Taking care to keep the memory of the events of Sept. 11, 2001 alive, students from Jamaica Estates visited the memorial museum at the site of the twin towers.
The Aquinas Honor Society from Immaculate Conception School was the first group to ever schedule a classroom workshop at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, for which they received an official certificate from the museum.
The group visited the museum as heirs of a legacy, said moderator Carl Ballenas.
Ballenas said that in 2009, he still could not find a proper curriculum to teach students about the 2001 terrorist attacks. Therefore, he decided to enlist the help of his Aquinas students to bring a physical memorial to the school community.
Equipped with a $3,000 grant from the Alive in Hope Foundation and with the leadership of a parent volunteer, Ernesto Mendoza, the students created a stained-glass window to commemorate the good forces that overcame evil after the attacks. The local fire department donated a piece of steel from the wreckage of the World Trade Center, which the society turned into leaves of an olive branch carried by a dove in the stain glass window. The glass celebrates the power of peace and the rosary over the forces of destruction.
The society has a book on the story of the stained-glass window, a copy of which it donated to the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
On Sept. 18, when the current Aquinas students visited, they saw that a digital version of the book is held in museum records.
Ballenas stresses the importance of continuing to learn about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, to his 12- and 13-year old students, who were not yet born when they occurred.
Seventh-grader Ryla Pasaoa, who has learned about the attacks at home and in school, felt they have imprinted a presence on the New York community. “It’s unspoken, but it’s felt,” she said.
Faris Madi was only 7 years old when his sister, Amme, helped make the commemorative window. Although he still remembers the day the glass was lifted, he said he was too young to grasp its importance.
However, now that he is older, Faris said it is important to learn and commemorate what happened.
“I live a couple of miles from where it happened, in Queens,” he said. “I know a lot of people who can remember it.”
When the students visited the museum, they watched a documentary featuring the leaders who made crucial decisions on the day. They were told about small details that they may have not known but that are engraved in people’s memories – for example, the strikingly clear blue sky that woke with the city that morning and the deadly smoke that covered it soon after.
The students were also given an opportunity to take on the roles of historians. They looked at objects in the museum and made observations as to their importance.
The Last Column
The object that students voted as the most important archeological treasure was the Last Column, a column from the World Trade Center that testifies to the destruction. People wrote messages of hope and love on the column. As a class, the students asserted that this artifact shows the good that came from the ashes of the hatred.
“Human beings are capable of evil or good deeds, depending on what they decide to act upon,” said Anuja Deodat, an eighth-grader and president of the Aquinas Honor Society, after her visit to the museum.
Anuja said she is grateful for the ability to visit the museum.
“I need to learn about what other people went through,” she said. “It made me a whole lot more scared for the people there. I can’t imagine how the people felt.”
The eighth-grader said that one of the reasons it is important to understand the events is security. She said if her generation does not know the reason behind annoying security measures in places like airports, then they may dismiss them, allowing history to repeat itself.
Eighth-grader Christelle Joseph said that even though she was not alive when the country was attacked and the towers fell, she feels the impact of the damage.
“We need to heal over time,” she said.
Christelle said that she has read about the events. However, seeing artifacts in person afforded her a stronger understanding. She said the last column inspired her. Even though it originally was hardly visible over the smoke and dust, it survived and inspired love and kindness in people from around the world.