Teachers look back at response to terror attacks on 9-11-2001

by Geoff Fox

Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

Flags half mast in New York City near the World Trade Centers.

Everyone knows where they were and what they were doing at 8:48 a.m., 9:03 a.m., 9:37 a.m., and 10:03 a.m. that morning. Those were the times the planes hit the North Tower (American Airlines Flight 11), South Tower (United Airlines Flight 175), Pentagon (American Airlines Flight 77), and the field near Shanksville, Pa. (United Airlines Flight 93).

Almost 3,000 people lost their lives that morning, the majority being in New York City at the two World Trade Center buildings.

Millions watched on television as the events unfolded.

But how did the events of 9/11 unfold in the schools with teachers telling the students what was going on?

The Hancock News  reached out to Hancock Elementary and Hancock Middle-School teachers who were in the classrooms that morning to find out.

Jennifer Ruppenthal

Jennifer Ruppenthal is the current principal at Hancock Middle Senior High School, but on September 11, 2001, she was an assistant principal at Western Heights Middle School.

Ruppenthal said the secretaries had the news on when the first plane hit the World Trade Center North Tower.

“I don’t remember exactly when I was informed that the other tower was hit,” she said in an email. “I remember lunch shifts beginning and parents coming to pick up their kids.”

Ruppenthal said everyone was “very concerned” about the uncertainty of what was occurring.

As for the reaction from the students, Ruppenthal said they were asking why everyone was leaving and/or getting picked up.

“We tried to keep students calm,” she added.

As the day wore on, classes continued the same as usual, but more families were arriving and guidance was provided to staff about the message to provide to the students.

Ruppenthal said over the days that followed, attendance at Western Heights was impacted negatively following the attacks.

“Families were fearful of returning their children to school,” she said.

Teachers and staff at the school answered questions as best they could and mainly tried their best to return to normal as much as possible.

“We took time to provide students and staff with an opportunity to reflect on the many people that lost their lives,” she said.

Ruppenthal said the events of September 11, 2001, changed our lives forever.

“The Americans throughout our Nation experienced the feelings of grief and loss as a result of these acts of terrorists,” she said.

In 2012, Ruppenthal said students were encouraged to wear red, white, and blue and at noon the school had a moment of silence and viewed part of President George W. Bush’s speech.

“The years following, we have always had some sort of reflection on the tragic events of that day,” she said.

Carl Wise

Carl Wise was teaching his AP Biology class that morning at Hancock High School when James Hoopengardner came over to the room and told him to turn on the TV as a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings.

“We turned on the TV and instruction had basically stopped,” Wise said.

He added students were asking how a pilot could crash into a building, why they didn’ t crash into the water, and “so on.”

“Then we saw the second plane hit the other tower,” Wise said. “I remember the stunned silence and how I said, we are under attack.”

Wise said the rest of the day was a blur, but remembers hearing “so many rumors” all day about planes that were unaccounted for and still in the air and a potential threat.

Like at Western Heights, many parents came to pick their children up early from Hancock Middle-Senior High School that day due to fear and chaos of the day.

“I would say by the end of the day the school was half empty,” Wise said.

Wise tried to stay focused on regular studies, but noted it was almost impossible to do so.

“It was hard for all of us to understand what was happening and why,” he said. “I will never forget the confusion and fear from that day.”

Jennifer Scarberry Price

Today she’s principal Hancock Elementary, but on September 11, 2001, she was the Library Media Specialist at the school.

Scarberry Price said the day started out as any other day with her reporting to school for her usual day of teaching Library Media classes. She believes it was between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. that she was alerted something was happening.

“A building colleague, listening to her radio, came to me and said she heard something awful about a plane crash into the WTC,” Scarberry Price said. “At the time there were no other crashes and we thought it must have been a horrific accident.”

Scarberry Price was on her planning at the time, so she turned on the TV in the Library Media Center with NBC showing the first plane flying into the World Trade Center.

While watching the TV , the second plane came into view and those with Scarberry Price watched as it slammed into the South Tower.

“At that time, our principal came around and asked all staff to turn off televisions and radios until we knew what was happening and what we were going to tell students,” she said. “Not long after, I was told about the Pentagon and Flight 93.”

Since she had planning and no class of her own at the time, Scarberry Price walked around the building checking on colleagues. She knew something was “very, very wrong.”

“I felt like the world might be ending,” she said.

As with other schools, Hancock Elementary had parents come and pick their kids up from school, but once Flight 93 went down, Scarberry Price said parents en masse showed up.

“I was used as a runner from the office to classrooms to escort students to their parents,” she said.

Once all the students were gone, teachers left soon after. “I remember going home and just wanting to talk to my mom and my sister on the phone the rest of the afternoon and evening,” she said. “We lived five hours apart and I was afraid what else might happen. It was a terribly isolating feeling.”
In the days after the terror attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, Scarberry Price said Hancock Elementary staff did no watch any news coverage during class as they did not want to further traumatize anyone, especially students, by watching news coverage during the school day.

“I remember we wanted to make students feel safe and secure,” she said.

Scarberry Price said it’ s quite an emotion each year to think she was at Hancock Elementary in 2001 and is now the principal.

“Each year I remember exactly what happened, what I was doing, and the feeling of it all,” she said. “Saddest day for America.”

Marsha Flowers

Marsha Flowers was teaching fifth grade at Lincolnshire Elementary in Hagerstown when the terror attacks took place. She is currently a fifth grade teacher at Hancock Elementary.

When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, Flowers, along with the other fifth grade teachers, was not in her classroom, but at the Outdoor School for a planning day while a substitute was in the classroom.

Flowers said as they were planning, one of the admins from the Outdoor School called back to them to turn on the TVs as there had been a plane crash in New York.
“It was just adults there planning, so we turned on the TV and watched the next hour or so as it all unfolded in front of us on live TV coverage – from it just being a plane crash to it being a terrorist attack,” Flowers said. “Besides shock and disbelief, we were all worried what was going to happen and how this would impact our kids back at school with four substitutes in our place for the day,” she said.
Flowers said the four teachers were scared, worried, and knew it would be chaos as parents found out and most likely start calling to pick their kids up from school.

Flowers said she wasn’t in her classroom, but “I know it was kind of crazy the rest of the day trying to maintain order and not divulge too much to the elementary kids.”

Over the next several days and weeks, Flowers said there was definitely discussion of what happened, but it was limited as the kids were only 10 years old and in elementary school.

“Trying to make kids feel safe and on task was the priority,” she said. “Many questions were asked and some were answered as appropriate.”

Lincolnshire Elementary staff didn’t show any news coverage, Flowers added, and kids were absent.

“It was a time I will never forget,” she said.

Flowers said she still talks about it every year with her students and they hear her point of view, read books about the events, have had guest speakers, and many questions when presented.

She also reminds the kids they will definitely have sometime or something in their life they will never forget and stand out for a long time.

“I tell them to learn from it and find out facts rather than just hearsay,” Flowers said. “I also remind them that these memorable things in our history change the world.”

She reminds them how things have changed since that day in September 2001.

“I will never forget,” she said. “I will do my part to share history from my point of view and encourage them to seek other points of view for the big picture and to learn from the past to make our future better!” she said.

The field near Shanksville, Pa.