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Messages to Ground Zero

For a better world to arise from the ashes of 9/11, character education must take first place in our everyday lives

Messages to Ground Zero

The events of 9/11 are imprinted on the memories of every man, woman and child in our country. But if those events, terrible as they were, live only as a memory, the evil lives on. If we look at those events as being filled with shining examples of what good character means, we'll have begun to create a better world; a world in which terrorism would find it hard to find a foothold.

The following poems and above artwork were created by the children of New York City Public Schools and published in a book entitled Messages To Ground Zero (Heinemann, 2002, $l1.95 plus s/h). The book was put together by Shelley Harwayne, former NYC teacher, now Superintendent of District 2, NYC, and the Chancellor of NYC schools, Harold Levy. All work in connection with the book was done gratis. The publisher, Heinemann Publishers, is donating all monies from the sale of the books to the Fund for Public Schools NYC.

The activities, developed by Teaching K-8, following each poem, provide suggestions for incorporating character education into your curriculum. We've also included some 9/11 resources which make great jumping-off points for additional character education activities.


On 9-11
September 11, 2001
New York City
lost its
two front teeth.
For that was the day
the two
Twin Towers

Jessica, Grade 5


Extending Jessica's imagery, the World Trade Towers were the center of New York's smile. And, as we know, the importance of a smile can't be overvalued.

Discuss with the children how a smile makes someone feel. Ask the children to give a smile and friendly wave to the rest of the school staff and the crossing guard. Discuss how a smile can convey compassion, respect and caring for another individual and make the giver of the smile feel better, too. Smiley faces can be given by the children to special friends as thank-you's or to cheer someone.

Dear Firefighters,

I am very sorry about what took place on September 11th. I am very fearful but I wanted to be strong for you. I know you would want me to be. I am going to stay positive as long as you need me. I feel sorry for you because you have to go to the Twin Towers every day. I know your feet must ache and your backs pain. My classmates and our entire school are trying to help. We have collected pennies to donate toward all your hard work. You are trying to keep Manhattan clean. Sometimes I get very disappointed in what I hear on the news. I try not to listen but I can't stop. I hope life gets better for us all.

Sherika, Grade 3


Make several large plus and minus signs from colored construction paper. During a class discussion of ways to exhibit positive and negative attitudes, have the students write one response on each sign, whether positive or negative. Display the signs on a bulletin board entitled "An Everyday Choice."

Discuss how these attitudes affect everyone. Discuss the kind of inner strength that comes from being a positive person. In what ways can your class exhibit positive strength in their classroom? School communities? Homes?

The Zooming Plane

so much depends

a plane zooming

next to a

filled with

Jack, Grade 4


A sense of responsibility is a character trait that's vital in our world. Discuss whether each of the September 11th hijackers really thought of ripple effects (the larger economic picture of businesses near Ground Zero not having customers, children being moved from their schools) of their actions.

Have the children find both fiction and nonfiction books which illustrate that we are all responsible for our actions – even the ripple effect of them. Suggest that each child talk about the ripple effect of the actions (often unstated) of the protagonist or hero in the particular book they selected. Ripple effects can be positive or negative. These titles work well: Picture Books: Silver Packages, Cynthia Rylant, Curious George at the Movies, H.A. Rey, Sylvester & The Magic Pebble, William Steig. Chapter Books (grades 3-8): Fever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson, Escape from Fire Mountain, Gary Paulsen, Holes, Louis Sachar.

A World Worth Creating?

Imagine a world that's all the same
Of one color, one race, and even one name.
Where March is like May and day is like night,
And content is angry and prideness like fright.
A world full of people, but no one to speak
Because no thoughts are special, no feelings unique.

Is that a world that's worth creating?
Where day by day our lives keep fading
Our differences make us who we really are
So let's stop the fighting and let's stop the war!

Emerita, Grade 8


A quilt is still one of the strongest ways to celebrate cultural and individual differences: many pieces which all work together to create a beautiful and strong, useful whole. Give each child an 8" square of white drawing paper on which to draw themselves surrounded by favorite things or activities. Assemble the squares on a large sheet of bulletin board paper. (Use some half-squares and triangles, which the children can color, to aid in assembling the quilt.)

Discuss the various heritages, cultures, beliefs and family lifestyles apparent through the quilt squares. How do those differences enrich the class? How can unity be maintained within the class every day among such differences? This is a good time to discuss tolerance, respect and understanding.

If you have enough help in your classroom, the children can use the bulletin board quilt as a pattern for real quilt squares and prepare a character quilt for the school lobby.

To Dig Deeper

A Nation Challenged, (Scholastic and The New York Times, 2002)
And God Cried, Too, Gellman, Marc, (HarperCollins, 2002)
New York's Bravest, Osborne, Mary Pope, (Random House, 2002)
911: The Book of Help, Michael Cart, Ed., (Cricket Books, 2002)
The Day That Was Different: Sept. 11, 2001 – When America Was Attacked By Terrorism, Marsh, Carole, (Gallopade Int'l., 2002)
With their Eyes, Students at Stuyvesant High School, (HarperTempest, 2002)