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National 9/11 Museum Education Workshop

May 9, 2022

The Past Is Ever Present: Finding Connection and Hope in Times of Crisis


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By Meredith Ketchmark

Description: As educators reflect on the difficulties faced in the classroom throughout the ongoing pandemic, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum’s Anniversary in the Schools program seeks to connect students to stories of hope and resilience, making the past more relevant.

In early 2002, the canyons of lower Manhattan continued to echo with the sounds of the ongoing cleanup at Ground Zero. After nine months of tireless effort put in by thousands of people, the site would quiet on May 30 when the last piece of World Trade Center steel was ceremoniously cut down and driven off the site. While some found comfort in the close of this chapter, others continued to mourn the loss of their loved ones and questioned the uncertainties that loomed before them. Despite what fears of the future lay ahead, people around the world came together to exhibit incredible resilience in the wake of 9/11. United in their efforts to memorialize the victims and honor the sacrifice of many, this global community proved that hope could be found even in the greatest moments of crisis. More than two decades later, these sentiments feel as relevant as ever and can provide an important connection between the past and present for younger generations.

Since 2017, I have had the privilege to support the mission to remember at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as a member of the Education Team. Though the work I have contributed to, both in person and virtually, has reached thousands of students and teachers, by far our furthest-reaching effort is our annual Anniversary in the Schools program, a free commemorative program available on demand, which highlights the unique first-person narratives of individuals deeply impacted by 9/11. Since 2016, the program has reached an audience of over 2 million people from around the world. In preparation of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we focused on diverse and powerful stories that would not only highlight what happened on 9/11, but also explore its ongoing relevance. Understanding the continual impact of 9/11 was especially important for this milestone anniversary because today’s students were not alive to witness and remember 9/11. Soon, many pre-service teachers will also be a part of this post-9/11 generation. Considering these realities, it was critically important to include the voices of those who were young people on 9/11 to allow students to comprehend and connect with this history.

On a deeper level, we also felt the need to acknowledge our current reality. As educators across the country prepared for another school year teaching amid a global pandemic, it became clear that an opportunity existed to make explicit connections between the present day and the events of 9/11. While there are differences between our current situation and reckoning with the aftermath of 9/11, there are also powerful and resonant similarities. Feelings of grief, shifting concepts of safety, and questions related to how we can overcome in times of hardship remain points of connection for students and educators alike. Using this program, which focuses on reflecting on the past, opens a pathway for students to not only understand the ongoing relevance of 9/11, but also to build empathy for others while uncovering important lessons on how to find hope today.

Carlton Shelley
Carlton Shelley speaks with the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

Carlton Shelley, one of the featured young voices in the 2021 program, spoke a lot about these similarities. As a fifth-grade student on 9/11, Carlton recalled looking to the support of his teachers that morning to better understand what was going on. “I couldn’t conceptualize all the things that were happening that day,” he says. “I remember just feeling dark.” For him, the shared experience of going through 9/11 taught him more about perseverance and later factored into his decision to go to college at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He concludes his story by outlining how his experiences on 9/11 and his years in the military prepared him to navigate through the difficulties that exist in our world today. “I think that the important part that I found on 9/11 is that you hold on to the ability to get closer, [and] with resilience, things will get better. That’s what’ll help you get through this.”

Educators across the country who participated in this year’s program appreciated the connections and messages that Carlton and other speakers had to share. “In these pandemic times, it is important to be united as a country,” shared Maria Teresa, an elementary school teacher in Texas. Kristin, a middle school teacher in New Jersey mentioned how the program helped meet her school’s goal to focus on social and emotional learning as well as resiliency, and it allowed her students to draw important comparisons between 9/11 and today. Jessica, an elementary school teacher in Illinois agreed, saying, “I have always taught 9/11 through stories. Seeing that this was how the program was set up and seeing how you related it to the pandemic made [it] meaningful for my students who were not alive when 9/11 happened.”

Student letter to Carlton Shelley
Elementary student letter to Carlton Shelley

When examining why it is more important now than ever to continue sharing the story of 9/11, a teacher from New Jersey relayed the following reflections from her fifth-grade students. They said “In terrible times, we can come together and make a difference in each other’s lives. No matter how big or small our actions are, we can do good and be good to other people, and that will help change their lives.” This September, as we continue to reflect on our past and recognize the ways we can move forward together into a brighter future, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum will once again offer this free program featuring the stories of four new individuals deeply impacted by 9/11. For more insight on this year’s speakers, and for an exclusive trailer, visit our website at

About the Author

Meredith Ketchmark is the Assistant Manager of Youth & Family Programs at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Prior to her work in this role, Meredith has held several other positions within the museum's education department since 2014. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Wagner College where her coursework, along with her love of history and learning, is what propelled and inspired her to pursue a career in the field of museum education.

9/11 Lesson Plans and Resources

From examining the events of 9/11, to discussing American values, and connecting 9/11 to the Constitution, this list of resources has several options for teachers to cover the topics surrounding 9-11-2001.

National September 11 Memorial & Museum

Through commemoration, exhibitions, and educational programs, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum remembers and honors the 2,983 people killed in the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993, as well as those who risked their lives to save others and all who demonstra

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