This Year’s Award-Winners

Michael Scherer's students' award-winning 9/11 related project for the 2013-2014 school year

The 2014 Teacher Award-Winners created projects that thoughtfully engaged their students in understanding 9/11 through variety of disciplines. Many chose to explore the humanitarian aftermath of the attacks, inspiring their students.

Genevieve Berretta's 5th grade students' award-winning 9/11 related project for the 2013-2014 school year

Teacher: Genevieve Berretta

School: PS 119, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Grade: 5th
Principal: Lisa Fernandez
Foundation: The Brooke Jackman Foundation
Genevieve Berretta is an English language arts teacher and editor of the: “The Lantern,” a P. S. 119 literary magazine. To commemorate the heroism of firefighters on September 11th, fifth grade students crafted Small Moment Historical Fiction Narratives, which focus on the breathtaking bravery of New York City firefighters on that day and every day. The writing samples from the children reflect a thoughtful and introspective understanding of 9/11. Exemplary student writing is featured in “The Lantern” and on the P.S. 119 website.

“I hear the sirens start screeching down the streets. I hear a lot of traffic. On the speakers the chief said, ‘get on the trucks! The Twin Towers are burning!’ Everyone slid down the poles and ran down the stairs. We drove over to the twin towers. Someone in the truck said ‘I wish I never became a firefighter. It was my dream but now I’m just scared!’ I replied: ‘Then embrace your dream! Follow it! We have your back. Don’t forget we are here for you buddy.’ I got out of the truck, put on my mask and looked up. The smoke was very thick. I didn’t think I would make it. I gave my phone to that person and told them to call and tell my family that I loved them. We marched in one by one. We could barely see. I don’t… think… I… could… make it.” By Courtney, 5th grade

Deirdre M. Hurley's students' award-winning 9/11 related project for the 2013-2014 school year

Teacher: Deirdre M. Hurley

School: Bayonne High School, Bayonne, NJ
Grade: 9th and 11th
Principal: Richard Baccarella
Foundation: The Greg Richards, Larry Polatsch, Scott Weingard (GLS) Memorial Fund
Deirdre Hurley was interested in utilizing oral histories in her classroom, bringing in first-person narratives to make history relevant, to students while they develop language arts skills. While attending a workshop to develop these skills, she realized that she could invite her own mother, a survivor of 9/11, to speak with her 9th and 11th grade English classes. In September, when students do not necessarily know each other very well, she found this experience to be profoundly engaging and it deeply affected the students, creating an atmosphere of trust and openness that lasted for days and weeks. The oral history project continued to grow. Students commemorated the anniversary of 9/11 by conducting their own oral histories. Each student conducted an interview of at least one family member about their recollections of 9/11, and then shared those memories with the class. The students also read articles about the history of the attacks and listened to music that had been written in response to 9/11, including The Rising by New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen. The culmination of the project, interviewing their teacher’s mother, made an enormous impact because of the students’ eager engagement and the interviewee’s candid and spontaneous responses. The oral history project continued to grow and students also participated in a community service under the “I Will” pledge program created by 9/11 Day of Service.

Kirsten Kenny's students' award-winning 9/11 related project for the 2013-2014 school year

Teacher: Kirsten Kenny

School: Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart, Buffalo, NY
Grade: 9th
Head of School: Jennifer Demert
Foundation: The Christopher Slattery 9/11 Memorial Foundation
Ms. Kenny teaches a curriculum she created, September 11th: Courtney and Father Myke, as the first unit in her ninth-grade religion class every year, to inspire personal discussions of faith, spirituality, existentialism and human connectedness. The unit is built around two videos telling the 9/11 stories of Courtney Timms Maloney, an alumna and classmate who survived the attacks, and Father Mychal Judge, beloved Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York.

Within the lessons, the students explore the themes of survival, hope and love in classroom discussions and journal writing activities. Ms. Kenny created the video about Courtney herself, and shares a documentary, The Saint of 9/11 on Father Judge. Father Judge rushed to the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11, and was in the command post in the North Tower praying with people where he died when the South Tower collapsed. Ms Kenney’s closest friend, Courtney, was working on the 77th floor of the South Tower, and survived the attacks. The wisdom that Courtney gained from living through that experience is inspirational in encouraging students to support each other and pursue their dreams. The deep personal connection the teacher feels to 9/11 impresses the importance of this bravery and faith upon her students, and allows them to explore discussions of these elements in their own lives.

Jill McCracken's students' award-winning 9/11 related project for the 2013-2014 school year

Teachers: Jill McCracken

School: Holmdel High School
Grade: 9th – 12th
Principal: William Loughran
Foundation: The Terry Farrell Firefighters Scholarship Fund
Ms. McCracken, having worked with the New Jersey Department of Education’s Commission on Holocaust Education, helped write a curriculum on teaching terrorism and 9/11. She teaches international relations with a unit called Terrorism & 9/11: A Threat to Human Peace and Security. In it, her students explore a case study in contemporary terrorism, focusing on the events of September 11, 2001. Students delved into the experiences of Tom McGlennon, a firefighter from nearby Long Branch, N.J. A second lesson is devoted to the concept of memorial and remembrance, and students were guided to reflect on the memorialization of those lost in 9/11 as well as other terrorist attacks.

In the first unit, following an introduction to the topic of 9/11, students were asked to read the story of local professional firefighter. He was on duty in the firehouse that day and simultaneously followed the events on the news and via the radio scanner that was connected to the New York City emergency frequency. He and several fellow firefighters traveled to Ground Zero when their shifts were over to bring supplies and help in any way they could. After learning what he and his men faced at the site and how the attack affected them, students discussed his story, stories of other first responders, and the definition of “hero.” The second unit studied the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and three memorials to those individuals lost (Lockerbie, Scotland; Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia; and Syracuse University, New York). Students then discussed what elements should go into memorials to victims of terrorist attacks. Students designed their own memorials and were encouraged to submit relevant artwork to the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s Artists’ Registry.

Kathleen Menake's students' award-winning 9/11 related project for the 2013-2014 school year

Teacher: Kathleen Menake

School: Passaic Valley Regional High School, Little Falls, NJ
Grade: 11th and 12th
Principal: Raymond Rotella
Foundation: The Terry Farrell Firefighters Scholarship Fund
Students in an elective called Contemporary Issues through Videoconferencing interact with their peers, experts and people from all over the world while discussing current events. To commemorate the anniversary of the attacks, the students engaged in a videoconference with people whose lives were deeply touched by 9/11. The goal of the course is for students to use technology for direct access to primary sources of information to expand the walls of the school and its library. The students are guided to develop reflective attitudes towards their personal values and the values of others.

Ms. Menake worked with the 9/11 Tribute Center to conduct two videoconferencing sessions with her students. The students maintain their reflections in a portfolio about the course on a Google site. Here is a quote from one of the student entries: “The stories of the two women who spoke to the class impacted us in a way that is not seen very often… We were all too little to realize what was going on that day… Speaking with people who survived… links the physical facts with an emotional depth that we empathize with as human beings…This video conference matured us as young adults… Learning more about this event helped stitch a bit more of the puzzling confounding ideas that exist in me and has expressed in words the nightmare that can be humanity. These women have rejuvenated my hope in it as they are brave enough to relive their past to educate us.”

Gregory Nacerino and Hugh Gallagher's students' award-winning 9/11 related project for the 2013-2014 school year

Teachers: Gregory Nacerino and Hugh Gallagher

School: Washingtonville Middle School, Washingtonville, NY
Grade: 6th – 8th
Principal: Teresa Thompson
Foundation: The Terry Farrell Firefighters Scholarship Fund
Washingtonville is located sixty miles from NYC, and was among the many suburbs that were directly impacted by the events of 9/11. Social studies teacher Gregory Nacerino and science teacher Hugh Gallagher collaborated together to engage their students in local acts of civic responsibility. Their mid-Hudson community lost 55 people, 5 of whom (FDNY and NYPD responders) were immediate neighbors. A local memorial had been created but, after years, it needed maintenance and attention. These two teachers inspired their students to begin an after-school program called the Washingtonville 9/11 Memorial Park Maintenance Club. This club now acts as the caretakers of this park. The club meets monthly for 6th – 8th grade. Students also learn about the history of September 11th and its impact today. Then they begin the one-mile walk to the park picking up trash and performing any other necessary maintenance, followed by a moment of silence at the monument.

On the anniversary of September 11th, Mr. Nacerino’s students each conduct an interview with their parents in which students not only learn about their own relatives’ memories of that day, but to remind the parents of the need to keep the memory alive.

Michael Scherer's students' award-winning 9/11 related project for the 2013-2014 school year

Teacher: Michael Scherer

School: Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, Brooklyn NY
Grade: 9th – 12th
Principal: Steven DeMarco
Foundation: The Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust
FDR High School has a commitment to discuss 9/11. Social studies AP teacher Sue Williamson focused several professional development sessions on this topic, as many of her teachers watched the towers collapse from their classrooms. Mr. Scherer has noticed that many of his students were not born in the U.S. and have no awareness of 9/11 at all. His lessons are devoted to bringing attention to the memory of 9/11 by focusing on how American values of civic virtue were experienced in the aftermath of 9/11, honoring the selfless behavior of those people who put the need of others before themselves. Beginning with the classic Roman story of Cincinnatus, students discuss if virtue exists in our society today? Students read newspaper articles to learn about many specific people in 9/11 history who put themselves in danger to help others. The focus on 9/11 also included an investigation of the facts: reasons for these attacks, related terrorists attacks, and U.S. response. Following this investigation, students were required to choose a project from the following: conduct their own oral history, write a current events article related to 9/11 about 1 World Trade, the FealGood Foundation, or the new national museum. Students could create a map of the tri-state area, showing places that have constructed memorials using pieces of World Trade Center steel.

Steven Seltz's students' award-winning 9/11 related project for the 2013-2014 school year

Teacher: Steven Seltz

School: Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice, Brooklyn, NY
Grade: 12th
Principal: Suzette Dyer
Foundation: The Terence D. Gazzani 9/11 Scholarship Fund
Students in 12th grade Global Issues class research and debate how best to confront the issues of modern terrorism in a democratic society. The class engages in readings and debates materials adapted from the curriculum unit Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy created by the Choices Program of the Watson Center for International Studies at Brown University. Students are guided to recognize relationships between history and current issues with the goal of becoming responsible citizens. They identify and discuss the conflicting values and points of view that help shape history.

The project has gown out of many years of teaching students about the broad causes and effects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. By having students conduct research into Middle Eastern, European and American history, they can build a better understanding of the context of the 9/11 attacks, and are thus better able to engage in informed debate and discussion about the ongoing political and social challenges presented by the attacks. The goal is for students to talk about the challenges of terrorism particularly as it relates to the students’ lives as New Yorkers and for them to better confront the fears they might have in considering the problem.

Carolyn Williams-Foell's students' award-winning 9/11 related project for the 2013-2014 school year

Teacher: Carolyn Williams-Foell

School: Shanley High School, Fargo, North Dakota
Grade: 10th and 12th
Principal: Ed Mitchell
Foundation: The Terry Farrell Firefighters Scholarship Fund
Ms. Williams-Foell begins each school year by acknowledging 9/11 and the acts of virtue demonstrated by both victims and survivors. Previously, her school did not have an in-depth curriculum reaching all students concerning the events of 9/11 and Ms. Williams-Foell made this a priority. Most students knew some basic facts, so they began to explore further. Students interviewed their parents and discovered that many local families had a personal connection to the attacks and that a graduate from their school died in the attacks of 9/11. Students gave oral reports on the findings of their interviews and then continued their journey as they researched, watched documentary films, analyzed oral histories and photographs, and discussed 9/11 poetry. Students constructed a timeline of events, completed a World Trade Center study guide that their teacher created, and wrote essays. The students discussed several essential questions about the facts related to the attacks, recovery, and rebuilding, as well as focused on the role of virtue as demonstrated by the survivors and the victims, and the sustaining role of faith. Students, school-wide, participated in a Day of Service at several local community sites and the entire school community culminated the experience with a formal period of reflection on the service experience.

Virginia Wolff's students' award-winning 9/11 related project for the 2013-2014 school year

Teacher: Virginia Wolff

School: High School of Economics and Finance, Lower Manhattan
Grade: 10th and 12th
Principal: Michael Stanzione
Foundation: The Family of Firefighter Michael D. Mullan
On 9/11/01, art teacher Virginia Wolff evacuated her students to safety, as her school is next to the World Trade Center. Annually she has a mission to guide her new students to comprehend how 9/11 has changed our American identity. Her four-part lesson begins as she shares her own vivid experience on 9/11, her feeling of vulnerability and shock and our shattered image of ourselves as invincible. After researching, in the second part of the project, students discuss outcomes, both positive and negative of 9/11 such as: more unity, less materialism; anti-Muslim racism, and increased nationalism. In the third lesson, students privately write about a time that they personally felt under attack and then respond to their own writing by creating a visual interpretation using color and line to express their feelings about being under attack. The final lesson involves a concluding discussion about how personal growth often accompanies trauma.

Students discuss how American identity and sense of community was changed forever and how they were in fact also changed and perhaps strengthened by their own personal sense of overcoming a feeling of being vulnerable or hurt. This lesson addresses the following Common Core Standard: CCSS.ELA – Literacy RH 11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media