'We were a month into school, then the planes hit, everything changed:' Teaching 9/11 to a new generation of students

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Posted at 6:30 PM, Sep 10, 2021

WOODFORD COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — In less than 24 hours, Americans will pause and reflect on the moment we realized the United States was under attack. Most people likely remember where they were when they heard the news.

But as each year passes, teachers face new challenges when it comes to educating students about 9/11. Today’s high schoolers weren’t even born yet. To them, 9/11 is simply history.

“It’s my generation’s Pearl Harbor, so I address it every year,” said Libbi Denney, an English teacher at Woodford County High School.

She hardly knew teaching before that day. In 2001, she was a middle school teacher in her second year on the job. She watched the TV in her classroom with her students that morning, transfixed as the second plane hit the Twin Towers.

“They were shocked,” she said. “They didn’t really understand. They were 7th graders. They didn’t understand what they were seeing. They just knew all the adults in the world were upset.”

Denney was also horrified by what she witnessed and anxious about what could come next.

“We were only in our second year,” she said. “We were a month into school. And then the planes hit, and everything changed.”

Two decades later, Denney is an experienced high school teacher. The challenge now? Today’s students have no memories of the world-changing event.

To help students understand the events better, Denney invited Principal Morgan Howell to speak about his military experience to her class this week. He’s a member of the Kentucky Army National Guard and deployed to the Middle East after 9/11. She also uses resources like poetry and TV broadcasts from the morning of 9/11.

Noel Devers is a junior at Woodford County High School. Everything he knows about 9/11, he learned from adults in his family or at school.

“They remember what happened, they knew where they were, what time it was, what they were doing in that exact moment,” Devers said. “Like, they'll never forget that.”

But even for someone who wasn’t alive at the time, Devers says the images still have an impact.

“I still feel something, because it’s my country,” he said. “I get upset about it, ‘cause those people were just going to work that day. They didn’t do anything wrong. They didn't hurt those people. And their last moments were above the 90th floor of the building, having to choose if they were going to go through the fire or jump out the building. And they weren't gonna make it out.”

As time passes, Denney says she also remembers the aftermath of 9/11, when Americans formed a united front in the face of terror.

“It is possible to put your differences aside, if even for a moment when it's needed,” she said.

So she’s keeping those memories in her lesson plan, for each new generation of students.