HAMPSTEAD — Twenty-five eighth-graders in Mike Chrvala's history class watched intently as smoke billowed from the North Tower of the World Trade Center, from video footage taken during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Friday marked the 14-year anniversary of the tragedy when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were struck by two jets hijacked by members of the international terrorist network al-Qaeda.


Though the majority of the students in Chrvala's class had not yet been born when the attacks occurred, watching videos helped the magnitude of the event resonate with them.

"I feel like we always knew about it, but this video hit a little harder because it was a personal situation," said Olivia Asbury, 13, who began to tear up while watching the video created by Project Rebirth, a New York City-based nonprofit comprised of 25 volunteers.

The organization works with first responders to help them identify what post-traumatic stress looks like and also works with educators to keep the 9/11 stories alive, said executive director Aaron Leonard, who was at Shiloh Middle on Friday as part of a special presentation.

The videos triggered a visible emotional response in many of the students.

"It was really sad and kind of like overwhelming," said Olivia Ward, 13, who knew a little about the events before watching the video.

The organization has 11 films in total, two of which were screened for Shiloh Middle students Friday.

"Unless you are a generation that was there, it's difficult to remember it," Leonard said. "9/11 can just become a point in time of history … but we have this unique opportunity to teach the human story of 9/11, that there was more that occurred than what happened on that one day."

In the second film students watched, they heard the story of Tim Brown, a New York City firefighter who on that day lost 91 people he was close to, including two of his closest friends.

"That's an enormous challenge that somebody goes through in their life," Leonard said, adding that Tim's story shows the connections people made amid the horrors of 9/11.

"The firefighters and first responders who ran to the towers, they had no regard for people's race, their religion, their economic backgrounds — they put their lives on the line and they risked their lives purely for the love of humanity," Leonard said.

Chrvala, who serves as an education advisor for Project Rebirth, told students that even though they might not realize it, 9/11 has affected their lives.

"What do you guys go through when you get on a plane?" Chrvala asked his students after the film.

After a pause, one student replied, "Security."

"When you go through it's pretty intense, right? They make you take your shoes off," Chrvala said. "None of that existed prior to Sept. 11 … Your lives have changed so much after what happened that day, by some things that you don't even know."


After watching the films, students heard a first-hand account from Westminster resident Jeff McAndrew, who was in the North Tower that day when he was employed by Thomson Financial, now known as Thomson Reuters.

"I was on the 18th floor when the plane hit and fire alarms went off and I had a couple guys with me," McAndrew said, "We sprinted — literally we did a sprint downstairs; we were in the lobby … before the second plane hit."

McAndrew said he believes in the importance of educating students who weren't alive or old enough to know what happened.

"It's a dark day in our history but it's a day I think they need to know about," McAndrew said.

His stepdaughter Payton Steele, 13, said watching the film made her emotional.

"I've heard the story from him and family members; it still hits pretty hard," Payton said. "If he was a couple floors higher he wouldn't be here."