Students at Mokapu Elementary School don't have to look very far to see just how directly they are affected by the terrorist attacks that happened thousands of miles away.
Military kids turn to
writing for solace
By B.J. Reyes
The school is on the Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe.
Aside from attending class amid a heightened security presence, "all of our children come from military families," said sixth-grade teacher Kimetta Hairston, herself the wife of a Navy man. "A lot of children said they were worried mainly because their parents were going to be leaving. When? They don't know."
Yesterday, about a mile away from classrooms, a bomb-sniffing dog inspected vehicles as needed. On one recent day, some soldiers armed with machine guns were easily visible from classroom windows.
For students, such activities are reminders of how the tragedies in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania have affected them differently than their non-military peers.
Mokapu's 820 students felt the impact of the attack as soon as they woke up for school Sept. 11. Schools on military bases in Hawaii were closed as security measures were increased. On base, that meant many families were restricted from leaving their homes, Hairston said.
"I got pretty worried because I thought it (the attacks) would come over here," said 11-year-old Phillip Cruz, whose dad is in the Navy stationed at Kaneohe.
Now the focus among students and staff at Mokapu is on what the country's next step will be in what President Bush has described as the "first war of the 21st century."
"On the TV they said that there's thousands of people in the Navy that might be going to war," said Kayla Sheerin, 11, whose father is in the Navy. "I don't want my dad to go to war."
"I'm very worried," added Lindsey Black, 12. "I don't know if my dad might go into war or not."
Said Phillip: "We're all worried."
Students were interviewed on the invitation of school officials and with approval from parents.
Hairston and other faculty members have sought ways to help students cope with their feelings. A language arts teacher, Hairston said she often finds solace in writing, so that's what she and other sixth-grade teachers had students do.
Their assignment was to write a poem, song or other message and make cards to send to firefighters working at the scene of the World Trade Center attack.
"A lot of them were able to relieve stress by writing," Hairston said.
This week, the red, white and blue handmade cards have decorated the school's beige and brown brick walls. They soon will be taken down to send to the American Red Cross, Hairston said.
When asked collectively if they wanted to do the assignment and if it made them feel better, students answered with a resounding, "Yes."
At first, Phillip said he struggled with the assignment.
"I didn't know what to choose from the start," he said. "But when I really thought about it, I just thought about whatever popped into my mind."
Those thoughts turned into his poem, "The Hero," which reads in part: "I may have not seen you before, but you are busy when you walk out that door. You risk your life for all those trapped, we don't really know if you'll come back."
A poem written by 11-year-old Casey Gonzales reads in part: "From ashes to ashes you walk in the street smelling nothing but smoke ... you feel the bricks and rocks fall on top of you, then the next thing you know the world turns black."
Teacher Shani DeSpain said she felt the assignment was therapeutic for students.
"They're all worried about their parents leaving," DeSpain said. "It's affecting them more than other people because it's actually in their home and in their everyday life."
Among the poems written by sixth-graders at Mokapu Elementary School, on Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe:
I may have not seen you before, but you are busy when you walk out that door.
You risk your life for all those trapped, we don't really know if you'll come back.
When you go into the ash the flames burst out, and then you dash.
You work here and there night and day, to you the skies might look gray.
NYC might be paradise to you, but you saw it no more when the airplanes flew.
When people and you yourself thought you were a super zero, we're happy to know you're the hero.
- Phillip Cruz, 11
I might not know you and probably never will, but I will always know you're near.
You gave your best in all you could, now it's time to do what we should.
Because we're the bravest, strongest in the world, this will soon be over.
We will always remember the Americans who cared so much.
- Britny Montano, 11