A 20-foot by 30.5-foot flag hanging in the entrance of Hall D at the Atlantic City Convention Center Tuesday looked like a worn, vintage quilt, its formerly white stripes gray from smoke and ash.
But its story of hope and resilience is making its way into schools around the nation. On Tuesday it was displayed for the the New Jersey School Boards annual conference.
Almost destroyed by the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, when one of the World Trade Center towers fell against a neighboring building, remnants of the flag were saved by Charles Vitchers, the Ground Zero construction superintendent, and placed in a plastic bag.
“He originally just wanted to make sure it would be properly disposed of,” said Jeff Parness, founder of the New York Says Thank You Foundation, a national disaster relief group founded in 2003. But when Vitchers brought the pieces to Greensburg, Kan., a town devastated by a tornado in 2007, women there began stitching it back together.
From there began a project to create the national 9/11 flag. For more than a year leading up to the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 in 2011 the flag travelled to every state, where veterans, children and local heroes got the chance to sew a few stitches. The flag contains threads from the first American flag, and from the flag on which Abraham Lincoln was laid after being shot. There’s a piece of a flag from Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed on 9/11.
In New Jersey, widows of 9/11 victims and their children were among more than 450 people who contributed a stitch.
This week the flag is hanging at the school boards conference, where representatives of the foundation are hoping to get the flag’s message for America’s future into classrooms throughout the state thought its 9/12 Generation Project.
The project is designed to teach positive lessons of citizenship based on the response on the day after the terrorist attacks when Americans and the world came together to support New York City. The $99 package includes lessons and a teacher discussion guide, a 45-minute educational film titled “New York Says Thank You,” and a planning guide for the service-learning projects that are a key component of the project. A workshop on the project will be given at the conference at 9:30 a.m. today.
Tracey Vitchers, the niece of Charles Vitchers and national project director for the 9/12 Generation Project, said teachers are still very concerned about how to address the terrorist attacks in class. The project is geared to middle and high school students, who may not even remember the attacks.
“We wanted a way to focus on the positive and the future,” Parness said.
One of the most simple projects is “stars of hope” in which students write messages on colorful stars that are sent to areas where disasters have occurred, including New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Japan after the 2011 tsunami.
“It’s really the simplest thing we’ve done, but one of the most powerful in some ways,” Parness said. “It reminds us that disasters are not about buildings, but about people, and how we can connect to them.”
Other public service projects address disaster relief, community revitalization and the arts.
Vitchers said the film is a way for teachers and students to talk about 9/11 without getting too much into politics and foreign policy.
“Students have to understand 9/11 to understand why we are doing what we do now,” Vitchers said. “Classes will focus on different things. Some are interested in the firefighters at the scene, and how they are doing now. Others talk about service and survival.
Vitchers said the movie has also been a way for students of different nationalities and religions to discuss the tragedy. Parness said students like how it focuses on hope, the future and people working together.
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