9/11 teaching moves online in era of COVID-19

Published: Sep. 11, 2020 at 11:30 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- It’s a Sept. 11 commemoration unlike any other. It’s 19 years since the tragic terror attacks on the nation, and memorial services this year are adapting in light of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Advocates and loved ones want to make sure the memories of the victims are staying alive, especially for students.

“For a quarter of the country, they’re under that age of 25 with little or no memories of 9/11,” said David Paine, 9/11 Day president & co-founder.

On that clear September day nearly 20 years ago, attorney Glenn Winuk raced from his Manhattan office to the Twin Towers. He worked just a few blocks from the towering figures that defined the New York skyline.

Winuk, a partner at a law firm, was also a volunteer firefighter. When his office evacuated, he rushed into danger to save the lives of others, but he was killed when the South Tower collapsed.

Winuk was found dead with a medic bag by his side and protective gloves on his hands.

“Very soon thereafter, we started talking about how could we honor Glenn’s memory and the memories of all the people who had lost their lives on that day," said Paine.

Winuk’s friends and family say serving others was his great calling in life - they knew it even when he was just a child.

“Ever since Glenn was like seven years old, he wanted to be a first responder, and so when the kids would go out on the field and they’d play tackle football, Glenn didn’t want to play, he wanted to be on the sideline with a medic kit,” explained Paine.

Paine was close friends with Glenn’s brother, Jay. Together, they launched the September 11th National Day of Service, which organizes thousands of volunteers in cities across America for charity, in honor of heroes like Winuk.

This year, in the era of COVID-19, the organization generated dozens of new, creative ideas for Americans to give to charity.

“It provides a way for millions of Americans to participate in remembering this important day through good deeds that they can do virtually, right from their home, and safely," said Paine.

With remote learning also the default for many schools, Paine says this year his organization has recently added many online virtual lesson plans for students and teachers to learn about 9/11.

These lesson plans through 9/11 Day are also tailored for every age group. The recurring theme emphasizes how the nation came together and showed resilience and compassion to one another in the aftermath of the attacks.

“We wanted to take the day back from the terrorists. We didn’t want them to have the last word,” said Paine.

The 9/11 memorials in New York, Arlington and Shanksville are all featuring virtual resources as well. Rob Wallace at the Department of the Interior says there are online tools so you can experience all the elements of the gripping memorial from the crash site of Flight 93, right from your home.

“There’s cell phone tours you can log onto from anywhere in the country," explained Rob Wallace, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

"The QR codes, where you could scan your code and it will bring a story right up where the action took place,” said Wallace.

The National Parks Flight 93 website offers many virtual experiences where you can watch real-time the Tower of Voices, the visitor’s center, and the Wall of Names to honor the dozens of victims who died in hopes of preventing the planned attacks on the U.S. Capitol. The passengers and one crew member overtook the hijackers, forcing the plane to go down in Pennsylvania, instead of into the nation’s political nerve center.

“It was a common field for a day and it’s a field of heroes forever," said Wallace.

There are many more resources available for students and all Americans learn more about 9/11.

The 9-11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan is hosting a webinar from registered classes so survivors can share extraordinary stories and students can ask questions during a live chat.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History features a digital collection of Sept. 11 objects, while the White House Historical Association offers materials for online visitors to learn more about this national tragedy.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum chronicles what happened during his administration and shares the perspective of his time in office during that harrowing chapter in American history. The U.S. Department of Education also features 9/11 teaching materials for instructors and classrooms to hold engaging discussions to reflect on 9/11.

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