Wednesday, September 11, 2013

God Bless America

This morning, I sat my students down for our morning meeting and told them, "Today's a very special day!" Before I could finish my thought one of my little boys chimed in "I know what today is, it's September 11th. That's the day the terrorists attacked America." Actually, I had planned on telling them that today we were using the school computers to start our class blogs, but I was so surprised by his comment that I had to stop for a minute. These are nine year olds. Is it appropriate to talk to them about terrorism? I decided yes.

To really understand why I paused, you have to understand that I don't have a single American in my class, and not one is a native English speaker. Most of my students are Italian, but I also have children from Russia, Greece, South Korea, Ecuador, and one boy who hasn't been to class in two weeks that I believe currently can't leave Egypt. They are all bilingual, some trilingual. On Monday when we shared about our weekends, I felt so worldly saying that I had ventured into the city of Milan to explore. I then realized how minimal that seemed to my children, one of whom went to Germany, one who spent the weekend at his country home in France, and another who went to London for a Bar Mitzvah. Like, seriously? That was your weekend? Not even a long weekend, just Saturday and Sunday! I use to think it was exciting to go to New Jersey for the weekend but I've been proved wrong!

I've been pretty stressed out recently and took the 40 minute walk home today instead of the bus to give myself some time to think before getting back to work (parents come in for Curriculum Night tomorrow- there's so much to do!). I can't get it out of my mind how innocent and yet how worldly these tiny little fourth graders are. When they brought up the attack on the World Trade Center, I asked what they knew:

"Osama Bin Ladin got in a plane, jumped out, and attacked the Twin Towers."

"That's not what happened. Bad men... terrorists... wanted to hurt the Americans even though they didn't do anything wrong so they drove planes right into the buildings. It was just a normal day, so people were just working and didn't even have time to leave."

"Lots of people were killed so everyone is usually sad today."

Then there were the questions. "Miss Streisel, were you alive that day?" "What were you doing?" "Did your family get out?" "Did you see it happen? Could you hear it?" They know I'm from New York and were horrified by the idea that I could have not only been alive ("You can't be THAT old!"), but that it could have directly affected someone I knew. Yes, I was alive. I was in Mrs. C.'s sixth grade English class, taking notes on how to take notes (does that make sense?). No, none of my family was there, and we're from Rochester, NY which is pretty far from New York City so I couldn't see or hear anything other than the TV that all of our teachers immediately turned on. We went home that night (actually, our new house was being built, so we were staying at my grandparents house for a few months) and stayed up late, watching the same videos over and over on the news. 

Sometimes I'm surprised by how much attention the school pays to the social curriculum. Today we had a meeting for two hours after school about the school values, and there is a character attribute that the entire school focuses on each month, spending time every day focusing on becoming a better person. This month, our attribute is "Caring," and we spend time every single day talking about how we can show we care about each other. But it makes so much sense. These kids don't speak the same language; some of them don't know any Italian or English at all! They aren't from the same cultural backgrounds. Their families are literally from all over the world. Most are from privileged, powerful families. Now, while they're still young and impressionable, we take the time to learn to be kind, be open minded, and really understand each other. 

I actually had goosebumps talking to the kids about 9/11 today. A few have been to the United States- one spent his whole summer in Los Angeles at his fathers house. Most haven't. Their parents sent them to an American school because they want them to speak English, but the kids typically don't know why they need to practice it so much. But hearing them talk about the impact of an event that I can remember so clearly, that happened before they were born in a country they've never been to was intense. It really shows how small the world really is.

As much as I love Italy, it's times like these that I'm especially proud to be an American. 


  1. its pretty amazing how much kids can really understand. Even something as horrific as 9/11. Sounds like you have a really awesome job!

  2. I got goosebumps reading! Sometimes things are much more raw and simple when explained by someone younger.