Students not yet born on 9/11 help to test educational materials during visit to crash site

Mary Pickels
| Friday, May 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Children not yet born on Sept. 11, 2001, are contributing to the Junior Ranger program at the Flight 93 National Memorial.

About 75 fifth- and sixth-grade students from the University of Pittsburgh's Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School visited the Somerset County memorial on Thursday, many for the first time.

Armed with prototype copies of an educational booklet planned for youngsters visiting the memorial, they fanned out to see the boulder marking the crash site of United Flight 93 and walked along the Wall of Names.

“Children go to the memorial and see just a vast field. Kids have asked rangers things like, ‘Where's the plane? Where's the hole?' There is not a lot that conveys the event,” said Mary Margaret Kerr, University of Pittsburgh child psychology professor.

“We are hoping the takeaway will be that they will understand this in their terms,” said Mary Anne McMullen, a Pittsburgh art educator and booklet illustrator. A team including Kerr and National Park Service staff created the booklets.

Flight 93 was en route from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco when four terrorists hijacked the plane. The 40 passengers and crew members who lost their lives in the crash in Stonycreek are credited with trying to wrest control of the plane, thwarting an attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Emma Waldron, 10, said she did not realize that the passengers tried to stop the terrorists.

“Now I know why we have to go through security every time we fly. The Wall of Names was sad. They were so brave,” she said.

Elena Hochheiser, 11, found it interesting that the terrorists' names were not included in the memorial.

“Even though what they did was bad, they should be acknowledged in some way,” she said.

One section of the booklet explains tributes and asks children to find examples in the park.

“It makes you sad to think thousands of people died for no good reason. I'm happy I was not here when it happened. I'm happy those people sacrificed their lives so we could have ours,” said Ryan Duffy, 11. “They are hooking me on this. It's interesting. I want to learn more.”

Jack Troxel, 10, said he has visited the memorial twice before. “I really enjoyed coming. The booklet helps you learn about it. You may not learn as much without the booklet,” he said.

Haley Nichols, 10, said she found the memorial “kind of relaxing.”

“It's quiet. It's sad because so many people (died) in the crash. A bad person started this. I respect what they (National Park Service) did to build this park in their memory,” she said.

Language arts teacher Greg Wittig said the students reviewed the events of 9/11 before their visit.

“We talked about memorials, how we understand them, how we interpret them, what is being said, what is not being said,” Wittig explained.

“I think it's a very good way to teach students what happened and about the memorial,” said Charlie Burton, 11. “It tells it in an appropriate way. It's easy, and I think it's well-written,”

One student asked park ranger Adam Shaffer if anyone aboard Flight 93 died before the crash.

“Unfortunately, the answer is yes,” Shaffer said.

Barbara Black, the National Park Service's chief of interpretation and cultural resources at the memorial, told the students about some of the more unusual tributes people have left behind.

A wedding ring had no accompanying explanation. A note left with a brick explained that it had been taken by U.S. soldiers from a building in Afghanistan that harbored terrorists.

All tributes are collected and archived. Some will be displayed in the visitor and education centers planned for the site.

The Junior Ranger booklets are expected to be available this summer, said Jeff Reinbold, superintendent for National Parks of Western Pennsylvania.

“It's the kind of thing that will pay real dividends. It will help future parents and kids understand the story,” he said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or

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