Their work almost done, the New Jersey educators developing a curriculum for teaching about the September 11 attacks stared out at the World Trade Center construction site with awe, not to mention a few ready cameras.
The glass and steel skeleton of the new Freedom Tower rising before them, the teachers remarked how this was a fitting place for the finishing touches to their landmark education project.
"You know where you are and how you are walking on sacred ground," said Adele Black, a Rockaway Township teacher. "It drives me forward."
Two years after its launch as the first of its kind in the nation, New Jersey’s September 11 curriculum project is almost done.
Titled "Learning from the Challenges of Our Time: Global Security, Terrorism, and 9/11 in the Classroom," the online resource will be a collection of more than 100 lesson plans and study guides that will help educators teach and incorporate the lessons of that day and all that surrounds it.
In final preparation for the release, Black was among a dozen teachers on the development team who traveled into lower Manhattan earlier this month to meet with curators of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum to explore some of the artifacts and other materials that could eventually accompany the curriculum.
Among them are scores of taped interviews and survivors’ stories and boxes upon boxes of children’s art and commemorations. There are also jarring images of the terror and chaos, as well as sobering artifacts from the nearly 3,000 lives that were lost.
Numbered and catalogued like a library book, one particularly poignant item is a little red children’s doll, the mascot of a charitable organization based in the Cantor Fitzgerald offices in the World Trade Center. The tattered doll was found in the rubble on September 12, 2001, one of several recovered around the site.
To the educators, such objects hold immense power in their ability to bring humanity to the harsh lessons of that day. The chief curator of the museum said she has seen the power of the items already.
"We’ve had high school kids here, and it’s really changed their learning," said Jan Ramirez, the museum’s director of collections. "Some of these materials are really hard to absorb because of the context, but it seems for young people, who maybe are more used to violent images, it is a way for them to connect with the stories."
The details of the curriculum project’s unveiling are to be wrapped up in the coming weeks, but Ramirez and other officials of the September 11 Memorial & Museum -- themselves working feverishly to finish their work -- said the project already impresses.
The curriculum was developed in partnership with the state’s Commission on Holocaust Education, Families of September 11 and the Liberty Science Center. It explores not only the actual events but also less tangible topics like human behavior and remembrance.
"It’s really the most advanced and in-depth I have seen in terms of curriculum," said Clifford Chanin, a program advisor to the museum. "Not only are they completely committed to the subject, but they really know their way around the kinds of sensitive materials and approaches that will be needed."
"This is very much a pioneering effort," he said.