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With Their Eyes: September 11th: The View from a High School at Ground Zero

With Their Eyes: September 11th: The View from a High School at Ground Zero

4.1 29
by Annie Thoms

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I could have died that day.

September 11, 2001

Monologues from Stuyvesant High School

Tuesday, September 11, started off like any other day at Stuyvesant High School, located only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. The semester was just beginning, and the students, faculty, and staff were ready to begin a new year.

But within a


I could have died that day.

September 11, 2001

Monologues from Stuyvesant High School

Tuesday, September 11, started off like any other day at Stuyvesant High School, located only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. The semester was just beginning, and the students, faculty, and staff were ready to begin a new year.

But within a few hours on that Tuesday morning, they would all share an experience that transformed their lives.

Now, on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, we remember those who were lost and those who were forced to witness this tragedy. Here, in their own words, are the firsthand stories of a day we will never forget.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
New York City's Stuyvesant High School stands within sight of the World Trade Center, and on September 11, 2001, it quickly became the concern of many Americans and world citizens. As a window into this school's experiences surrounding that tragic day, a group of creative acting students from Stuyvesant have assembled this stunning collection of monologues -- originally performed on stage, now in print form -- to unite the memories and emotions of its students and employees.

Under the direction of English teacher Annie Thoms, who provided the helpful introduction to this book, the student members of the Stuyvesant Theater Company began this project about 9/11, "in which Stuyvesant students were able to tell their own stories, and the stories of others in our community." The actors talked with fellow students, teachers, assistant principals, dining hall workers, and custodians, taking careful note of each person's physical mannerisms and verbal patterns. After all the pieces were assembled and a stage was created, the actors performed "with their eyes" in February 2002 -- each student played the person he or she had interviewed, surmounting differences in age, ethnicity, or gender -- to audiences who responded with standing ovations. This book, then, is the series of monologues the students performed, along with photos from the production, a foreword from actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, a chronology of Stuyvesant High School events on 9/11, and extra notes on the production and staging.

Both moving and engrossing, With Their Eyes will touch all readers looking to connect with their own memories about 9/11 or seeking realistic insight into the minds of students who experienced that day firsthand. Young readers will be motivated to document their own stories or feelings about September 11th, while parents and teachers can launch meaningful discussions at home, at book groups, or in the classroom. A powerful work that steers clear of "being cheesy or maudlin," this impressive work captures voices that teach and inspire. Matt Warner

Publishers Weekly
Thoms, an English teacher at Stuyvesant High School, located four blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, spearheaded a school production last February based on 10 students' recorded interviews (with classmates, faculty and staff members). The students converted the transcripts into "poem-monologues," which they presented and the text of which appears here. In Thoms's introduction, she notes that the goal was "to capture the ways individual people express themselves in speech," and, indeed, the collective impression is one of a group therapy session that may well provide some healing for teen readers still struggling with the event's aftermath. Many of the monologues (at times laced with "um" and "like") probably work better in a dramatization; on the page, the narratives at times falter and a few repeat similar themes. The poignant "Precious Cargo," for instance, begins with a photograph of a student performing as a pregnant English teacher, and her words of protectiveness about both her unborn child and her students read well on the page, but would likely be even more moving onstage. Still, the emotional rhythms of the volume take on a credible ebb and flow. A welcome dash of humor comes through in a freshman's contention that the students' relocation to Brooklyn Tech (while their school functioned as a triage center) put everyone on equal footing ("Everybody was like/ `Where the hell are my classes?'/ so it was kinda like everybody was a freshman"). In the closing entry, perhaps the most smoothly structured in the volume, the school theater manager recalls returning to a newly reopened Stuyvesant to find the flag missing from the stage. Later, he "came across a picture/ of firemen/ installing a flag/ on the mast of the World Trade Center/ and I looked at the picture and my jaw dropped./ It was our flag." Readers willing to overlook less relevant and revealing segments will find a number of moving moments here. Ages 13-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
New York City's Stuyvesant High School was on the front lines the morning of September 11, 2001. As faculty and students watched, the nearby Twin Towers tumbled into dust. Relocated while their school was used for the rescue mission, the students in Annie Thoms's English class tried to decipher the event's effect on their school community. Fitted with tape recorders, the students sought out students, faculty and staff and interviewed them about their experiences on and after September 11. They transcribed each interview, selecting twenty-five to turn into a two-act play, with students portraying their interviewees through dress, gesture and speech patterns. The play was performed on February 8 and 9, 2002, at Stuyvesant High. Thoms's students have created a unique art form, part oral history, part drama, that depicts the wide range of emotions and reactions experienced by those in the inner rings of ground zero. This text can be a resource for producing the play, but also for other teachers to use in constructing a multigenre project. Powerful and poignant, With Their Eyes is testament to the power of writing. 2002, HarperTempest, 228 pp.,
— Michele Winship
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 have changed the lives of all Americans. The students, faculty, and staff of Stuyvesant High School, located four blocks from Ground Zero, responded creatively with a unique work of reader's theater. In with their eyes, student actors transcribed monologues culled from interviews with their fellow classmates, teachers, custodians, and cafeteria workers. The pieces describe the pain of watching people jump to their deaths from office windows, the terror of being separated from their families, the lingering aftereffects of being temporarily housed in a different school, and the post-traumatic stress that nearly paralyzed all 3200 students. The monologues echo the individuals' everyday speech, including the "ums," "likes," and "you knows," which, while sometimes jarring to read, make them dramatically immediate and realistic when performed. This unique book rings with authenticity and resonates with power; it can be used in the curriculum or as an independent piece of theatrical art. Pair it with Michael Cart's excellent 911: The Book of Help (Cricket, 2002), Mitch Frank's Understanding September 11th: Answering Questions about the Attacks on America (Viking, 2002), or Mitchel Levitas's A Nation Challenged: A Visual History of 9/11 and Its Aftermath: Young Reader's Edition (Scholastic, 2002).-Susan Riley, Mount Kisco Public Library, NY Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
“The speakers reveal their emotions with a painful honesty that’s profound, and the startling immediacy of the words gives these pieces even more impact. An obvious choice for reader’s theater and for use across the curriculum; its deeply affecting contents will also make compelling personal-interest reading.”

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Chronology of Events

tuesday, september 11, 2001

8:48 a.m. -- The first plane hits the north tower. Many at Stuyvesant hear the bang, and feel the school tremble.

8:50 - 9:02 a.m. -- Principal Stanley Teitel contacts the school superintendent's office, and determines it is safest to keep all students inside the building. Over the loudspeaker, an administration official informs the Stuyvesant community that a "small plane" has hit the World Trade Center.

9:03 a.m. -- The second plane hits the south tower. Many students, faculty, and staff see the collision, and watch the ensuing fire from the building's south-facing windows. Some turn on the televisions which hang in each Stuyvesant classroom. Phone communications from the building are jammed.

9:04 - 9:49 a.m. -- FBI and Secret Service agents enter the building, and begin to set up Stuyvesant as a command post and triage center. Teitel asks the agent in charge, "What are the chances of those towers coming down?" The agent responds, "No chance." Teitel announces over the loudspeaker that all students are to stay in the building. At the bell at 9:25, students move to their next class.

9:50 a.m. -- The south tower collapses. Stuyvesant shakes. Lights flicker, and television pictures turn to static -- the television antenna on top of the World Trade Center is gone.

9:51 - 10:29 a.m. -- Assistant Principal of Student Services Eugene Blaufarb announces over the loudspeaker that students should report to their homerooms. After a brief administrative meeting, he announces that Stuyvesant students and faculty are to evacuate thebuilding, exiting through two doors on the north, sheltered side only. Students are joined on their walk uptown by pedestrians fleeing lower Manhattan, many covered head-to-toe with thick white dust.

The teachers and paraprofessionals working at P.S. 721, the special education school housed in rooms on the top three floors of Stuyvesant, begin to evacuate their students from the school. Most of them are wheelchair-bound. They take the freight elevators down to the first floor and begin their journey to a safe school uptown.

10:30 a.m. -- The north tower collapses, sending a wave of dust up from the World Trade Center and over Stuyvesant. The evacuation continues, as over 3,200 members of the Stuyvesant community funnel through the two doors.

10:31 a.m. and later -- Stuyvesant's theater and gyms continue to be used as a command center. All students and faculty have safely vacated the building. Many staff members, including school safety officers and custodians, remain to help the rescue workers and keep the building running.

Public transportation has been suspended. Students and faculty walk uptown in small groups, splitting off from each other to go to their homes or the homes of friends nearby.

wednesday, september 12

All New York City schools are closed.

thursday, september 13 -- wednesday, september 19

As other New York City schools reopen, Stuyvesant and several other schools in the area remain closed. Stuyvesant's building continues to be used as a command center and staging area for the World Trade Center rescue effort. Thousands of tons of supplies are stored there, and rescue workers are fed, clothed, and housed. Classrooms are filled with clothing and food; cots line the hallways. Many members of the Stuyvesant staff work round-the-clock shifts to aid the rescue workers.

Stuyvesant students, living all over the five boroughs of New York, communicate with each other by e-mail. On internet message boards, they tell each other their stories and share information.

On September 16th, the first Sunday after the attacks, over four hundred Stuyvesant students gather in Greenwich Village to paint two eighty-foot murals: a tree of life growing out of rubble, and a banner honoring New York's heroes.

Stuyvesant's administration and Parents' Association negotiate with the Board of Education, trying to find an alternate site at which to reopen Stuyvesant. Martin Luther King, Jr. High School, in uptown Manhattan, is proposed as a possibility, but ultimately Brooklyn Technical High School is chosen.

thursday, september 20

Stuyvesant reopens on a split schedule at Brooklyn Technical High School. At the opening-day assembly in Brooklyn Tech's auditorium, four times larger than the theater at Stuyvesant, there is 98% student attendance. The Stuyvesant community listens to speeches by Principal Stanley Teitel, Student Union (SU) President Jukay Hsu, and officials from the Board of Education.

friday, september 21 -- friday, october 5

Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech share one building. Brooklyn Tech's 4,000 students attend class from 7:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Stuyvesant's 3,030 students attend class from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., in twenty-six-minute periods.

Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech are academic rivals, and a certain amount of tension exists between the two student populations. Stuyvesant students are at a disadvantage in the sprawling floor plan of Brooklyn Tech, where rooms are referred to by floor, compass direction, and room number (1E22, 3W44). Many Stuy students find themselves bewildered by separate up and down staircases.

In English classes, Stuyvesant students answer thousands of letters written by students in schools across the country and as far away as Japan.

On October 2, The Spectator, Stuyvesant's school newspaper, put out a special full-color, magazine-style issue focusing on the events of September 11th. The student-written articles and student photos receive praise and media attention across the city. In November, the issue is reprinted as an insert in The New York Times.

Negotiations over the date of the reopening of Stuyvesant's building continue. Officials in charge of the rescue operation at ground zero leave the building, which is professionally cleaned to remove the dust from the towers' collapse and the rescue effort...

with their eyes. Copyright © by Annie Thoms. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Annie Thoms graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1993. After receiving her BA from Williams College and her MA in English education from Teachers College, Columbia University, she returned to Stuyvesant as an English teacher and theater adviser in 2000. She lives in New York City with her husband and her daughters, Eleanor and Isabel.

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With Their Eyes: September 11th -- The View from a High School at Ground Zero 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im a christian and im sorry that we are being rude to you guys. I think everyone is the same and just some people are bad. I believe that there is nothing wrong with muslims. There acually pretty kool! But it doesnt mean you have to hate 9 11. Its really important. Lives were killed. But i believe that there no problems with muslims! :)
Krystal67 More than 1 year ago
"With Their Eyes" opens up an entirely new view of September 11th. This is the story of students of Stuyvesant High School. They tell their stories about living in New York during and after 9/11, witnessing the planes crashing, and dealing with the aftershock. This book is a series of interviews with students and faculty that was later created into a play. The characters are raw; You can sense the pain they go through even just talking about the subject of September 11th... Of having to remember all of it. Think about it every day when they look out their classroom windows and see where the World Trade Center once stood. They experienced it all from ground zero. You see inside the hearts of people in New York. We all heard the interviews on tv with firefighters and policemen and family members of those who died, but in this book, you learn about students and faculty who where there. They witnessed it. My favorite interview was with a student named Max Willens; A senior. His view on 9/11 is compelling in a way that I think he views it in a different way than anyone else. Especially when he talks about it afterwards... He mentions people taking pictures by the remains of the World Trade Center. It makes me sick to even think about someone doing that.. Posing in a solemn stance for a picture to show to the world. During his second interview, he gets interrupted by an annonymous middle-aged man in the coffee shop. This man gives his viewpoint on everything and tells Max he wasn't wrong. To find these things out, you're going to have to read the book. I highly recommend this book!! It is so touching and truly brings light to what happened on September 11th.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book with the anticipation of getting first hand accounts of what was seen by high school students on 9/11. I was disappointed. While I appreciate what was seen this was basically a play put into print. I would have loved to see the performance that the students put on, it is just impossible to put this into a book. I would not recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was just starting my senior year in Stuyvesant High School when the September 11th tragedy befell New York City. Personally, I was in the shopping complex of the WTC when the first plane hit, and I only reached the school's bridge for comfort when the second plane hooked around and plowed through the other tower. The months of my first term senior year were thus a blur. I was lucky enough to be a part of the school's drama department; I worked closely with Annie Thoms on the SING performance that following spring, and I am thrilled at her success with this novel. Remember: before it was a best seller, it was a student run play on the Stuyvesant High School stage.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Worst day in american history ever
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Morgan94 More than 1 year ago
This book allows the reader to catch a glimpse of what happened in the eyes of a High School at ground zero. It was especially relateable to teens and young adults because many of the things described in the book were from the point of view of a High School student. It was a moving description of a tragic event in our nations history.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was very detailed but it wasn't all that great. It was like a formated play.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is like the heart of the news about September 11th, 2003. It tells the real stuff of what happened and what our dear friends saw at Stuyvesant. (I go to Stuyvesant every day, so I see Ground Zero every day in the summer.)
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because I was in a rush and it looked kind of good. i ended up reading it, and then having to go back to the bookstore to get another book because I had nothing to read at school the next day! I recommend this book to people ages 13 and up. I really ended up enjoying and I'm very happy I ended up picking it up!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was truly amazing and inspiring. There were places in the book that were very helpful to me. Right after it happened and for a few months I didn't know how to describe how I was feeling, but then I read this book and it was like somebody finally got it. For those of you still who still struggle with the 'whys' and the 'hows', read this book--it helps.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a very powerful and inspiring piece of literature. I am a student in Stuyvesant High School, and many kids still talk about what happened. It is a terrible experience for all of us, and we are glad that now, our stories have been written down into a book. The stories are very accurate on what happened.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought the book last week, but I saw the play performed in February (I was a senior at Stuy last year). What was said by the publishers' reviews--that the play was more poignant on stage than in book form--was completely accurate.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hate how tons of christians around the world all blame muslims for what happened on nine eleven.cuz its not our fault becuz im a muslim and i believe that its not fair for the rest of us to be mistreated just because of what some scum did.its not like u should blame all muslims for he did.he was crazy and out of his mind and its not fair
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful collection of words that allows readers to really see the fear that came into the hearts of so many. It shows the horrfic event of september 11th so that it could be remembered forever.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think that every kid who is curious how Teens felt on that horrible day should read this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought that this book was great. It really helps people understand that they aren't the only ones feeling what they do. I highly recommend it!