By Seth Daniel
There’s no way to explain terrorism to second-graders.
And so, in the days and months and years after September 11, 2001, young children who witnessed the terrible events had a veil of confusion about those events that has only recently been lifted.
In the years that have passed since September 11, 2001, those who were second-graders at the time have lost a certain amount of innocence in understanding just what it was they saw on that terrible day.
Several students (now 10th-graders at Revere High School) formerly of the Rumney Marsh Academy (RMA), helped to learn and understand the events of September 11th by spending countless hours constructing a September 11 Button Memorial, a 10-foot tall picture of the Twin Towers veiled in a rainbow, created entirely with buttons.
The memorial now hangs proudly in the foyer of the new RMA building, and it marked its first official September 11th commemoration last Friday.
Memories of September 11th have been confusing for those who were very young when the disaster occurred. Most of them saw the pictures on the television at school, but didn’t understand what was happening. They didn’t yet understand terrorism, death or hatred.
They knew that hundreds of students were hurriedly dismissed on that day.
They remember planes flying into buildings.
They recall their parents, teachers and grandparents crying while glued to watching the television.
Only now that they’re older do they understand what it means.
“They didn’t turn on the TVs at the Paul Revere School, but everyone was getting dismissed, and I had no idea what was going on,” said David Barrett, one of six core members who worked on the button project and was in second grade when the disaster happened.
Added Nicholas Vitale, “My mom picked me up at the Lincoln and we went to my sister’s house and I didn’t know what was happening, but everyone was crying and very sad. The next day I heard what happened, but I didn’t completely understand it.”
Now, though, as those young kids have grown into young men and women, they have come to understand what it means and realize that the event, in some ways, took away some of the innocence of childhood.
“It definitely means a lot more than when I was in second grade,” said Emilio DiChiara. “Back then, we saw planes crashing into a building and thought it looked cool. Now, you understand that when that happened, many people died. You kind of learn the meaning of death as you get older and then you understand this event.”
One student, Vito Licata, said he has learned how confusing the event was for him as a second-grader.
“I knew so little of it back in second grade,” he said. “You just don’t know much about death or terrorism at that age…Now, looking back, it was very horrible. Understanding it now, it makes me see how confused I was as a second-grader and how little I knew. I think it makes me see how people, when they’re young, have such innocence, and then as they get older, they lose that.”
In response to those feelings and a newfound understanding, DiChiara, Barrett, Licata, Vitale, Lauren Corolla and Alexandra Ambrosino decided they wanted to make a lasting tribute to the disaster.
After learning about the Holocaust in the classes of RMA teachers Lucy Pirkey and Lauren Bagley, a lesson was hammered home on hate and intolerance. That lesson became easily applied to the events of September 11th.
The students, Pirkey said, wanted to do something to remember that event.
They had seen memorials made of paper clips and other simple things, but no one had made one out of buttons. So they began the tedious process of collecting thousands of buttons.
They sent away to celebrities, getting buttons from Regis Philbin and Oprah Winfrey.
They asked local officials, garnering buttons from School Committeeman Dan Maguire and Mayor Tom Ambrosino.
And they put out a call to their classmates and got hundreds of buttons from the city’s three middle schools.
Two years later, they had gathered 3,093 buttons, and with the help of RMA teacher Rebecca Fellows, they had designed and affixed every button onto the memorial – whose rainbow signifies that there is still hope amidst such terrible disasters.
The six students who stuck with it to the end spent hours and hours, three times a week, working on the project.
“Instead of it being all bad, it showed a positive after effect,” said DiChiara. “Everyone was brought together for this, and that was good.”
Pirkey said it helped this generation of kids know the full reality of what happened, despite how confusing it was for them as young children.
“For me, I just think these kids coming together that many times a week and dedicated to a cause is what everyone hopes a tragedy like this will bring about,” said Pirkey. “It lets this not become some anonymous historical event, but rather something that will have some lasting meaning for them. This thing brought this generation out into the forefront, and that’s important.”