VIDEO: Fullerton teachers and students take field trip to Sept. 11 memorial

What happened in the U.S. on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 will always be a moment that Nancy Karcher will never forget. 

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Every school year for the past five years, with the exception of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Orangethorpe Elementary School teacher and her colleagues in the campus’ multi-age classroom program have made sure to include a field trip for their lesson plans about Sept. 11.

The destination is about eight minutes away from the school at Scott Townley’s home on 863 N. Woods Ave., where he has created a touching 9/11 memorial featuring thousands of photos, crosses and flags representing the lives lost at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on board the four commercial airliners. 

“As a teacher, I feel like it is my duty to pass on this piece of history to the next generation so they can learn and grow from it,” said Karcher. “It’s a challenging and hard topic. We have tears in the classroom because everyone feels moved by what we’re learning about.”

With delicateness, Karcher and the other teachers tailor their lessons to fit their students’ ages. For her K-3 graders, she starts their lesson with class discussions and analyses of books and songs, and then the children — all were born years after the attack — go home and speak to their families about the feelings or things they remember experiencing that day. 

“Hearing from their parents or family members is important to the children,” said Karcher. “It’s not just me reading a book to them, but they’re hearing it from their own families. That has a lot of meaning to them.” 

  • Orangethorpe 9:11 students board bus
  • Orangethorpe 9:11 memorial wide
  • Orangethorpe 9:11 towers
  • Orangethorpe 9:11 fallen law enforcement
  • Orangethorpe 9:11 students arrive at memorial
  • Orangethorpe 9:11 Scott Townley
  • Orangethorpe 9:11 students raise hands
  • Orangethorpe 9:11 note
  • Orangethorpe 9:11 victims photos

The lesson wraps up with a trip to the home of Mr. Townley, who is an engineer with the Orange County Fire Authority. The firefighter of more than 40 years felt compelled to honor the lives lost. Days after the attack, he made a small sign and placed it outside of his home. Today, his memorial has grown tremendously in size. People travel far and near to see it, and families who lost loved ones in New York visit the memorial. 

Every year, Townley puts up his display and welcomes thousands of visitors, including young students from Orangethorpe’s multi-age program. 

“These kids were not around at that time,” said Townley. “They would have no idea what this is, unless someone explains and teaches them that. My goal is to teach the youth of today about what happened on 9/11 so we don’t forget it.”

The Fullerton School District is one of five districts in California offering the multi-age classroom program, which contains a mixed-age group of children who stay with the same teacher for several years. The program is designed to give every child the opportunity to find success and enhance their learning through innovative hands-on learning experiences and individualized instruction. 

After each field trip to Townley’s home, Karcher says her cohort of students gain a deeper understanding about how Sept. 11 impacted the world and why it’s a day filled with remembrance.