Juan Gomez wiped sweat from his forehead in between planting scores of American flags Friday on the grassy area outside Burbank Community Day School.
“I should be home eating, but I came out early to help out,” he said.
He was one of eight students at 7:30 a.m. putting the finishing touches on a 9/11 memorial that students had been researching for two weeks. Thirty minutes later, the rest of his 45 schoolmates had arrived, and the students’ mural, six posters and about 1,000 U.S. flags dotted the exterior of Burbank Community Day School at the corner of San Fernando Boulevard and Santa Anita Avenue.
“I was 3 years old, but my mom [was in New York] and my family was really worried she died,” said Juan, a seventh-grader.
Community Day School is Burbank Unified School District’s alternative program, which provides classroom environments to foster improved behavior, attendance and academic performance. The curriculum is the same as traditional middle and high schools.
Many students enroll for a semester, but for some the program may last longer. Out of last year’s 60 students, 42% either return to a traditional education environment or other avenues to earn credit toward graduation, school officials said.
Students were putting the finishing touches on the flags outside when a woman walked past weeping. She informed a teacher that she was an American Airlines flight attendant whose friend died in the attack on the Pentagon.
“I will never forget this,” she said.
Inside Principal Christine Krohn’s office, students made phone calls to New York firefighters to express their admiration and gratitude. One fireman said he had not heard a “thank you” in eight years, and another said he’d like to correspond with students and visit the school if he could make it to California.
“It feels good to thank them,” 15-year-old Guillermo Arevalo said.
The school memorializes Sept. 11, 2001, each year, but this is the first time students had called New York firefighters.
“It brings to the kids what we try to teach them here, to do the right thing, and that if something goes wrong you need to assist and help each other and not be a bystander,” Krohn said.
The terrorist attack and ensuing rescue attempts were also added to classroom lesson plans. In biology, students learned about respiratory illnesses that workers and rescuers acquired excavating the World Trade Center site.
Students also shared stories in social studies class about where they were when the towers fell.
“It’s a living history for them to remember and reflect on,” social studies teacher Trevor Rapp said. “They understand something like Pearl Harbor day, but this generation will have to remember; this is their moment.”
Many students live near Bob Hope Airport and remembered seeing grounded airplanes long after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, biology teacher James Dobkowski said.
He connected students with firefighters through a firefighting friend he grew up with on Long Island, and told students that firefighters were ordinary people doing their jobs.
“And it’s ordinary people who are heroes,” he said. “The towers were full of asbestos . . . they knew what it’d cost, but did it anyway, and those guys are suffering today.”
In his conversation with Guillermo, a New York firefighter admitted the call choked him up. Guillermo praised his bravery, sacrifice and his family’s sacrifice. The firefighter implored Guillermo to always do the right thing.
“If you were in my position . . . you would’ve done what we did and been just as brave,” he said.
The exchange visibly moved Guillermo. “I’ll remember that [conversation] for the rest of my life,” he said.