LINDEN—In the early hours of Sept. 11, 2001, students and teachers across the United States had just settled into a new school year, when the day’s tragic events began to unfold.
Now almost nine years have passed since Americans heard those first unbelievable reports that a plane, and then another plane had crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Soon this was followed by a crash from a hijacked jet slamming into the Pentagon and another into a field in southwest Pennsylvania. The United States was under attack, killing nearly 3000 Americans.
Who would have thought that these tragic events would link two high schools over 1500 miles apart in what has evolved into the Tale of Two Cities program?
Prompted by curiosity, concern, and caring, students from Allen, Texas High School expressed a desire to converse with students in the northeast, within close proximity to New York City. Students felt a need to share their emotions, find out how the events were affecting daily life in the northeast, and search for answers to the many questions they had.
Allen staff members contacted Linden High School, located less than 20 miles away from ground zero, and a unique videoconference meeting was arranged. During that initial connection students shared their fears, anxieties, and personal accounts of the disaster. They spoke of school security, religion, and simply hugging their moms before leaving for school.
From that first, powerful, electronic meeting, bonds and friendships between the students and staff grew and everyone felt a connection and need to continue the dialog. One year later, 20 students and faculty members from the Allen Texas Peer Assistance Leadership program visited their new friends at Linden High School. While in Linden they exchanged gifts with Linden police and fireman, shadowed their peers at Linden High School, visited Ground Zero, and the Statue of Liberty, and set in motion plans to establish a biannual joint scholarship fund.
Nine years later students from Allen, Texas PALs and Linden High School have maintained their videoconferencing relationship. Students use technologies like cell phones, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and email to stay connected. Linden students have traveled to Allen, Texas twice and Allen students will be returning to Linden for their third visit March 19 -21.
Nearly all expenses have been covered both in Allen and Linden through student fundraising and private donations. Students get to experience firsthand the culture and climate of two very diverse schools, communities, and states.
Joseph Cataline, Linden’s videoconferencing coordinator and program originator explains, “Since 911 the long distance partnership has evolved to promote among students, an understanding of global issues, has fostered multicultural diversity, promoted teamwork, provided an understanding of regional differences and created friendships half way across the United States. The partnership has created opportunities for Linden students that they may never have had.”
Even with students graduating and with new faces coming into the program every year, the close connection between the high schools continues. As one Linden student sums it up, “One terrible tragedy, one amazing connection.”
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