After 9/11, Beverly Braxton led her class of 3rd and 4th graders in Warwick, NY through a remarkable class project that touched her and her students for a lifetime. Here she reflects upon the experience ten years later.
As I start to write my first ever blog entry, I’m trying to understand how a private person like me can share something so personal in such a public medium. But then I’m reminded of why I wanted to tell our story about the Peace Wall Memorial: to affirm the contribution of teachers. People need to hear powerful stories of how, even in the midst of tragedy, teachers can provide dynamic learning experiences that empower students and foster lifelong learning.
Ten years ago, my 3rd and 4th grade class designed, developed and built a memorial on our school grounds in response to the events of 9/11. Our story was born of my frustration and their fears, my anger at their excitement because our country was going to war and their anxiety about another terrorist attack. On the Peace Wall Memorial webpage, you can read how my students transformed their anger, sorrow and confusion into a beautiful monument to peace.
Teachers have told me that they appreciate how I was able to integrate so many aspects of the curriculum into our experience, teaching math, science, history, art and literature. Others say they admire how I captured my students’ interests and used them as a strategy to immerse them in the curriculum. Once my students decided that they wanted to create a peace memorial, I introduced them to higher order thinking through a semantic map to identify subjects and themes that could be linked to their project.
But what I really think about now—what I am unable to forget—is how intimately the students and I were touched by making meaning together. One of the students who is now in college recently explained it this way:
“At the time of September 11, I was so young and I was scared because I saw that my parents were scared. See(ing) all-knowing adults very shaken made me feel unstable. Doing this project made us feel like we had the power to do something about the situation, make things better for our community. . . . It made me understand that I could change my life in reaction to what happens in the world.”
Connecting with one another to grow and to solve our problems—that is a lesson that teachers and students can never get enough of.
Mrs. Braxton taught elementary school for 28 years in the Partners in Education Program (PIE) in Warwick, NY.