Lake Norman remembers Sept. 11
by Staff Writer
Mike Hoffman, eighth-grade history teacher at Cannon School was in his classroom when he heard on the radio that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. It was Sept. 11, 2001, and he was alone in his classroom during a planning period.
When his students came in to class he kept the radio on.
“As a history teacher, I thought, this is an opportunity to listen to something that they’ll probably look back on and remember, what maybe at the time I thought might be a silly little incident,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman and his eighth-graders listened as the second plane hit the tower. He turned off the radio.
“It was that emotional rush of realizing that it wasn’t just a small, little, accidental, isolated incident. It was a huge moment. And here I had a bunch of 13-year-olds in the room with me with that realization,” Hoffman said.
Corinna Margeson, Lake Norman Charter School math teacher, also found out about the attacks during a planning period without students. She spent 45 minutes in a social studies classroom watching the news with her colleagues before teaching a class of ninth- and 10th-graders.
“You wanted to be adult and calm, cool and collected, but you didn’t feel it inside,” Margeson said.
Her students only had unclear rumors, so Margeson did her best to generalize the facts and provide clear, consistent information.
“More than just communicating facts, I wanted to communicate a sense of security,” Margeson said.
Teaching at a high school in Camillus, New York, the devastation hit home for many of her students who had family members working in New York City.
Lake Norman Charter Civics and Economics teacher Marc Pecorella was teaching high school social studies when a student knocked on the door and told him to turn on the television. Pecorella and his class watched the events unfold until the principal told everyone to turn televisions off.
“We’d still try to go to class, try to teach, but the few periods after it happened we were all still watching it, and then later we were all still talking about it,” Pecorella said. “The day, academically, was a wash. We were just glued to the TV, and I was trying to answer questions that I didn’t have answers to. I had the same questions they did.”
Sheila Lester had a normal day until she brought her sixth grade class to lunch at Bradley Middle School and the assistant principal pulled her aside.
“I remember all of a sudden not hearing the noise in the cafeteria and trying to focus and understand what she was saying,” Lester said.
Bradley administrators told teachers to turn on televisions.
“Instruction kind of went to the wayside. I couldn’t think of much else, and neither could the kids,” Lester said.
There was such an overwhelming amount of negative news, Lester tried to emphasize the positives to her students, reminding them that medical professionals, police and volunteers were there helping.
Students had questions about who would do this to America and why. They were unfamiliar with extremist groups and wanted to know if America was going to war.
‘Everything was going to be different’
Cornelius Police Chief Bence Hoyle was just as anxious as those sixth-graders.
“I remember that day thinking we were going to war,” Hoyle said. “I knew everything was going to be different.”
Working in King at the time, Hoyle was safe, but he was thinking of the police and firefighters that he knew would be running into the chaos of the falling towers.
“There was fear, not that it was going to happen in King, but fear of where it was going to happen next,” Hoyle said. “The first relief came when they reported that every plane in America was sitting on the ground.”
Huntersville Police Lt. Ken Richardson said law enforcement was generally unsure of what to do, but the Huntersville Police Department immediately identified potential high-risk terrorist target and brought in every uniformed officer. Extra patrols were stationed around town for about two weeks following Sept. 11 at places like schools.
Hoyle began worrying about Charlotte, a national banking center, and Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Station, where security was immediately heightened.
Security has always been a high priority at McGuire, for police departments and schools, but it has only been enhanced following Sept. 11.
Duke Energy Spokesperson Valerie Patterson said Duke Energy heightened security and improved emergency-response readiness for its three nuclear plants in the area after the attacks.
McGuire now has more patrols, security posts and physical barriers than it did before Sept. 11. Vehicles are now checked further away from the facility as part of more restrictive site access. Duke has also enhanced coordination and relationships with local law enforcement and the military.
The terrorist attacks also permanently affected local law enforcement training and emergency preparedness.
Richardson credits Mecklenburg County Emergency Management Director Wayne Broome with coordinating departments and cities and communicating contingency plans for every situation.
Huntersville police now have gas masks in every car, long rifles for the Special Response Team and a command vehicle.
“Overall, we’re much more aware,” Hoyle said. “When an officer goes to check out suspicious activity, especially something like a bomb threat, terrorism is always in the back of everyone’s mind.”
Police now pay particular attention to tourists with cameras who look out of place and can’t answer questions about where else they have visited.
A teaching moment
A deluge of media speculation and rumor followed Sept. 11, and Cannon teacher Hoffman hopes his students have learned to listen with diligence, decipher sources and sort out truth from hearsay.
Pecorella said he brings back the aspect of unification in his civics class.
“In this class I talk about politics,” Pecorella said. “Congress is so fractured, so liberal-conservative, Democrat-Republican, divided by gender and race. I can hopefully use this to show that there is a time that transcends all that stuff and unifies us as a country.”
Kristy Merical, middle and upper school language arts and math teacher at Davidson Day School, plans to show her students National September 11 Memorial Foundation videos and have them select quotations, looking at how the country came together and focused disaster response into outreach.
“Even when people have experienced such a tragedy, you can channel that emotion into kindness,” Merical said. “It inspired service at the time, and hopefully it will do the same now.”
Middle school students who were one to three years old in 2001 have never lived without the reality of extremism.
“Unfortunately, terrorism is a fact of life for kids,” Merical said. “We want to teach them not to live in fear.”
The Cannon School’s counselor for junior kindergarten through fourth grade, Jennifer Calvert, witnessed terrorism becoming a fact of these children’s lives 10 years ago.
“For little kids, part of it was sad in that the little protective bubble you want them to have was at least temporarily shattered,” she said.
Her students learned that there were bad people in the world, but Calvert said they also saw that there is even more good, demonstrated by the outpouring of volunteers that risked their lives to save victims at Ground Zero.
“Students realize that sacrifices have been made. We have more appreciation for the country that we live in,” Calvert said. “We’re not as nonchalant about how great we have it anymore.”
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