Learning from 9/11

By Hailey Heinz / Journal Staff Writer on Tue, Sep 6, 2011 (from the Albuquerque Journal)

Riana Best is 8, and eager to tell you that she’ll turn 9 at the end of October. So the soft-spoken third-grader was not yet born in 2001, when the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists.
But as the daughter of a Kirtland airman, Best knows firsthand about the repercussions of Sept. 11. Her father served a tour in Afghanistan last year, and Best said she missed him very much.

“When my dad was deployed, I was really sad,” she said. “He missed my first dance recital here.”

Best is a student at Sandia Base Elementary School, where many students have active duty parents. Teachers there say they talk about Sept. 11 each year and try to address the unique issues that military students face.

The school’s entryway has a wall of remembrance, signed by all the students who attended Sandia Base on Sept. 11, 2001. There’s a special display case in one of the hallways, featuring students whose parents are deployed overseas.

This week, many classes at Sandia Base will be making cards for service men and women week to mark the 10-year anniversary of the attacks.

“We let them know how much their parents are needed,” said Anita Dieckhoff, who teaches fifth grade at the school, which is on Kirtland Air Force Base.

Dieckhoff said her students are too young to remember the attacks, but many have at least some idea of what happened that day. Some have ideas that are incorrect and have been filtered through the grapevine of 10-year-olds, so she strives to give students clear information.

“First of all, we remind them of what it is and what it isn’t, because they hear things,” Dieckhoff said. “We talk about what it really was, how tragic it was, and how unifying it was.”

In her discussions, Dieckhoff said she gives ample credit to police and firefighters, but the conversation invariably centers on the military, since many students have direct military ties.
She said she tries to emphasize the peacekeeping aspects of the military, as well as the sacrifices military children make while their parents are deployed. She talks about how students can help by staying in touch with deployed parents and appreciating the work they do.

But sometimes the topics get more complicated, with questions about the difference between war and terrorism, for example.

Dieckhoff said she tries to explain these issues without treading on personal values the students’ families may have. She said one of the ways she defines terrorism for her students is that it happens outside the bounds of “appropriate society” as most people would define it.

When things get too dicey, she refers children back to their parents.

“It’s kind of like the puberty unit in the spring,” she said.

For the 8-year-old Best, most of her knowledge about Sept. 11 has been learned at home. She said her mother showed her online video footage of the attacks, and her parents have talked about what it was and what it meant. Her notion of what Sept. 11 “means” is about as straightforward as it gets.

“It means … people were mean to America,” she said.

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