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Tuesday, September 10, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Area schools take many approaches to sad anniversary

Seattle Times staff reporter

Not that any day is easy being a teacher, but Wednesday stands to be particularly challenging.

How do you present the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the classroom?

"Teachers will play an invaluable role, especially in social studies and history," said Michelle Marshman, a history instructor at Green River Community College.

At the request of the Kent School District, Marshman led a professional-development workshop for the district's junior-high and high-school social-studies teachers before the start of school. He gave the 70-plus teachers a crash course on the history and politics of the Middle East.

Kent Superintendent Barbara Grohe said she was impressed with how her district's teachers handled themselves last year, dealing with their own fears while keeping students calm and talking things out. She said it's important teachers be well-prepared again so they can provide similar comfort.

"I want students to have some balance to their day and understand it was a significant day in American history and their history," Grohe said. "I also want them to understand that as frightening as it was, there are people who can help you through and that we need to move on."

Marshman said the most important things for teachers to do are clarify facts and show there is a bigger picture than what happened in New York and Washington, D.C.

"We can't understand Sept. 11 without the proper context. We have to understand who al-Qaida is, where they came from and what their agenda is in order to respond," she said. "The United States' political responsibility is not just about going after bin Laden. There's a bigger agenda we need to understand and inform our students of."

While Marshman presented Kent teachers with more than 120 pages of information on the Middle East, ranging from Islamic art and architecture to the history of al-Qaida , the workshop served as more of an opportunity for teachers to brainstorm how they plan to observe the day in their classrooms.

In Washington state, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction suggests school districts approach the day as they see fit. In Kent, the only district-wide activity will be a moment of silence. Among school activities planned in the Puget Sound area:

• In Tacoma, students from Baker Middle School will help dedicate a 20-by-38-foot flag that will fly at Thea Foss Park. The students helped raise more than $4,000 for the flag, which will serve as a memorial.

• At Penny Creek Elementary in Everett, students will form a human flag.

• At an assembly at Auburn-Riverside High School, there will be a parade of flags from the 43 nations that have people missing or confirmed dead from the attacks.

• Many schools throughout local districts are having firefighters and police officers speak at assemblies, asking students to write letters to people they feel are heroes or requesting that students to wear red, white and blue. Many schools will observe a moment of silence or have flag-raising ceremonies.

Maureen Pittenger, a social-studies teacher at Mattson Junior High in Covington, said that last year the day's emotions peaked during one class that had many fundamentalist Christian and Middle Eastern students. It was her job to slow emotions and settle things down.

This year, Pittenger said, she hopes her students learn from history.

"As one person, you can make a difference, and it might just be getting to know people and not jumping to conclusions and becoming a better listener and citizen," she said.

J.J. Jensen: 206-464-2386 or jjensen@seattletimes.com.

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