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Through Artifacts, Seventh Graders Reflect on Lives Lost on 9/11

two students working togetherThe pictures spread across the classroom windowsill depicted damaged but mundane items: a heavily scuffed pair of high heels, a broken window squeegee, a cracked watch, and dusty car keys. They were ordinary objects on their own, but together, they told a story of tragedy and survival.

North Salem Middle School teacher Bill Posch first talked his seventh-grade social studies classes through the events of September 1, 2001. They learned about the four passenger jets, the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the field in Pennsylvania. To help students better grasp the impact of the tragedy, he shared photographs of artifacts donated to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City. These artifacts documented the experiences of both victims and survivors.

"So far, we have talked about the facts of the day. Today, we are focusing on the people inside the buildings, who were people like us, with their own personalities, families, and dreams," said Posch. "History is experienced by people. That's what I want you to remember."

The seventh-graders selected artifacts depicted in photographs, examined their condition, and speculated how they were used before or during the events of 9/11. Sometimes, Posch had to explain the purpose of an item, such as a Blockbuster card. The students made inferences about who might have used or owned each artifact.

Kody studied a locket necklace holding a photo of a couple and considered its importance. "It showed they cared about the person. Maybe they were looking forward to dinner with them that night," he said.

"They had lives like ours and were normal people with families," said Anthony, who picked a damaged credit card with a Giants logo because of his love for football. He'll look for these opportunities for connections as he studies history this year. "I'll think about the individuals, how they felt, and what they experienced."

Artifacts are often a feature of Posch's history lessons. In the first week of school, students studied artifacts from Posch's life to learn about their new teacher. His class will continue to explore artifacts and primary sources to better understand and personalize historical figures by analyzing the items they left behind.

"These people had lives, they had families, they had love. All these artifacts show that they are real people," said Ryan.

The curriculum will soon take the classes back to the 1700s and the build-up to the American Revolution. Several students expressed that the 9/11 lesson had changed their perspective on the human experience in history.

"I used to think 9/11 was about the buildings. Now I realize that it was about the people," said Matilda. "Learning to put myself in people's shoes will help me learn history."