Maryvale girls `wanted to find some way to help'

Ground Zero: On spring break, teens from the Baltimore County school visit New York children hard hit by Sept. 11.

April 10, 2002|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

Everybody wanted to know about the red blazers.

At St. Bernard's School in Brooklyn, on the New York City subway and at Ground Zero in Manhattan, the blazers worn by the 15 students from Maryvale Preparatory School in Baltimore County attracted attention.

Monday was the Maryvale teen-agers' last day of spring break, and they spent it in New York, meeting the children they had corresponded with at St. Bernard's, a Roman Catholic elementary school where an estimated 80 percent of the pupils suffered personal losses in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"The St. Bernard students were so close to the attacks," said junior Ashley Jones, 16, of White Marsh. "We just wanted to find some way to help."

Students at Maryvale, a Catholic girls school in Brooklandville, already had made a connection with St. Bernard's, corresponding with the children, donating gifts for a family at Christmas and sending Valentine's Day cards.

The girls in David Morris' theology class at Maryvale were hoping for a lasting bond with St. Bernard's, so they asked to visit the Brooklyn school. Morris, who agreed to chaperone along with his wife, Kelly, another theology teacher, also wanted the girls to see Ground Zero.

St. Bernard's welcomed the Maryvale students with banners and posters that covered hallways on all three floors of the school. Even though St. Bernard's pupils also wear school uniforms, the first question they asked the Maryvale girls was "What's with the jackets?" (For the record, the blazers with the Maryvale crest go with a kilt-style red and gray plaid skirt.)

The Maryvale girls brought souvenirs from Baltimore - bright purple scarves bearing the legend "Ravens Fever" - and then took over each classroom they visited, sitting or kneeling on the floor beside the younger children, touching their hands and talking about their favorite activities or sports or what they had done over spring break, until the principal moved the teen-agers on to the next classroom.

Sept. 11 wasn't the main topic between the older and younger students, even though it was the underlying reason for the visit.

Principal Linda Mele made a passing introduction of two third-graders - one whose mother is a Port Authority police officer who has been working 12-hour days since Sept. 11, and another youngster whose mother was injured when she tried to get into Manhattan that day to help firefighters because she is a nurse.

"We teach the students about caring," Mele said. "Today they are learning from total strangers. Maryvale students are the only ones who have visited here."

Mele said it had been a sad year for St. Bernard's, as she pointed out the third-floor window to the Manhattan skyline where she had watched smoke billowing from the World Trade Center towers and spreading into Brooklyn on Sept. 11. She estimates that 80 percent of the school's children lost relatives or friends or suffered other losses and disruptions because of the attacks.

"'We use prayer here and celebrate the good things. We've all been touched," she said.

The Maryvale students learned about St. Bernard's, which has 335 children in nursery school through eighth grade, from Dolly Dyer, Maryvale's new director of development. Dyer had worked at a social service agency in Brooklyn until October and had heard about St. Bernard's from Sister Fran Picone, regional administrator of Catholic Charities in Brooklyn.

After the visit to St. Bernard's, the Maryvale girls took the subway to lower Manhattan to visit Ground Zero, where thousands were killed.

With a gentle reminder that the site is considered sacred ground, Morris led the girls down Broadway to St. Paul's Chapel, directly across the street from where the World Trade Center once stood. St. Paul's Chapel, part of Trinity Episcopal Church, survived intact and became a haven for emergency workers in the weeks after Sept. 11

The girls walked around the chapel, staring at the wrought-iron fencing draped with banners, baseball caps, T-shirts, paper cranes and other memorabilia brought from around the world. They wanted to get a closer look at Ground Zero, but they needed timed tickets to get onto the platform - a requirement imposed because of the number of visitors to the site.

Morris asked a police officer about letting "the girls from Maryvale" see Ground Zero.

"Is it the original Maryvale?" the officer joked.

"It's the original one from Baltimore," Morris answered.

And within 10 minutes, the students and their chaperones were lined up, waiting for their turn at the top.

Once there, the students were quiet and reverent, looking down into the site and turning from side to side to see damaged buildings nearby.

The magnitude suddenly hit Katie Tana, 16, of Baldwin, tears in her eyes as she stared down.

"I didn't know it was going to be a big hole," she said.

As they descended the other side of the platform, they wanted to leave their own mark to show that they, too, cared about all those who died.

Kelly Freitage, 18, a senior and president of the Maryvale student council, removed a school pin - the paws of a lion - from her blazer and fastened it to a poster, next to the plaque with the names of all the known World Trade Center dead.

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