I was a science teacher at the High School for Leadership and Public Service, located less than 500 yards from the South Tower. I was there on 9-11-01 and evacuated kids to Battery Park.
When we got to street level, the first thing everybody saw was how many people were on the street. There were thousands of people on the street. I was worried about my kids, especially the ones straggling so at that point we knew we had to get these kids out of here. In just a few minutes, you really didn't know who was your student and who wasn't. I had them for only two days.
We got as far as Rector Street and I remember turning around to see how many students were back there and how many were ahead of me. We watched the top of the south tower start to slide off and then realized the building was actually coming down. And that's when we said to our kids, you can run, run as fast as you can and get to Battery Park. We were engulfed in the cloud and at that point it was hard to know who was next to you; eventually it got to the point were you couldn't even see your hand in front of your face. We were even taking socks off and putting them around people's faces because of all the dust and everything that was coming down.
The experience propelled me to create an environmental civics club...something that could help us improve the health of the community near our school. Our thoughts were especially with our freshmen because this was a new neighborhood for them and they were only here for two or three days before this happened. Many teachers spent time trying to create projects or come up with ideas to somehow help empower kids who were just here for a short while and had become victimized like that.
The first project we did was to bring students back to the very park we were evacuated to, less than three months later, to plant tulip bulbs donated from Holland. We felt our freshmen were not even familiar with our school (they had experienced only two school days prior) and we did not want them to feel victimized.
The only way to do that at first, we felt, was to bring them back to Battery Park to plant flowers. Our students soon learned that, rather than feel like victims who were helpless, they became survivors who became empowered. Since that first planting, our school's Environmental Civics Club and Green Task Forces grew and have planted over a quarter of a million bulbs and flowers at Battery Park in the Bosque area and the Gardens of Remembrance and several thousand across the street from our school at Trinity Church Cemetery Gardens. We also worked on the Tiles for America Project, which you can still see on the corner of 11th Street and 7th Avenue.
The whole New York community came together. I felt like over the next couple of weeks, you didn't hear people talking about politics, didn't hear people talking about divisiveness. There was really a feeling that we have to help each other, we have to come together.