Skyview High School students get sobering civics lesson

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Schools remained open throughout the Kenai Peninsula Tuesday and classes continued, but the students and staff reflected the national agitation.

Educators sought to highlight the history-in-the-making while downplaying fears and urging students to go on with life, said Donna Peterson, superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

"What we are trying to do is calm people. People are legitimately shaken," she said.

The shattering events on the East Coast were the buzz, but scheduled activities at the schools continued as planned. Five employees are members of the National Guard and are on standby, but so far remain at work as usual, she said.

The schools did, however, join other buildings in flying flags at half-mast.

"We want to be respectful," she said.

At Skyview High School, south of Soldotna, the mood was grim.

Some families opted to keep their children home from school during the crisis, but most were in class.

For many Alaska students, the events were so far away and unfamiliar that they had an air of unreality. Reactions ranged from those who viewed the exploding buildings as a special-effects entertainment to those who were wracked with dread, said school secretary Carol Kier.

Senior Joel Shields said students were definitely shocked.

"It seems like a movie, not like the kind of stuff that happens in real life," he said.

His classmate Jenine Laughead said she knew of students who had been in tears, such as one girl whose parents had just left for a trip to Korea and were airborne when the crisis began.

"The majority of students are taking it completely seriously," she said. "It's pretty much been the focus of the whole school day."

In all her classes, teachers had news broadcasts on from television, radio or the Internet. She had visited the nation's capitol on a recent trip and found the broadcast images eerie.

"I'm thinking buildings I've seen have been blown up," she said.

In their last hour class, government teacher Dave Carey, who is also the mayor of Soldotna, set aside the day's lesson plan to talk about the events and their significance.

The students were somber and attentive.

Carey talked about denial, about anger and about the need for citizens to pay attention. He warned the students that the weeks to come will be filled with images of disaster and crucial decisions for Americans.

"This is a time of national trial," he said. "As citizens of this country, how do we make a prudent response?"

He noted that the events challenge President George W. Bush's mettle and wisdom.

"This is going to be a test of his leadership. He cannot let this pass," he said.

Carey reminded them that the United States is a wealthy country with a lot to lose. Tuesday's lethal attack could be followed by others.

On the other hand, the nation is far more powerful than its enemies. Among its strengths is resolve to defend itself and pursue justice. It is time to "rally 'round the flag," he said.

"There is no question we are going to respond. The question is, are they going to march troops somewhere?" he asked. "With whom would we go to war?"

Carey pointed out that terrorists are shadowy foes, and even identifying the perpetrators may be difficult.

"The truth is, most of the people most directly involved probably died."

Students expressed concerns about the economy, about possible reinstatement of the draft or about Alaska's security.

Carey warned that the day's events will precipitate historic changes. He predicted a temporary dip in the economy, closer ties with Israel, an increase in the nation's international policing efforts and enhanced, even onerous, domestic security measures such as at airports.

"We may lose some of our freedoms over this," he said.

As the students filed out at the end of their day, Carey urged them to follow the news.

"And if you are so inclined, I would urge you to consider prayer," he said.

Peterson said district administrators had been watching news events carefully throughout the day and trying to keep people accurately informed. For example, when a Korean airliner bound for Alaska airspace lost contact briefly and evacuating Anchorage was considered, some people asked if the peninsula schools would close. They quickly explained that school will go on.

"Thank goodness for e-mail," she said. "We are able to take care of rumors."

Peterson offered reassurances that the district has emergency plans and will continue monitoring the situation.

"But get on with the business of schooling," she said.

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