Back to School
Film documents post-9/11 student trauma Downtown
By Cathy Jedruczek
Students from the High School of Leadership and Public Service and the High School of Economics and Finance were in their first week of school as freshmen when they witnessed 9/11. Their lives were changed forever, yet they had to return to their schools while the clean up effort at ground zero was still under way. The view from their classrooms constantly reminded them of what a horrific experience it was.
They needed professional help to cope with trauma and fear. Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers World Trade Center Healing Services came to their rescue and, until students graduation in June 2005, provided therapy. Hope for the future a 30-minute film documents the trauma and healing process of those students. On Sept. 11 at 3 p.m., the Museum of the City of New York will host a screening of the documentary.
A lot of us felt we want to record experiences of these two Downtown schools, said Dr. Carole Patterson, the coordinator of the hospitals Child and Adolescent Program. We wanted to make sure that their experience was not lost. We wanted to show how our work with students helped them heal. Patterson explained that St. Vincents was linked up with, Howard Zuckerman and his wife Marilyn Rosenberg, independent producers and directors and began filming the documentary in November 2002.
The film records students personal reflections and art created as part of an art therapy project held around the three anniversaries of 9/11. Tables in school cafeterias were covered with paper and therapists encouraged students to illustrate what their experience was like. Patterson explained that such projects helped students deal with memories that are especially intense around anniversaries. With trauma there is an anniversary effect, said Patterson. The mind knows that it happens.
In November 2004 some students were invited to share their experiences on camera. Zuckerman and Rosenberg thought that working with teenagers would be difficult, but found the interviewing process enjoyable. Kids were enthusiastic and very forthcoming, said Rosenberg. All their feelings and memories came pouring out undiluted. It was a wonderful experience. I have great admiration for those students. Rosenberg, who is also a psychotherapist, explained that even though talking about 9/11 caused some students to get emotional it was also part of their healing process. Best way to deal with it, is to express it, she said. Part of healing is crying.
The documentary proves that students healed or that they are near their healing journey, explains Patterson. In the beginning they talked about 9/11 only, said Patterson of early counseling sessions. The film shows that the students not only healed, but they will also follow their dreams. They talk about the future. Its a sign that someone has healed from trauma.
Dr. Spencer Eth, medical director of Behavioral Health Services and vice chairperson of the Department of Psychiatry of New York Medical College will introduce the film on Sept. 11. He said that the hospital had done school counseling for a number of years and that it expanded its services to 20 schools in the Downtown area immediately after Sept. 11. Patterson said the team will go to New Orleans to help with the crisis there.