McKinley students teach peers about history of 9/11

September 11, 2019 Paula Katinas
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BAY RIDGE – Students teach students about Sept. 11 at McKinley Intermediate School under a unique peer-to-peer program inspired by a teacher eager to have her youngsters understand the momentous events that took place long before they were born.

Teacher Jessica Amato asked eighth graders Farwa Tashin and Arpita Sushil to talk to her seventh grade class about the importance of Sept. 11 in U.S. history and to lead a tour of the school’s third floor, where a touching mural painted by students in 2010 adorns the walls.

“Sept. 11 was a very important event in our history and there is a lot to know about it,” Arpita told the Home Reporter before she and Farwa led Amato, her students and Bay Ridge civic leaders like Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann and board member Judith Collins on the tour to view the mural.

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Principal Janice Geary, who was at McKinley I.S. on the day of the Sept. 11 attack, also went on the tour.

Principal Janice Geary said she is impressed by the work and preparation students Arpita Sushil (left) and Farwa Tashin did for the 9/11 history program.

It was the school’s way of marking the 18th Anniversary of 9/11 on Wednesday.

On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists flew jetliners into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, killed thousands of people and causing the Twin Towers to collapse. Three-hundred-forty-three firefighters died. The NYPD lost 23 officers that day. Thirty-seven Port Authority cops lost their lives. The death toll also included eight emergency medical technicians.

“I know there was an attack and a lot of people were killed, but it was interesting to also learn about the first person killed,” Farwa said. “It’s important to remember the victims as individuals.”

Tour guide Farwa Tashin shows the section of the mural depicting a fallen firefighter. She explained that the number on the helmet, 343, signifies the number of FDNY members killed.

The impressive mural features an image of the Rev. Mychal Judge, a Catholic priest who is considered the first official victim of the attack at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. 

The painting depicts Judge’s body being carried by firefighters and emergency workers.

As Arpita and Farwa led the way, a group of students walked behind them, listening to the eighth graders and gazing at the artwork.

The mural features American flags, the rubble at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attacks, damaged fire trucks, police officers assisting victims fleeing the burning Twin Towers, as well as a list of the names of all of the victims.

“The names are painted in gold,” Amato told the Home Reporter. “It’s beautiful to see when the sun is coming up in the morning. The names shine brightly in the sunlight.”

This image, of the Rev. Mychal Judge’s body being carried by firefighters and emergency workers, is particularly poignant.

McKinley, which is located at 7301 Fort Hamilton Parkway, faces in the direction of lower Manhattan.

Geary, who was an assistant principal at the school 18 years ago, said the building offered a clear view of the devastating events taking place at the World Trade Center.

But the memory that has stayed with Geary through the years isn’t of the buildings collapsing. 

When the 9/11 anniversary rolls around each year, her thoughts turn to a student.

“We had a student whose mother and father both worked in the Towers. She was crying because she didn’t know if her parents were alive or dead,” Geary said.

The girl’s father walked into McKinley I.S. in the afternoon to be reunited with his daughter. “He was covered from head to toe in white dust,” Geary recalled.

The girl’s mother also survived the attack. The family eventually moved out of New York City.

The mural, which was painted by students in 2010, shows an American flag. Tour guide Arpita Sushil came to school early, before classes started, every Monday morning to learn about Sept. 11.

Farwa and Arpita volunteered to teach their fellow students about Sept. 11. Their training began last year, when they were seventh graders. The two girls would come to school early on Monday mornings and undergo tutoring in 9/11 history by eighth grade students.

Farwa and Arpita will graduate from McKinley I.S. in June. Farwa hopes to attend Fiorello LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts as a theater student. Arpita has her sights set on Brooklyn Technical High School.

Before the tour began, Amato asked her seventh grade students for volunteers to take on Farwa’s and Arpita’s role next year.

The mural includes the names of all of the victims killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

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