"I think it is very important that we as a country, as a community, never forget that day," said Dumas Independent School District Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Brett Beesley. He was at Dumas Intermediate School (DIS) Friday where the entire student body of fifth and sixth graders, joined by their teachers and other school staff and administrators, had gathered outside to mark the 20th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center of Sept. 11, 2001 and to thank veterans and local first responders for their service to the community.
The students had not been born when nearly 3,000 people died that day, many of them first responders who were in the process of climbing up the fire escape stairs of the towers to help victims when the buildings collapsed, killing everyone inside. The student body is also extremely diverse. "We have so many first and second generation Americans," said Philip Rhodes, principal of DIS. "It is crucial that we teach them what America is about."
After a prayer, patriotic songs, and a posting of the colors by members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9022, Rhodes talked to the students and guests, among whom were representatives of the Dumas Police Department, Moore County Sheriff's Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, Moore County Emergency Management, Dumas Fire Department, Cactus Police and Fire departments, and Moore County Emergency Medical Services. He recounted the events of the day and talked about why it was important to remember. He read a poem, "Climb Higher, A Tribute to the New York City Firefighters" by Jim McGregor, chief of the fire department of Langley, British Colombia in Canada. The poem imagines the firefighters who climbed the stairs of the Trade Center that day. In one line, McGregor urges people to take a lesson from their example:
"And when you're tired and feel like quitting, remember them. They didn't stop."
After Rhodes' remarks, the students gave presents to the veterans and first responders who were seated in a long line of chairs at the front of the assembly. There was more music, and to end the ceremony, the students planted the little American flags each had been holding in the ground next to where they were standing. It was to be a memorial that would last the rest of the day.
Maribel Tiarzon, chief of the Cactus Police Department was one of the first responders present Friday. "It is important to remember that day, and I am very happy for what the school system did for us as first responders. It always feels good to see the support that we get from the public," she said, adding, "I am glad the school system is teaching kids that we are there for them, to protect them."
Rhodes said after the ceremony that teachers had been discussing 9-11 and what it means to be an American with the students throughout the week. The students were excited to be participating, he added. And he echoed Tiarzon's sentiment: "I think with the climate of America right now and the perception of first responders, that if we don't teach this in our schools, we are missing a huge opportunity to teach that our first responders are here to keep us safe."
Last year, the ceremony was held at Dumas Jr. High. Rhodes said it would be back there next year. Thereafter, it will alternate between DIS and Jr. High, "so kids get it one time at each campus."