Area students watch disaster unfold

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Schools in the area took pains to reassure parents Tuesday their children were safe in the wake of the most deadly terrorist attack on American soil.

Students in junior high, high school and at Southeast Missouri State University watched the disaster unfold on television sets and discussed it with teachers, professors and counselors.

Some classes at the university were canceled, and others were used as a discussion period about current events.

Robert White, 21, a fourth-year student at the university, said he found out about the tragedy when he went to class and the television was on. When he saw the crumbling buildings, he assumed they were in another country.

"You think nothing like this will happen here in your lifetime," he said, adding that he remembers the war in Iraq and the Oklahoma City bombing but nothing of this magnitude ever happening.

Jayson Spencer, 22, agreed, saying: "People got that mentality of 'it can't happen here.'"

School officials said international students didn't seem to feel particularly threatened.

School officials react

"The emotional impact of a disaster like this affects us all," said Dan Steska, superintendent of Cape Girardeau Schools.

He said he remained in contact with each building and reminded principals that the district was in contact with police and other civil defense authorities in case a local emergency arose.

The day passed quietly, all things considered. Several parents called early in the day to see if school would be canceled, but he said as far as he knew, no one pulled a child from class.

All he could offer was reassurance.

He said, "We had a lot of calls initially. People weren't sure what was going to be next."

Jackson school superintendent Ron Anderson likened the event to President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963.

"I remember when Kennedy was shot," he said. "This has been the same kind of thing. Everybody's got their head down."

Like the young president's assassination, "this is one of those events that impresses on your memory where you were when it happened," Steska said.

Counselors available

Still, both districts resumed business with counselors available for students who were distraught.

Scott City and Perry County also had counselors available. Scott City canceled a girls basketball game scheduled for Tuesday night. That district had an extra scare as a brief power outage occurred just as the news was breaking about the attack on the Pentagon.

University officials left it up to faculty as to whether to cancel class. At various stations throughout campus counselors and professionals were available Tuesday evening to talk about the day's events with students.

"It's depressing," said Erica St. James, a freshman from St. Louis, headed for a class in oral communications. "I'm just sad. That's all."

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