On Wednesday afternoon, Sharp Creek Elementary School teacher Amber Bretzman was sitting in a chair in front of the classroom of fifth-graders on the floor in front of her.

In her outstretched hand was the front page of the Huntington Herald-Press from Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001.

“This one says, ‘AFTERMATH’ and you notice now behind the Statue of Liberty that the towers are missing, aren’t they?” said Bretzman.

A few students audibly agreed.

“Down here is the Pentagon, which I was talking about,” said Bretzman, pointing to the bottom of the page.

Bretzman said each year she shares the newspapers she kept from the actual day of the 9/11 attacks.

“I tell my story, I read poems and stories from children that were in New York. Finally, we write acrostic poems using words that we generate about 9/11, and then I print them and hang them as windows in two towers that I place outside in the hallway,” said Bretzman.

An acrostic poem is one where the first letters of each line spell out a word. Several example words were written on the blackboard across the room, including “explosion,” “heartbreaking” and “families.”

Bretzman said she was a junior at Huntington University and an elementary education major on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

“I had friends whose families had been directly impacted by the attacks of 9/11 and it really shook our small college community. My mom was talking with me during this day and we were trying to process the magnitude of this tragedy. My mom decided that she was going to keep all the newspapers from 9/11, because I was living history, and it needed to be remembered and shared with students so it isn’t forgotten,” said Bretzman. “I am so grateful that my mother thought to save every newspaper for a month with articles and pictures about 9/11. I have shared these articles and photos with countless students. It has been years since I have taught students who were born prior to 2001 so sharing these first-hand accounts, pictures, and real history helps students to understand the significance and importance of remembering 9-11 the people, the heroes and a nation who banded together in unity during a terrible tragedy.”

Bretzman said she was attending chapel at Huntington University when someone came out to tell them chapel was canceled for the day. The World Trade Center towers had been hit in New York and had collapsed. A third plane had crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

“This was before social media so we lived in a bit of a bubble and almost all students had no knowledge of this horrible tragedy that had happened early in the morning,” said Bretzman.

Bretzman said she had a friend who was sitting next to her whose father worked at the Pentagon.

“She immediately began to cry and tried to call her father, and was unable to confirm her father’s safety until late into the evening. Classes were canceled or we spent that time praying and watching the news during those that weren’t. Students whose families lived on the east coast couldn’t reach them until late evening, or they were sent emails to let them know if their loved ones were safe.”

Bretzman said during this time of uncertainty, it was “unreal to watch and comprehend.”

“I think it is important for my students to hear about 9/11 from a first-person perspective, just as it was important to hear my grandfather tell about the attack on Pearl Harbor when he was in high school. We need to remember these tragic times in history so we can learn from them and not have history repeat itself,” said Bretzman.

Bretzman said once students hear about her own experiences, many of them also share their parents’ stories with her.

“There are tears of empathy as they hear from families in videos we watch or read poems from students who were there in New York during that time and saw the planes outside their classroom windows and there is pride in our country that banded together during this time and in our heroes who stepped in to serve and help in the most scary of situations,” said Bretzman.

After sharing her personal experiences and the newspapers from that time, Bretzman shared a few poems from the book “Messages To Ground Zero: Children Respond To September 11, 2001,” which was collected by Shelley Harwayne with the New York City Board of Education to inspire the students for their own poems.

One of the poems Bretzman read to her students was from Adria, a seventh-grader from Manhattan called, “I Don’t Know.”

Why did so many people have to die?

I don’t know.

Candles lit in Union Square for each of their souls, canvassing the area to give their families some hope.

I don’t know.

A school day turned into a nightmare.

I don’t know.

A trip home turned into chaos and confusion.

I don’t know.

I look down Third Avenue, and in place of the Twin Towers, I see a huge dark plume of smoke, smearing the sky with grey.

I don’t know.

There’s an eerie silence in my neighborhood, and then, once in a while the shattering sound of a siren – where is it going?

I don’t know.

Why did so many people have to die?

I don’t know.

Rob Burgess, Wabash Plain Dealer editor, may be reached by email at rburgess