Students reflect on trip to ground zero

Shiloh Middle School teacher Michael Chrvala talks about Sept. 11, 2001, during a program titled "Remembering 9/11" at the Finksburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library Monday.
Shiloh Middle School teacher Michael Chrvala talks about Sept. 11, 2001, during a program titled "Remembering 9/11" at the Finksburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library Monday. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

FINKSBURG - When asked to share one word that would describe the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, many students at Carroll County Public Library's Finksburg branch said words such as "awful," "sad" and "horrific."

That is until one student spoke up and said "hopeful," because so many people came together to selflessly save others that day.

Shiloh Middle School eighth-grade teacher Michael Chrvala and his students held a talk Monday night at the library called Remembering 9/11, where they discussed their experiences while visiting Ground Zero in New York.

"My whole point in teaching about Sept. 11 is there is hope," Chrvala said.

Each year, every student in the grade at Shiloh Middle learns about Sept. 11, 2001, but about 48 students are specially selected each year to research a firefighter who died that day. As they find out about the unique details that made up their person's life, they design tributes and visit ground zero in New York.

On Monday, many of the students wore Rescue 1 T-shirts as well as bracelets that contained the engraved names of the people they researched. They sat in the audience and talked about what they learned while doing the project as Chrvala showed a video and a slideshow of people who died in the attacks.

Last year's group of eighth-graders were the first to be able to get into the memorial, he said. The National 9/11 Memorial and Museum is still not fully open and there is no time frame for its completion.

While the site is beautifully constructed, there are no signs to say that more than 3,000 people died on that spot, Chrvala said. He added that many visiting the memorial seemed to regard it as a park instead of the site of thousands of murders.

The students who researched the firefighters and corresponded both by email and in person with the deceased person's family members and friends feel like they have a more personal connection with Sept. 11 than many of their peers.

Last year's students, who are now about 14 years old, do not have memories of the day. Because of their experiences, however, they have pledged to keep the memory alive so no one forgets those who lost their lives.

Angie Tolomei, a freshman at North Carroll High School, said the trip was a wonderful experience that she will always remember.

"It was like stepping on sacred ground," she said. "Nothing can really compare."

Westminster High School freshman Cameron Jaworski said many of the students took water from the reflecting pools at the memorial and placed it over the names of the deceased. Family members of the dead told them it would bring good luck to the dead in heaven. Students also took a crayon to paper over the engraved names to make a copy.

Alicia Badra, another freshman at North Carroll High, said she got the opportunity to meet the son of the man she researched at the memorial.

"He explained how important his father was to him," she said.

The students also visited the 9/11 Tribute Center, where they met even more people who were directly impacted by the tragedy.

No state has a curriculum that teaches about Sept. 11, 2001, and many of the first responders who survived the collapse are dying from different types of cancer, Chrvala said.

The terrorist attack is a terrible day in history, but is a chance to teach about the best of humanity, he said.

"We talk about citizenship and courage and what better example than what people did on Sept. 11 and the days after," Chrvala said.

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