Desert Star School Assistant

Desert Star School Assistant Principal Ryan Vaughn, left, and Principal Jessica Worthington look back on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The nation forever changed following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Desert Star Elementary School students did not see it on television or in the newspapers. Instead, they learned about it at school. 

The school honored the 9/11 events and victims and included the community in its memorial on Sept. 10.

“For most of you, this is something that you have learned about in the past couple of years,” Jessica Worthington, principal at Desert Star School, said at the beginning of the tribute. “For some of our littlest guys, maybe even the last couple of days, as we have been doing activities in our classrooms.”

Worthington was joined by Assistant Principal Ryan Vaughn during her opening remarks.

“I would like to thank our distinguished guests for joining us today,” Worthington said. “The Junior ROTC members, we also have the (Goodyear) Fire Department, chief (of the fire department) and (Goodyear) police, military, city personnel and also nursing staff.

“We are grateful for their service and to all of those who served and or supported during Sept. 11 many years ago.”

District members also in attendance included governing board member Elizabeth Canchola and Superintendent Dr. Betsy Hargrove.

“To all of our Desert Star staff, students and community thank you for the beautiful decorations and star mural up here, it’s amazing and for today’s organization to Mrs. (Kim) Knapp, our social worker,” Worthington said.

The ceremony began with Agua Fria High School’s Junior ROTC presenting the flags for the national anthem performed by Desert Star band teacher Andrew Nelson on saxophone.

Among the Junior ROTC members was junior Alyssa Hernandez of Agua Fria High School. She was born after Sept. 11, 2001.

“My parents were pushing me and influencing me to try out new things, and when we found out that the school offered the JROTC program, I thought it was very interesting, so I wanted to try it out and see if I would like it,” Hernandez said. “It got me interested in joining the Air Force after I graduate.”

When asked what she knows about the events that took place on Sept. 11, Hernandez said, “I know with the Twin Towers and how the planes crashed in and how unfortunately many officers and firemen and many people died that day. It was just very sad and very hard for our country.”

Hernandez and three other Junior ROTC members took part in the presentation of the colors at the 9/11 tribute event.

“I feel very honored to be part of this especially since I’m in ROTC,” Hernandez said.

“Not a lot of people will appreciate this stuff, but I will appreciate that I was able to be a part of it. It’s very cool to me that I am able to say that I know what it is like.”

Following the national anthem, Goodyear Fire Department Chief Paul Luizzi talked to the students about the heroic events. That led to the release of the 20 white doves that represented the 20 years since the initial terrorist attacks.

“I just think it is an amazing opportunity for all of the adults who have really lived through this and experience this to come back and remember the event, and then to bring kids alongside in the historical aspect of it is just so empowering for everybody,” Worthington said.

The principal credits the school’s social worker for “creating this event and organizing it,” including the attendance of the various fire and police members and the presentation of the white dove tribute.

“She partnered up with our chief from the local fire department who they also mentor with our kids, so we already had that connection,” Worthington said. “And then we have an SRO (school resource officer) that is assigned to our school, and so those sort of connections began to filter out into the larger community to bring everybody together today.” 

9/11 Remembrance Ceremony

Desert Star Elementary School honored the 9/11 attacks with a ceremony on Sept. 10. The schoolwide event hosted members from the Goodyear Police and Fire departments, along with the Goodyear fire chief, former military members and Agua Fria High School’s Junior ROTC.


1. Desert Star Elementary School created a 9/11 Never Forget board with students coloring in stars to represent the men and women lost that day.

2. Junior ROTC from Agua Fria High School stands in attention for the national anthem.

3. Chief Paul Luizzi of the Goodyear Fire Department talks to Desert Star Elementary School students about the heroic events that took place on 9/11.

4. Band teacher Andrew Nelson plays “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Desert Star Elementary School 9/11 event.

5. Officers from the Goodyear Police Department attend the Desert Star Elementary School 9/11 event.

6. Junior ROTC from Agua Fria High School in Avondale presented the flags for the 9/11 event at Desert Star Elementary School.

7. Junior ROTC member Alyssa Hernandez is a junior at Agua Fria High School in Avondale.