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Schools Strive for Normal Day after Attacks 

By Justin Paprocki
Capital News Service
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2001

ANNAPOLIS - Administrators tried to get state schools back to normal Thursday following Tuesday's terrorist attacks, but no one could get them out of their minds. 

"It was the same, but everybody wanted to talk about what happened," said Stella Pelekanos, a junior at Annapolis High School, which like many schools in the state closed early Tuesday after hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. 

The incidents have sharply changed student attitudes, some said. Often, teens would not stand when the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, said William Vollono, an Annapolis senior. "Today, we didn't have any problems," he said.

Teachers focused on their usual curriculum, although discussion arose in several classes, particularly because the attacks affected some students personally, students said. By this time, Pelekanos said, her worries have calmed, although her parents have a friend who is missing at the Pentagon. 

"I was scared, everyone was scared," she said. "They [parents] haven't heard from him, so they're assuming he's dead." 

Six schools on Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County were the only ones statewide closed Thursday because of new security restrictions on the base that would have caused gridlock. Only Meade High School will be open Friday.

Some schools closed after Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening declared a state of emergency following the attacks. The declaration gave school districts the discretion to close. It expired Thursday. 

Administrators attempted to ease classes back into a usual routine. At the same time they provided counseling sessions to help students affected by the tragedy.

At Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, students were playing football and Frisbee outside during lunch, while counseling sessions went on inside. "We're trying to get back to normal," said Principal Jerome Marco. "Now is the time to come together and get on with our lives." 

Six students attended the counseling sessions held during lunch at the 1,700-student school, Marco said. "When we talked to students, they felt pretty talked out about it," he said. "I think students are trying to get back into their normal routine." 

Teachers briefly talked to their students about the attacks in the morning, but not much time was set aside for discussion during the day at Forest Knolls Elementary in Silver Spring, said Principal Carolyne Starek. And, she said, "Teachers are not playing the TV in class." 

At that school and others, administrators sent letters explaining to parents how to handle the situation with their children. Among the tips given: discuss the events with children, monitor their intake of news coverage and talk about how they could help each other in the coming weeks. 

Staff and county mental health workers trained in grief counseling were stationed at Montgomery County public schools. Some district officials briefed teachers before the school day started about how to handle student discussions. 

Vollono said teachers kept the atmosphere calm during the day. "We spent time talking about the issues going on," he said. "Everybody's concerned, but I think we'll be OK. It's just going to take some time." 

Vollono's mother, Mary, said her worries about her five children have subsided. "He's safe here [at the school]," she said. "It's proved itself a safe environment. I think we're in a safe area of the state."

Copyright 2001 University of Maryland College of Journalism

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