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Finding a balance between remembering and reliving

By Michele Kurtz and Anand Vaishnav, Globe Staff, 9/12/2002

They held pointed discussions in history classes, donned wristbands labeled with victims' names, and prayed before a cross cut from a steel beam of the World Trade Center.

Across the Commonwealth yesterday, students honored the anniversary of Sept. 11 with reflection, creativity, and, in some cases, a quiet shielding from the images that have overwhelmed the airwaves this week.

''We tried to find a balance'' between recognizing the event and overwhelming students, said June Schmunk, a school counselor at Noble and Greenough School. The private school in Dedham held an assembly, let students plant daffodil bulbs, and offered a special room for private contemplation. In some cases, students were moved to tears.

''I don't think a lot of them were prepared for the emotions today,'' Schmunk said.

The school, where a senior last year lost his father in the attacks, launched the morning with an emotional 20-minute assembly. Students read their own writings about the tragedy, a teacher flashed powerful photographs onto a screen that hung floor-to-ceiling, and a female student sang ''America the Beautiful.''

Afterward, some students lamented what they view as the fleeting nature of some societal changes that followed the attacks.

''People started going back to the way they were,'' said Alexander Dynan, 17, a senior at Noble and Greenough. ''It was really tough to see the American flags dissipate. All of that seemed to fade.''

Down the hall, students in a class on the Middle East grappled with possible connections between the history of Islam and the tragedy. ''Don't be confused between `this is the West's fault' and `this is a historical development,''' cautioned their teacher, Bob Henderson, who also is head of the school.

Attendance in some school districts remained steady yesterday, despite the heightened alert to a possible attack.

''Nobody has reported anything unusual,'' said Wayland Superintendent Gary A. Burton. ''It looks like just a regular school day.''

In Brockton, however, some parents were concerned about sending their children to school on such an emotional day, school officials said. ''We told them to do whatever they are most comfortable with, but school [would] be on,'' said Suzie Delis, assistant to the superintendent. ''Attendance dropped just a little bit, maybe a percentage point or two off the usual mark.''

In some Massachusetts elementary schools, the normal rhythm of the day didn't miss a beat as teachers took a more subdued approach, fearful of upsetting children. At the Angier Elementary School in Newton, Principal Pamela R. Appleton led a moment of silence, and upper grades discussed the anniversary a little. But routines quickly resumed, and guidance counselors weren't called upon.

''Schools need to be careful not to overstep our bounds in terms of the discussions that parents want to hold,'' said Appleton.

Many high schools also treaded carefully, mainly taking their cues from students and teachers on how to remember the day and the tragedy.

At Wilmington High School, students and staff observed the anniversary in a personal way: They wore red-white-and-blue wristbands, each with the name of a person killed in the attacks. Senior class president Stephen Sperandio came up with the idea. Some students were planning to write to the family of the victim on their wristband.

''I didn't clean up at ground zero. I wasn't at the Pentagon. But this is my way of doing something,'' said Sperandio, 17.

He and classmate Rachel DiGregorio, who typed up 3,128 names, also distributed the wristbands to other local schools, town offices, and the police and fire departments. Some parents even stopped by to pick up the bands, which were donated by Rapid Reproductions of Wilmington.

The high school held a moment of silence, but for the most part Principal Edward J. Woods let teachers gauge their students' appetites for discussing the attacks. Matt Hackett's psychology class didn't dwell on it, but his world history class spent an hour discussing American attitudes, the Middle East, harassment of Arab-American friends, patriotism, and security.

Students spoke of initially feeling uncomfortable talking to people of Arabic descent; one student's father's company laid off half its staff after the attacks; others shared concerns about what had and hadn't changed. Some recalled snapping pictures from atop the World Trade Center when they visited New York on a field trip two years ago.

''It's so weird to think all the people in that building are gone,'' sophomore Katie Sterling said. ''It was a huge, amazing piece of work, and it's gone.''

Boston College High School, a Jesuit school in Dorchester, conducted a ''Mass of Peace and Justice'' and unveiled a cross fashioned from a steel beam from the World Trade Center. A worker at the site spontaneously cut the figure from a beam and gave it to a fire department chaplain in New York, said the Rev. Kevin White, a teacher and campus minister at BC High. That chaplain gave the cross to a Boston-area pastor, who donated it anonymously to the Jesuit community and the school, White said.

''It's quite crude and in that way it also expresses real beauty about the suffering of the nation and of New York and Washington,'' he said.

Megan Tench of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B7 of the Boston Globe on 9/12/2002.
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