Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Students ponder shuttle disaster, ask why

Topic replaces normal Monday routine

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

SYCAMORE TOWNSHIP - The table in Boymel Synagogue at Yavneh Day School held seven candles Monday - one for each of the astronauts killed.

On an easel was a poster with pictures of each astronaut. Hanging on the walls at either side were large American flags of felt squares students made to commemorate those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

One by one, the school's 15 eighth-graders participated, either telling about one of the astronaut's lives or lighting a candle.

"Ilan was the symbol of joy for Israel,'' said eighth-grader Micah Goldfarb, before lighting the candle for Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut killed. "He was the son of a Holocaust survivor.''

Students and educators then went outside and said a Jewish prayer of mourning, and sang the American and Israeli national anthems while the two flags flew at half-staff.

In classrooms across the Tristate, there were moments of silence, flags lowered to half-staff, and a lot of questions - often, questions without answers available.

"Why did NASA send up the astronauts in a really old ship?" asked one Yavneh student. Another: "How did it blow up?" Another: "Did they feel it when they died?"

With the war on terrorism, a looming war with Iraq and violence in the Middle East already on their minds, the Columbia disaster was another stunning event in their young lives.

"It's kind of devastating because there's all these terrible things happening,'' said Yavneh eighth-grader Sara Rapaport, 14. "This adds to our grief.''

At Mason High School, freshman Alicia Suguitan spent the first half of her morning Spanish class talking about the accident.

"A lot of people were confused about how it went down and why it happened, so we pretty much talked about all the basics," said the 14-year-old. "Some people thought it could be terrorists, but other people thought that was a stupid idea."

At the Warren County Career Center's Aerospace Academy, "We focused on the dangers of space flight," said Terry West, academy instructor. "We've encouraged them to get online during the day and look at the NASA site and see if there are any more details."

In Mount Healthy, freshman science teacher Bob McMillan changed his lesson plans from genetics and the constellations to discuss Columbia.

"They wanted to know basically what happened and what should have happened," said McMillan, who is among a group of educators nationwide who had been chosen by NASA to teach about space. "They're questions that all of us have about what's going on."

But some educators said students said little about the space shuttle.

"When I was outside for morning bus duty, I had one child mention (the shuttle) to me,'' said Candy McIntosh, principal of Kramer Elementary School in Oxford. "One out of 482. It has been very subdued. You wonder if after Sept. 11, kids have just become conditioned to this.''

Talawanda elementary counselor Tom O'Reilly said no student had approached him to talk about the accident.

In Northern Kentucky, some students joined a memorial service at the World Peace Bell in Newport on Monday.

"I came down here today to honor the astronauts. They are heroes. I prayed for them." said Ryan Kuhn, 9, of Eastgate, who is home schooled.

Gina Racke, Campbell County Middle School teacher, said her reading class had recently read an article about the Challenger.

"My sixth-graders weren't even alive when that historical event took place.

"I tried to explain the impact the event had on our country, but I think what they witnessed on Saturday morning as their cartoons were interrupted will stick with them," she said

Reporters Erica Solvig, Pat Crowley, Gina Holt and Jon Gambrell contributed.

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