Students at a Dyker Heights school showed off their history knowledge and their arts smarts with the dedication of a moving 9-11 memorial mural on May 16.
Some 70 middle schoolers at William McKinley on Fort Hamilton Parkway spent months under the oversight of teachers Thomas Buxton and Roma Karas creating the 150-foot tribute to the heroes and victims of the World Trade Center attacks in a wing of their building. At the same time they also learned about the events of that fateful day and about Renaissance and art deco painting. Buxton said the curriculum he and Karas designed was inspired by the frightening ignorance their students displayed about 9-11.
“We have a whole generation of kids who are too young to really know anything about it,” Buxton said, suggesting that many teachers avoided bringing up the subject because it was still too painful to discuss.
Starting on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Buxton and Karas had both survivors and those who lost loved ones come in to address their classes. Meanwhile, their students studied the works of Michelangelo and Donatello, as well as the painting and sculpture of the 1920s and ’30s. As a result, their mural took inspiration from everything from the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel to the frieze on Buffalo’s city hall. The kids also composed 700 original poems about those killed when the Twin Towers fell, which they added to the mural. Buxton said the idea was to blend different subjects.
“We wanted to layer literature, history, artwork, and student work,” he said.
The school invited local leaders, the police and fire departments, and the Police Benevolent Association to join them at the dedication ceremony. Each agency gave the school a special gift as a token of thanks, with the Police Benevolent Association going so far as to create individualized plaques for every student who contributed to the mural. Association spokesman Al O’Leary echoed Buxton’s concern about young people forgetting their history and said that the union wanted to pay tribute to the students’ efforts.
“It was a no-brainer. It’s such a wonderful project, and it’s something sorely needed to remind kids of what happened that day,” said O’Leary.