911 teacher

Michael Chrvala poses for a photo in front of a 9/11 Tribute Flag in his classroom at Shiloh Middle School in Hampstead. Chrvala annually takes kids to the World Trade Center as part of his social studies class. (Staff Photo by Jen Rynda / September 9, 2011)

Michael Chrvala's current students were 3 years old on Sept. 11, 2001.

They didn't see the hijacked airliners crash into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, or the plane plow into Pentagon, and they didn't hear news reports about the jet that crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa.

Nevertheless, their eigth-grade teacher at Shiloh Middle School is determined to tell them the story of that tragic day.

Chrvala, who has taught social studies in the Carroll County Public Schools for 18 years, takes every opportunity to teach his students about the significance of 9/11.

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His classroom is filled with reminders of the day, including a poster with the photographs of every New York firefighter who died in the rescue effort, an American flag with the names of deceased emergency responders and a photograph of the burning towers contrasted against the bright, cloudless sky of the New York morning.

Chrvala, who grew up in Irvington, N.J., and hoped as a youth to become a firefighter, still vividly remembers the events of that fateful morning.

"My planning period was in the early morning, so I didn't have class until 10:15," he recalled of his teaching schedule on 9/11. "I went into (Shiloh's) main office, and someone said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I'm thinking that some dork rented a small plane and wanted to show someone where his office was."

When told that the plane was a jetliner, Chrvala quickly realized that the crash was not an accident.

"I came back to my classroom and turned on the television, and soon after that the south tower was attacked and came down," he said. " I not only thought of the thousands of people who had died, but also all of the firefighters. It was very personal."

Today, Chrvala stresses to his students that there are positive messages to take from the tragedy.

"For the kids today, you need to teach how the world changed that day," he said. "In so many ways, they don't undertand what was different. It's never going to be Sept. 10 again.

"Americans tend to look forward, and don't want to get dragged down by negative stuff," he said. "But I tell my students that while it was a terrible day, many of those responders went into those buildings to save people.

"Everyone was trying to get out of those buildings, but the firefighters and cops went in for one reason — to help.

"The legacy of Sept. 11 is not only about the losses, but the way America came together and the outpouring of support for the United States around the world."

Chrvala doesn't limit the learning to looking at photographs and discussing the tragedy in a comfortable classroom setting. For the past several years, he has taken many of his students to where it all happened.

He rewards 46 Shiloh students who are academically sucessful — and who complete an essay that is graded by a panel of teachers — with a trip to Ground Zero in New York. Other factors in the selection process include classroom attendance and behavior.

"It would be fantastic if we could get the entire eighth grade to go, but it's logistically impossible," he said.

"I want to make sure the students understand that this is something that happened to real people who just went to work that day," he said. "The students research and write about a lost firefighter, and make contact with the family members.

"What really hits home with them is when we go in the Tribute Museum and they see the artifacts," Chrvala said. "They observe things like a melted key ring, and a window from one of the planes. Last year, one of my students wondered about who was sitting by that window and what they saw."

The process of educating students about 9/11 almost didn't happen. On the morning after the attacks, teachers received an email from Carroll County Public Schools' central office instructing them not to discuss the events of the day with their students.