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Natalie Massery reads ‘September 12th’ to her third-graders on Tuesday at Capeless Elementary School in Pittsfield.
Wednesday September 12, 2012

Of the nearly 30 people in the classroom on Tuesday afternoon, Natalie Massery was the only one with any memory of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

A half-circle of third-graders sat wide-eyed around Massery, their Robert T. Capeless Elementary School teacher, hanging to her every word as she told of a day that changed the course of the United States one regular September day 11 years ago.

It’s an unforgettable day for most, recollecting where they were at that exact moment that first plane flew into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. But the 11 years that’s passed has given time for a new generation to occupy Massery’s third-grade classroom, students who are young enough to view the 9/11 attacks as a history lesson rather than a historic day that they themselves lived.

"We have to teach it. It really molded the future," said Candy Jezewski, Capeless Elementary’s principal. "We have to be sensitive and tread lightly, though."

A moment of silence started the daily activities at the elementary school.

Massery tries to incorporate a patriotic theme into her classroom teaching at least month.

"They’re so used to all the negative aspects, like the killings and the bombs, that it’s hard to connect," Massery said. "So, I do a lot with my guitar and try to sing patriotic songs. It’s important for them to realize that America is a community."

The 9/11 anniversary on Tuesday was an ideal way to incorporate a patriotic theme in the first month of school.


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Despite talking to a room full of 8- and 9-year-olds, Massery recounted the day in which nearly 3,000 people were killed in a terrorist attack, but used kid gloves, so to speak, to explain.

In a light, sweet-natured voiced, Massery told her class, "This happened way before you were born." She held up a yellow card that had the word "tragedy" on it, and then raised another, blue card to give a simple definition of the word.

Massery spoke of something "really, really sad" that happened "way before [the students] were born," and how "two planes filled with boys and girls, and mommies and daddies" flew into the World Trade Center buildings -- "two huge towers," according to Massery -- that then "fell over like Legos."

Almost no chatter was heard among the students, all listening to their teacher tell of a day before their time in a way that resonated with their young minds.

"A bad, bad man ran into the twin towers and it killed a lot of people," student Chloe Wend ling recited afterward.

"It was sad for New York, New York, but it was sad for everywhere else, too," added student William Garrity.

As a guide to her lesson, Massery propped the book "September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right" on her lap, reading the short passages to the class. The 2002 book was written and illustrated by first-graders at Masterson Elementary in Kennet, Mo.

The book and its brightly colored illustrations treated the subject matter as delicately and age-appropriate as Massery did, but also told the students of the brighter days ahead in the future.

Massery challenged her students to do some research at home Tuesday evening to find out who the president of the United States was in 2001.

At Pittsfield High School, the freshmen were alive on Sept. 11, 2001, but were just young toddlers unable to grasp the concept of what was going on.

Last year, a 10-year commemorative tree-planting ceremony was held on the school grounds, attended by local law enforcement and fire officials. But this year, no such event existed, despite curious students occasionally steering their teacher’s lesson plans toward the timely topic.

"I walked into a [health] class, and they were watching old news coverage from it because they were interested," said Pittsfield High School Principal Tracey Benson.

The Sept. 11 attacks do not factor into a curriculum until sophomores take U.S. History II, according to Patricia Curry, the social studies department head.

"That’s not to say we don’t include it when we can," she said. "In U.S. History I, the connection we made was that [9/11] was not the first terrorist attack. My ninth-graders watched a History Channel special that talked about why they used the planes they did, and how the buildings collapsed."

Massery was teaching second grade in September 2001, and said the teachers didn’t relay the news to the students, instead letting their parents do it when they got home. They then discussed the attacks in class the next day -- Sept. 12, 2001.

"Every day, bad things happen, but you want to try to make good things happen," Massery told her third-graders.