Dozens of tiny American flags dot the lawn in front of Whittier Middle School, put there by students to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Teachers at Whittier and other Haverhill schools use the attacks as part of their regular history curriculum, not just around the time of the anniversary.
Local observances remembering victims of the attacks happened last week and on Sunday, the actual 10th anniversary. But the city's school children are extending their remembrances beyond the anniversary.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the nation watched in horror as 2,819 Americans at the World Trade Center met their tragic end at the hands of terrorists. Some of the eyes watching that day included those of toddlers and elementary students.
Now, 10 years after the attacks, those same children are taking time to reflect on the day of the attacks and what it means to them.
At Whittier Middle School, students assembled early one morning last week for a video presentation about the attacks before heading off to a day of classroom activities on 9/11. All the school's students came together to plant the miniature American flags on the school's front lawn. The flags remained there this week.
Sixth-grade teacher Dorothy Forrestall had her students worth together with partners to create two-sided paper "coins" capturing a moment from 9/11.
Most of her students weren't more than a year old when the attacks happened.
Two friends working together — Nathan Hileman and Justin Libby, now both 11 — weren't aware of the attacks until years later. Nathan just found out last year after his parents visited Ground Zero on a trip to New York City. Justin, however, heard about 9/11 when his mother explained it to him when he was in the second grade.
"When my mom explained it, I was shocked," he said. "I didn't understand what a terrorist was."
The boys created a coin displaying a crying American eagle looking over the twin towers as they burned.
Elizabeth Clavette and Da'Nira McClary, both 11, also created a coin showing the destruction of the towers, but didn't want to focus on the more grisly details of the day. Instead, they created their coin as a reminder of what America had lost.
"It's a very sad and horrible day we should remember," Da'Nira said.
Meanwhile, fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Sirois had an exercise with her students using adjectives and verbs to describe their reaction to a video of the destruction of 9/11. Afterwards, students worked on a banner of stars, each containing a promise they'd make to improve the world.
Finding something positive
Whittier student Addiel Reyes, 10, said he planned to send a bouquet of flowers to the Sept. 11 memorial. Though he had known about the attacks since the second grade when his parents showed him a news report of the towers falling, he never forgot the impact it had.
"The first time I saw the clip, I was crying," he said. "Why would the terrorists do that?"
Even with painful memories, Whittier students resolved to do good. Morgan Mottram, 10, pledged to start up a donation drive in the school and purchase supplies for local firefighters.
Both teachers at Whittier Middle School could vividly remember the day of the attacks.
Forestall said when she was told of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, by her fellow teachers, they were instructed not to mention it to students.
Sirois, meanwhile, was a sophomore at Bridgewater State University eating breakfast at the cafeteria when the news broke.
"All of us were gathered around the television," she said.
As a social studies teacher at Whittier, Sirois said she has always had to walk a fine line when describing the event to her students. Most of the time, she avoids specifics on who the terrorists were.
"You don't want them to be scared, but you want them to understand," she said. "It's not the same as actively living it."
At Haverhill High School, students remembered the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in two separate events.
All students gathered for a moment of silence and a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance, while a select few took part in the unveiling of the high school's Freedom Shrine, a colorful display showcasing copies of important American documents such as the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
The shrine was donated by the Haverhill Exchange Club.
Andrew Sialatis, 16, took part in both ceremonies and recalled his memories of Sept. 11, 2001, differently.
For him, it was a day marked with images of the New York fire and police departments and countless other first responders working to save lives.
"It brought out more heroes than bad guys," he said.
'We are all mourners'
On Sunday, the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, about 50 residents gathered at City Hall to remember day with an hour-long interdenominational prayer service.
Standing among the assembled that day was Haverhill was Kalyn Ryll, a recent college graduate who has returned to Haverhill, where she grew up. Ryll, who was her history class at Haverhill High on 9/11, remembers her teacher bringing in a television so students could watch the newscasts.
"The pain of the event has disappeared, but it still resonates," she said. "Just to see that hole in the skyline was haunting. Time isn't going to heal that wound."
Mayor James Fiorentini spoke briefly, before turning the floor over to other politicians such as Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, and Haverhill spiritual leaders. Fiorentini reiterated in his remarks the importance of unity as city and the need to embrace our history as a nation.
"American is a strong and free nation and will always remain that way," he said.
The Rev. Timothy Kearny, pastor of All Saints Parish, said the tragedy of 9/11 was an unpredictable evil in an unpredictable world.
"People were looking to answers to questions there weren't any answers for," he said. "We still live in a world where we're seeking the answers."
Later that evening, All Saints Parish held a prayer service in memory of the tragedy's victims. The service featured a lighting of candles, songs and a series of petitions read by seventh- and eighth-grade students of St. Joseph's School.
Rabbi Ira Korinow reminded the audience that regardless of their age, the scar left on the nation by 9/11 can never fully heal.
"We all feel the burden of violence, death and suffering," he said. "We are all mourners."