community, which has grieved the loss of several students in the last few years, these opportunities for conversation and dialogue are very valuable.”

English teacher David Cohen has also invited an author to speak to his English class in rememberance of 9/11.

Author of 9 to 1: A Window to the World, Oliver Chin, focuses on teenagers wrestling with questions about their existence in the aftermath of 9/11. 

“In that sense, it’s a distinctly American story about identity, using a powerful event in our history as its springboard,” Cohen said. “The necessity for me is to provide students with a timely, contemporary, and real live example of an author crafting literature to make sense of culture, history and life after 9/11.”  

Through the combination of 9/11-related activities, Wixsom aims to give students a better understanding of the world shaped by this specific part of American history.

“I also hope that they take something for themselves from the photo essays and relate to personal accounts of how real people dealt with the death of a loved one,” Wixsom said. “My goal is to make the historical event more accessible while helping students forge personal connections and skills to deal with tragedy.”