It was January 28, 1986 when a space shuttle was to be launched into space with the first ever teacher aboard. As far as space shuttles went, our school did not really watch that kind of thing as we had only two televisions in our school of about 250 students. Obviously we did not have the Internet at that time, and our biggest resource of information was the school set of encyclopedias.
Then we got the horrible news about what happened that day when after launch, the Challenger had exploded killing the entire seven member crew. A classmate took it exceptionally hard as his dad, a well know Biology teacher, was in the running to actually be on that aircraft. I remember huddling into the library at lunch and watching what happened and just stunned by the whole thing. Was this real? What caused the explosion? How were the families going to deal with this?
At the end of lunch, we all went back to our classrooms with so many questions for our teacher and yet she had no answers of what happened. How could she? Everything had happened so quickly and I am sure that she was just as stunned as the rest of us. The best we could do was go home after school, catch the news that was on and then we would find out more what happened to the members of the crew. Little did I know that I was going home to my mom who was about to tell me that my grandpa had died. Although he was an entire world away in Greece, and I only had the chance to meet him twice in my life, it obviously impacted me tremendously. I went to hockey practice later that night, but asked if I could be excused as I was obviously reeling from the sadness of the events of the day.
Fast forward to today. Events as tragic seem to happen too often, especially with the amount of weather related disasters around the world. It seems that we are not able to go a week without a hurricane devastating a state or flooding destroying the lives of many. These types of disasters happen far too often, and I am sure at any point of time, there are the “Challenger” moments in each of our lives; something that just affects us in a way that we cannot shake.
What I remember most about that day was the helplessness of it all. All of these people killed in a tragic crash, their families’ lives altered forever. We had those few minutes of seeing what was happening when I was in grade 5, and then we were sent on our way with more questions than answers.
Now what I have seen from our students, which many people would disagree, is a sense of belonging to this human race and empathy for those that have been impacted by these events. Kids can get the answers to these tragedies and not be left feeling so helpless. In fact, what I have seen for the last several years as an educator, is our students doing things to help people all around the world in their time of need. Contrary to what many would have you believe, many of our students share this value of being a citizen of a world, and when disaster strikes in Japan, they learn about it, and try to figure out ways that they can help. When people talk about our past and how we cared more about the world, I have a slightly different take. I see true empathy from our students that I can honestly say that I did not see in myself as a child. It was not that I didn’t want to help, it was just that I did not have the same opportunity to do so or to even understand what was happening in real time. I wanted to help but at the same time felt so helpless.
When we take the opportunities to help our kids connect with the world, they start to truly become a part of it. The tolerance, understanding, and empathy of this generation of students seems to be extremely strong. Of course it is not 100% and there are some kids who (seemingly) could care less; that is with every generation. More and more though, the eyes of our students are opened to what is happening in our world and it is amazing that many of them are not waiting for the future to take care of it, but are starting right now.