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A large display board on a school wall in the United Kingdom bears the colours of the unofficial green, white and pink flag of late 1800s Newfoundland that some still fly today as symbol of a wished-for Newfoundland independence.
Upon the board are pasted several pieces of paper — maps of Newfoundland and Labrador, and documents highlighting the province’s history, historic events and tourist destinations.
There are two big photos — one of a small boat speeding through the magnificent Western Brook Pond fjord at Gros Morne National Park, the other a recent photo of a downtown St. John’s, snow-filled street from the Jan. 17 blizzard.
The students who assembled the display — Year 5 and Year 6 (ages 10 and 11) students of Waverley School in Finchampstead, near Reading, about 20 miles west of London — have a message in large letters at the centre of the display.
“We have been looking at the geography and history of Newfoundland, to learn more about the wonderful people who opened their hearts and their homes to the Plane People, following the tragic events of 9.11.01.”
Teacher Pippa Eden says that since she and her students chose “Come From Away” as their special topic for English class, they have been “thoroughly engrossed in this real-life story.”
“I decided to do ‘Come from Away’ as a topic having seen the show and thought how engaging the subject material would be,” Eden said in an email.
“They have so far written a setting description of Gander Airport on the day the planes arrived; a diary entry based on the experiences of Kevin Tuerff — one of the plane people; a letter from one of the come from aways; a report on Newfoundland; a biography of Beverley Bass, the captain on American flight 49 which was the 38th plane to land.
“This week, it’s a newspaper report.”
Using The Telegram as their classroom paper masthead, the students each wrote newspaper articles as if they were covering the events in Gander for The Telegram following the deadly terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
Thirty-eight planes landed in Gander that day carrying around 7,000 passengers and crew. About 3,500 of those were given accommodations in Gander at schools, churches, social clubs, hotels and people’s homes while the remainder were transported to surrounding towns such as Gambo, Lewisporte, Glenwood, Grand Falls-Windsor, Appleton and Norris Arm. Other flights landed in Stephenville, Goose Bay, Deer Lake and St. John’s.
“We have Skype-called Beverley Bass, Kevin Tuerff, Nick and Diane Marson (the couple who met in Gander on 9/11 and subsequently married), as well as Brian Mosher and Oz Fudge from Gander,” Eden said. “That’s been brilliant as it’s been first-hand information for the kids and they could ask all the questions they wanted.”
The students' articles are posted on another display board on the wall.
Year 6 student Lila Walsh has her newspaper report headlined, “United in hope and great humanity.”
The first couple paragraphs of the body of Lila's report reads: “After the tragic attacks of 9/11, the people of Gander have turned a sad day into a loving and generous one. On the Tuesday morning, 38 planes arrived in the tiny airport. However, the warm-hearted Newfoundlanders have opened their doors and looked after these come from aways.”
Student Chloe Mabil said that, as a class, they learned from the project that no one in the world is superior to anyone else, no matter where they are from.
"I learnt that the Newfoundlanders saw the come from aways different to what we (as in the whole world) would have seen," Mabil said in an email. "We would have seen 7,000 strangers but they saw 7,000 potential friends."
The award-winning Broadway musical “Come From Away” is based on the true story of what happened in Gander during the days following the terrorist attacks. The musical was written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein.
A version of the musical is currently playing at the Phoenix Theatre in London. And that’s where Eden’s class went to cap off their project.
Eden said the students found the show “completely captivating from start to finish.”
“The show was AWESOME!!!,” Eden stated in an email. “Kids totally loved it!”