ELKHART — Not one student at West Side Middle School was alive when 9/11 happened, but that didn’t stop some of the youngsters from pausing to pay their respects.

A small group of students from the school’s helping hands community service club honored local first responders Wednesday afternoon while observing the 18th anniversary of 9/11.

The students gathered outside the flagpole and handed Elkhart firefighters cookies and a binder that contained hand-written thank you letters as a way to express their appreciation.

“For me, it’s important to say thank you to our first responders because they risk their lives every day for our safety,” said eighth-grader Nelly Montel.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed Sept. 11, 2001, when four hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. 

Cami Berkey, a college and career readiness teacher at West Side, who oversees the after school club, said the school has held teachings to help the students understand the history of 9/11 and the impact it had on American culture.

“We’ve watched a short video about 9/11 and had a conversation about how it affected our families and what it’s done to the country since then,” she said. “We also spent time talking about September 12 and how our country united and that spurred another conversation about how we can spread peace instead of hate.”

Montel said although she wasn’t born when the World Trade attacks occurred, the tragic event almost had a personal impact on her family.

“My mom told me how my uncle had a meeting scheduled at one of the towers that day, but luckily, his meeting was rescheduled,” she said. “I’m grateful he wasn’t inside the tower, but I feel bad for families of the 9/11 victims who were.”

Another student, Teanna McIntire, also said the tragic event hits home for her and honoring the local responders is important.

“I have many family members who are in the marines who travel away and sacrifice their lives for our country and our local responders do that for our community,” she said.

The thank you from the students was well-received by the firefighters in attendance.

“It feels good to be appreciated for a job that we love doing,” said Elkhart firefighter Kevin Alber. “We love our job and helping people. It’s nice to be looked at in the sense that these kids had no idea what went on that day and they’re learning about it through history and for them to recognize us on this day is a really nice treat.”

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