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.