While students at Dalton Junior High School commemorated the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, they were able to hold a piece of the nation’s history in their hands.
Dalton Junior High School was selected as the first school in Georgia to receive a piece of steel from one of the towers of the World Trade Center. They are now one of only 15 other schools in the country to receive a piece of steel. Dalton Junior High School will keep the steel for at least one year, and it will be displayed at the school and shared with students all year long.
This opportunity began when Mac McLawhorn, social studies teacher at Dalton Junior High School, was contacted by a representative from the Freedom Flag Foundation.
According to their website, the Freedom Flag foundation is, “a non-profit organization formed to establish the Freedom Flag as a national symbol of remembrance for September 11, 2001 and to support educational efforts of teaching future generations about the tragic events and many lives lost on that date. It all started with a drawing on a napkin by a local Richmond, VA business owner in November 2001. In the years since, it has grown into a national movement to educate the current and future generations of K-12 students to Never Forget.”
McLawhorn said he attended high school with a relative of the founder of the Freedom Flag Foundation. They remained friends for many years, and this year, she reached out to him to ask if he would want to be the recipient of the steel piece.
He immediately jumped at the opportunity, knowing that many students today do not fully understand the impact of 9/11.
“I’ve been saying this for the last few years, but these students weren’t even born yet,” McLawhorn said. “On Patriot Day every year, we always teach 9/11, but the students are kind of uninterested, they don’t see why it matters to them.”
According to McLawhorn, it can be difficult for these students, most of whom were born at least six or seven years after the attack, to understand why their teachers get so emotional every year. He said that the Freedom Flag Foundation is working to help address this problem in schools across the country.
With the goal of giving students something tangible to hold in their hands when learning about 9/11, the Freedom Flag Foundation received a piece of steel girder from the World Trade Center, which was then cut into 50 pieces.
“Their goal is to eventually have one school representative in all 50 states,” McLawhorn said. “We’re the first school in Georgia, and the only school in Georgia to receive one of the pieces.”
As soon as the steel piece was officially in McLawhorn’s possession, he began planning a school-wide assembly to commemorate 9/11.
On Friday, September 9, the entire school gathered in the gymnasium for the assembly. Two staff members sang the National Anthem, a student read a reflective poem, and McLawhorn shared about the Freedom Flag Foundation and their mission. Former Dalton Middle School teacher Gretchen Abernathy shared her own 9/11 story. Abernathy’s brother worked in the World Trade Center and was killed during the attacks.
McLawhorn said he hopes the assembly helped students to be able to more fully understand the gravity and significance of 9/11.
“I hope they get some understanding,” McLawhorn said. “That’s all I want to see, hands-on learning. I teach government, and it’s so hard to put stuff in their hands. There’s not a lot of hands-on history with government, but this is something that I can put in their hands, and they can touch. I think it’s going to give them some engaging, real-life understanding.”
After the assembly, the piece of steel was circulated to all of the school’s social studies classes. Every student at Dalton Junior High School will have the opportunity to hold the piece. McLawhorn said there are already plans to share it at some other schools in the district as well.
For more information about the Freedom Flag Foundation, visit their website at this link: https://www.freedomflagfoundation.org.