The Boston Marathon: A Teacher Reflects

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Former Scholastic blogger and 2013 recipient of the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award for her extraordinary impact on the lives of students, Nancy Barile shares her thoughts about her students, school, and city following the tragic events at the 2013 Boston Marathon.


I have been a teacher in Revere, MA, a city located five miles north of Boston, for 18 years. When I heard the news of the explosions, my thoughts were for fellow teachers, Katie Sinnott and Meghan Kezer, who were running the marathon. Thanks to Facebook, I found out relatively quickly they were both safe. Then I began worrying about my students — I knew so many of them had planned to attend the marathon as spectators. Patriots Day is a big day in Boston. There's no school, most businesses close, the Red Sox play at nearby Fenway Park, and the atmosphere is festive.

Were my students, friends, and families safe?

Almost immediately texts, phone calls, and emails began pouring in with concern for my safety and well-being. I assured everyone I was fine and in Philadelphia. I turned to Facebook and Twitter for local and current information, even though I was fully aware there would be misinformation and speculation. I needed to know if my school family was safe, and I knew this would be the fastest way to find out.

One former student, Vanessa, had been with her family at the explosion site 10 minutes before the blast. Her happy family photos were now eerily macabre, and I urged her to send her pictures to the authorities, who had put out a call for all video and photos taken around the scene.

Another former student posted photos of the carnage. I wrestled with how to email her to take the disturbing photos down, to explain to her that these were insensitive and inappropriate — and I wondered if it was even my place to tell her so. In the end, I did, and she removed the posts.

I also became concerned about the small amount of hate speech that began popping up online from time to time. Although the FBI made it clear that whoever was responsible for the bombing was unknown, people began placing blame. My school has a large Muslim and Middle Eastern population, and I feared that these students would be wrongly targeted. I urged the posters to use restraint, intelligence, and care — and I reached out to my students with as much compassion and understanding as I could provide.

My students come from all corners of the world, and many of them have experienced horrors in their own countries. Qais's father was brutally beaten by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Dina was hit with a bomb in Bosnia while playing in her backyard and almost lost her leg. Michelle survived the Haitian earthquake — she still jumps every time the classroom radiator is turned on.

These students came to the United States seeking a better life; they felt the fear and turmoil were behind them. They hoped for a new beginning in the U.S., where they could feel secure and assured. Now National Guardsmen have patrolled our beach and our subway stop. The FBI raided my former apartment building where I lived for 22 years, carrying out plastic bags of evidence, and there was talk of a "person of interest." This is NOT supposed to be happening in America.

My students' emails reflect their fear, their disbelief, and their sadness. "I witnessed a lot, so I am still in shock, but I will be fine. I was right there, but since everyone around me needed help, and I didn't get hit, I didn't know what to do," one boy wrote. Another said, "One second is all it takes. It's crazy!! One second you're here; the next you're gone. I feel bad for the people who lost their lives and were injured." Still more wrote, "I pray for our country" and "I'm so sad."

Returning to school on Monday after spring break will be difficult, but I know that our students see Revere High School as a place where they feel safe and comfortable, and where they know that their teachers and administrators care for them. I will be ready to do my part.

Obama is right: "Boston is a tough and resilient town — so are its people." I know we will not let terrorism rule our lives. I am confident that we will rally in solidarity, in love and understanding, and in peace. And I know that it will be teachers who help lead the way.


Your blog post, written so soon after these terrible events have unfolded, is compelling. Revere students are so fortunate to have you supporting them; Revere teachers are grateful to have your mentoring and insight. Thank you, thank you.

First, let me begin by congratulating Nancy for this powerful public awareness piece addressing the temptation some agenda-driven media outlets run into by engaging in deceptive yellow journalism practices of fabricating "exciting" marketable stories aimed at targeting Muslim and middle-eastern foreigners in a convenient move to justify the macabre act of terrorism in Boston. In a multicultural and multiracial nation like ours where countless immigrants, including those from Middle East latitudes live and work it is of paramount importance that we refrain from rushing to stereotyping and scapegoating practices as a means of finding quick fixes to emerging problems. Verified facts (not rumors, speculations, and sensationalism) must be the basis of reliable news. History has repeatedly proven that tactical approaches that rely on stereotyping people based on their origin, nationality, and status is not just counterproductive and harmful to a country's national security, but can also obstruct and derail established processes and mechanisms of pinpointing perpetrators and holding them accountable.

Past historical events are replete with such practices, including the persecution and stereotyping of the Jews and Japanese people during WWII. This is by no means an attempt to compare the current sociopolitical context to the ideological doctrine responsible for the decimation of countless Jews people but a simply a political exercise to refresh our collective memory of past events and draw conclusions. As an educator, I entirely concur with Nancy that in this highly charged political environment we must be extra cautious about actions and practices that can be misconstructed as targeting Muslin and middle-eastern students in our diverse schools. We need to be mindful about the fact that schools reflect communities and as such are political and ideological arenas where social contestations frequently occur.

Far from minimizing the heinous and cowardly act recently perpetrated against innocent civilians in Boston, the reality is that the post 9/11 world has been characterized by similar occurrences elsewhere in the world (e.g., Spain, Great Britain, Turkey, Russia, etc.). Therefore, rather than rushing to prejudgments, scaremongering and racially scapegoating based on people's their physical characteristics, nationality, and status we must focus our actions on working with all members of our community, including Muslim and middle eastern nationals to combat terrorism, strengthen our national security, and bring those responsible for this ghoulish act to justice.

As an educator and resident of Massachusetts, I would like to express my sincere solidarity with all Bostonians and praise them for their heroism and bravery during these difficult times. We must forge long-lasting and meaningful alliances with all races and nationalities to ensure our country continues to be a bulwark of our ideals of freedom and democracy.

hello Nancy;

I cannot agree with your assessments more. The things that divide us as a nation seem small and minor when tragic events happen. People become people that need help and the help was provided without cost to self or ability. I applaud the people of Boston for showing the world that we can truly love one another. Good post!

Dear Nancy,

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your thoughtful expressions regarding the insidious Boston Marathon tragedy. Your candid sharing of personal interests and your emotional experience help me to better understand what it's like closer to ground zero. So many of us in the Philadelphia area and cities throughout America feel particularly helpless, saddened, frustrated and even outraged by this heinous cowardly act. We'd like to do more starting with our thoughts and prayers. Your exhortation to avoid quick judgment and not to impulsively apportion blame are spot-on. The "truth" will typically emerge in time and does set those free those who are willing to embrace it.

When I saw the pictures of Little Martin holding his recent First Holy Communion Banner it moved me from shock and disbelief(to instant tears) driving it all more deeply home to me. Your article has similarly achieved this... bringing a depth of clarity, empathy and understanding from your poignant insights. Your ability to integrate your many thoughts and concerns from the perspective of a resident and educator are both thought provoking and truly appreciated.

Our country is, perhaps, more divided along ideological lines than ever before in my lifetime. Now, more than ever, we need to reach across the great divide of "Liberal versus Conservative", pro-life versus pro-choice, R versus D; and band together again as "Americans" in helping both Boston and our country to heal. After 9-11-2001 we vowed "We shall never forget (all lessons learned)"... I'm not so sure we didn't? It's time to revisit and remember all we learned from 9-11, coupled with this tragedy and move forward together. My hope and prayer is that through an unspeakable tragedy such as this, a greater sense of tolerance and unity will ultimately re-emerge. We have to get back to the "common good"... right now Boston, Massachusetts is where we can immediately start as a model template for America in general.

Thank you again, Nancy and please keep up your critically important work with young Americans in the true spirit of "diversity" that should inspire all of us. My prayers are especially for healing and recovery to all those so greatly affected by this tragedy. We are Americans and will NEVER quit fighting to overcome evil and injustice - and we shall overcome!

May God bless you... May God bless Boston.. May God bless America!


Charles Carfagno
Philadelphia, PA

Terrific piece Nancy. As usual, you are doing your part and setting an example. I too had several friends either running or attending at the finish line, or had just left the finish line, or were heading towards it to cheer on a friend...just before the blasts. Spent hours checking Facebook, calling and texting, wondering who I was forgetting. I think everyone I know has been to the marathon at some time...and some I know run it. To me, that meant anyone I know could have been there and several were. It makes it all so personal and more disturbing. Once I knew everyone was safe, it got better seeing the overwhelming number of acts of heroism and kindness brought to bear by the people of our town. That's right, "town". I always think of Boston as a big town with all it's neighborhoods. One big, friggin' Mayberry, R.F.D. So good to see everyone doing the right thing and helping each other. Tears of worry, turned to tears of joy. Patton Oswalt wrote a brilliant and moving piece. Look it up if you haven't seen it. The best message in it was that for every lunatic, there are tens of thousands of good people to answer the dark evil with light and kindness. Boston Strong is the mantra of the week. It means what we are AND what we'll be even more from this - STRONGER!.

Terrific insight from a Boston teacher! How great is this!

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