BRADENTON -- Not one of the 160 students who came for a lesson about 9/11 was alive when the terrorists attacks shocked America 13 years ago. Neither was the key lesson-giver, a 5-year-old English Labrador who serves as an advocate for victims.
Deputy GeeBee from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office gave a special presentation Thursday to Lee Middle School with his handler, Susie Brown, on the anniversary of the deadly attack.
"Many types of dogs were used on Ground Zero," said Brown, unit manager of the sheriff's office victim advocate unit. "All kinds of dogs can perform different jobs."
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, dogs were used to help find survivors buried in the rubble and provide comfort for first-responders and victims who witnessed the horrific scenes. More than 300 victim advocate's dogs were used and a couple hundred more search-and-rescue dogs were brought in, Brown said. To recognize 9/11, sixth-grade world history teachers decided to read about the event with students, using a passage focused on the search-and rescue dogs used to help find survivors.
Students also studied newspaper accounts from New York published the day after the attack furnished by a school custodian who lived in the Big Apple at the time of the attack.
The sixth-graders interacted with Deputy GeeBee to
learn about what the service animals do and honor those affected by the 9/11 attacks.
"It had such an impact," said 11-year-old Yaneli Texidor. "It's really important for me to know."
The presentation was organized by Lisa Schuerholz-Winters, a world history and civics teacher at Lee Middle School. Schuerholz-Winters said teaching sixth-grade students about 9/11 can often be disturbing and she wanted to approach the topic from an angle less upsetting.
Schuerholz-Winters said she was also looking for a way to help the students remember not only the victims, but the first-responders and volunteers.
"It just softens the issue a little bit so it's not quite as disturbing," she said.
Shuerholz-Winters and the other world history teachers did the same close reading about the service dogs last year, and Schuerholz-Winters said she wanted to add a new element to the lesson this year to help engage the students. She worked with the school's resource officer, Howard Claar, to bring in Brown and GeeBee.
"I wanted to entertain what she was trying to do with her class," Claar said. "GeeBee interacts and likes the kids, he's very friendly."
Students were allowed to ask questions and pet GeeBee. Students learned victim's advocates dogs like GeeBee are used in mass trauma situations such as 9/11, and with children who are victims and called to testify in court. Petting the dog or having the dog with them in the courtroom can help soothe the situation.
"Dogs like that can be powerful and help people," said 11-year-old Isael Morales.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.