Norris School social studies teacher makes 9/11 part of his lessons

  • William E. Norris Elementary School teacher Brian Chamberlin talks to his sixth-grade students about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Monday, in Southampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • William E. Norris School teacher Brian Chamberlin uses a timeline to talk to his sixth grade students on Monday, September 11, 2017, in Southampton about the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 9/11/2017 8:44:10 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — Brian Chamberlin stood in front of a sixth-grade class and held up a metal squeegee.

The tool saved lives on Sept. 11, 2001, he told his students at the William E. Norris School, when a maintenance worker used it to help people who were stuck in an elevator escape after a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

Chamberlin, a social studies teacher, has been teaching students about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks for the past 15 years.

But as the years go by, more and more students know less and less about the events, Chamberlin said.

“I just want them to remember it,” he said.

On Monday, he started the class by asking students what they know.

One student thought a bomb had exploded. Another said the buildings “fell” down. Others knew planes crashed into the Twin Towers, but did not know why.

Olivia Urbanek, 12, said she didn’t know there were four planes hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Before the class, she only knew of two.

Urbanek learned about the Twin Tower attacks about two years ago. She said she went on a trip to New York City with her family and visited the memorial site.

Devin Lemay, 11, read the book “I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001,” part of the “I Survived” Scholastic series of realistic fiction. While he knew about the hijacked planes, he didn’t know about al-Qaida, the terrorist group behind it, he said.

Chamberlin spoke of his personal experience on the sunny Tuesday morning 16 years ago.

It was a clear day, he said, and a normal day as kids went to school and people went to work.

“I was actually in this room,” he told his students.

Before class began, he watched the news on the television. He wasn’t allowed to talk about the event with students. Televisions had to remain off. Some parents picked their students up throughout the day, just to make sure they were safe, Chamberlin said.

He said many people thought it was just an accident until the second plane hit.

Chamberlin played a short video from the educational cartoon “Tim and Moby,” which explained the events on Sept. 11, how al-Qaida planned the attack and how later the United States invaded Afghanistan.

Chamberlin went over a timeline of events on Sept. 11.

At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 from Logan Airport in Boston crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center and 17 minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175, also from Logan, crashed into the South Tower. The White House was evacuated at 9:45 a.m. The South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m. and the North Tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m.

Chamberlin told the story of the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark, N.J., which was taken over by passengers and flight attendants. They threw scalding water on the hijackers and used a snack cart to ram open the cockpit door. The plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and no one survived.

A student asked where the plane was going.

“It could’ve been going to the White House, Congress or even to the nuclear power plant,” Chamberlin said. But nobody really knows, he said.

For the lesson, Chamberlin said he avoids talking about graphic versions of the event. He tells the stories of the heroes, such as the story of lives saved with the squeegee and the heroic passengers on Flight 93.

Chamberlin said he also wants everyone to leave the classroom knowing they are safe.

“We have so many safety precautions now,” Chamberlin told the students, adding that there is much more security at airports today than in 2001. “This will probably never happen again.”

For homework, students will be collecting Sept. 11 stories from a friend or family member who remembers the event.

How did they learn about the attacks? What were you doing at the time and what were your first reactions? What was the rest of the day like for you?

Chamberlin said parents, grandparents and neighbors who remember the event are a primary source of information for the students.

“It gives it more significance,” he said.

He said it’s important to teach students about Sept. 11 because it’s a significant historical event for Americans and a tragedy that should never be forgotten.

“Always remember,” he said.

Other schools remember

At Westhampton Elementary School, fifth-grade teacher Sarah Moylan read the book “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers,” a true story by Mordicai Gerstein about how street performer Philippe Petit did a high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974.

Although the book tells the story of the high-wire performer, it touches on how the buildings are gone. Moylan said she uses that to talk to her students about what happened on Sept. 11.

“But in memory, as if imprinted on the sky, the towers are still there,” the book reads. “And part of that memory is the joyful morning, Aug. 7, 1974 when Philippe Petit walked through them in the air.”

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at


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