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Westwood Middle remembers 9/11, recognizes local first responders

Students at Westwood Middle School got to take a deeper look at the impact of Sept. 11, 2001, and the importance of first responders in the community on Monday during the school’s 9/11 Remembrance and First Responder Appreciation Day. The event was held to commemorate and memorialize the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on United Flight 93.

The Westwood vertical social studies team of Barbara Smith (6th grade), Ashley Grandick-Peck (7th grade) and Matthew Barcus (8th grade) worked together to make the day meaningful and memorable for the students. The school-wide initiative made it possible for students to participate in a variety of activities throughout the afternoon and many Westwood educators geared their content and lessons around a 9/11 theme throughout the day.

“We’ve kind of made it a tradition at Westwood to not just memorialize Patriot Day, but also to shed light and recognize the first responders that are in our community,” said Grandick-Peck. “Besides just the regular, average person that stood up on that day, first responders had an extreme impact on Sept. 11. We like the kids to be able to actually see the people in their community and interact with them.”

“We’re excited about the opportunity to educate our students about a very moving experience that many of us still remember like it was yesterday,” Westwood Principal John Conrad said. “Our students weren’t born yet when 9/11 occurred, so this opportunity is about raising awareness and bringing to life for them a very important moment in American history. It’s also our chance to welcome first responders from the greater Morgantown area to our campus and thank them for their service in keeping our communities safe.”

First responders from various agencies across Monongalia County came to participate in the event, including Westover Police and Volunteer Fire Department, Granville Police, Star City Police, University Police and Monongalia County Emergency Management (MECCA 911).

Students were able to ask officers and firefighters questions and look through the firetruck, police vehicles and MECCA’s Mobile Command Center.

Smith said since the school moved farther away from town, it makes it more difficult to bring students to see fire and police stations.

“Since we can’t go to them, we brought them to us,” Smith said.

Grandick-Peck added the event gives students the opportunity to have positive interactions with first responders.

“These kids are getting in the firetrucks, they’re speaking with firefighters, they’re speaking with police officers, 911 dispatch,” she said. “We have our resource officer who’s new to our school, so he is doing a meet-and-greet and getting to know the kids too, so it gives him an opportunity to connect positively.”

Students also watched a video recount from Westwood Middle School employee Sarah Cooke, who served as a first responder working rescue and recovery efforts at the Flight 93 crash site in Pennsylvania.

Students got to choose a topic they wanted to learn more about and experience that for a period of time during the afternoon activities.

Grandick-Peck said some of the topics students could explore include retired Air Force personnel, a lesson on the science and chemical effects of what happened post 9/11, a master sergeant who won an award for global counterterrorism, and the school’s own resource officer.

“We tried to pull in things so kids could get maybe a little deeper connection but choose something they wanted to learn about also in connection with it,” she said.

Select members of the Westwood staff also educated students on topics related to 9/11, including military service, multi-cultural perspectives and interacting with primary sources via StoryCorps, a nonprofit that collects, preserves and shares stories from people with different backgrounds and experiences.

The day closed with a school-wide assembly recognizing all area first responders in attendance and a video titled, “Boatlift, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resistance” narrated by Tom Hanks. The film focuses on the story of the 9/11 boatlift that evacuated half a million people from lower Manhattan in the largest water evacuation in history.

“We have worked very hard with the planning and logistics to make this event happen for our students and our community,” Westwood Social Studies teacher Phil Caskey said. “It is our privilege and duty to tell the 9/11 story and recognize our community’s first responders who selflessly protect their communities first. It is our hope that our students will recognize the significance and importance of 9/11 and that is so much more than just another page in history for them.”