9/11 ceremony

To honor the fallen heroes of 9/11, the students, teachers and staff at Arts Academy at Estrella Mountain in Tolleson hosted a remembrance ceremony on Sept. 10. 

Students gathered on the lawn in the courtyard of the campus and formed a heart to begin the ceremony led by Principal Joseph Schiff. 

The Tolleson Fire Department and Tolleson’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Robert “Bobby” Diaz Lopez Post 6310 were honored during the ceremony, followed by breakfast served by AAEM staff. 

Even though none of the students was alive in 2001, Schiff said it’s important to hold events to ensure the younger generation never forgets. 

“The purpose of this ceremony is to remember those that lost their lives that day and honor those that continue to put their lives on the line every day,” he said. 

“We want to try and keep that going, let them know that this is something serious. This is something that we want to remember and the different aspects of it, getting the firefighters here, getting our veterans here, connecting the community. That’s what we want to do and we continue to do here. It’s a nice feeling to have that community feel, that togetherness.”

When trying to teach children who weren’t born yet during the attack on the Twin Towers, Schiff said a major focus at AAEM is to try to stray from the status quo and keep the children engaged. 

“It’s easy to fall into cliche, and when kids hear the same things over and over again, it just falls on deaf ears after a while, so we want to try and keep some things fresh,” he said. “Let them know let’s focus on this part right now, the selfless part of the action, let’s just focus on that for this year, next year, see if we can adjust a little bit. It’s that constant remembrance that we want to keep hammering in so that the kids understand that value and what we need to pull out of such a tragic event.”

While the pandemic prevented in-person ceremonies last school year, Schiff said it was exciting to see the children gather safely to honor the fallen, as well as Tolleson’s local first responders and veterans. 

“We’ve been here for almost 17 years, and we want to make sure that they know we’re here and we are about the community,” Schiff said.

“That is what is important to us, we want to have that reaching out, bringing people in with open arms, socially distancing of course, the right way of being out there and letting them know that we’re here and we care. We want to have our students grow and learn and know what’s going on around them, because this is where they’re growing up. They should know about it.”

In his first year as principal, Schiff said he’s excited for more events that engage the community, especially local heroes like the ones who attended the ceremony. 

Richard Durso, the VFW’s post commander, said the ceremony was perfect for the students. 

“I think it’s a great thing that happened today,” Durso said. “It’s for the kids so they can understand what 9/11 is all about. None of these kids were even born when it happened, so something like this is important for them. But for me, I remember it like it was yesterday.”

Durso was 60 miles from New York City at the time, close enough to see the dark clouds of smoke.