(Photo by Kelsey Klont)
On Monday, September 11, 2023, Bellevue Junior/Senior High School held their first 9/11 Memorial Challenge. During the week leading up to this event many of the students had been learning about and reviewing what occurred on that pivotal day 22 years ago.
To honor the heroic first responders of September 11, 2001, the 9/11 Memorial Challenge offered students the choice of three activities. Climbing up and down the entire length of the bleachers – 24 laps in total, nearly 2,200 steps – simulated the 110 stories of the Twin Towers. Another option was to walk four miles on the track. This challenge was to remember Stephen Siller, an off-duty fireman who ran with his full gear through the closed NYC tunnels to get to the Twin Towers that tragic morning. Sadly, Siller did not survive the collapse of the towers. To further honor Siller’s actions, some of the Bellevue students walked with full gear supplied by the Bellevue Fire Department. The third option was to watch a 9/11 remembrance movie and discuss the impact of that day. Each student wore a badge with the name of a fallen first responder to honor them by carrying that badge to the finish line. Nearly 95% of the Bellevue Junior/Senior High School student body turned out to participate and honor the fallen heroes from this catastrophic historical event.
Bellevue teacher Danny Brininstool started the Memorial Challenge with the help and support of the Bellevue Fire Department and other staff members. “Seeing the active participation from the students and their eagerness to honor these fallen heroes is truly great,” said Brininstool. “It is sad that we have been so desensitized to what happened 22 years ago. Our goal is to continue to bring recognition to that sacrifice,” he explained. “I am glad that we are doing this challenge to remember what happened.”
Brininstool went on to say that in years past when his classes discussed the tragic events of September 11, he would have his students climb the bleachers a few times and check their heart rate after just a few levels. Then they discussed what it would have been like for a firefighter in full gear and imagined helping someone down those flights of stairs. Brininstool said, “Last year the students asked, ‘why don’t we do this for real and climb the level of stairs they would’ve climbed?’ and the idea was born.”
Lt. Josh Houghtaling says, “Danny came to us a month ago wanting to do a 9/11 stair climb for the kids in order to commemorate those we lost all those years ago.” Both the school and the fire department see this becoming an annual event, whereas Brininstool hopes there will be community involvement to allow participation beyond just the students in the future.
A moment of silence was held at 8:46 a.m. in memory of when the first tower was struck. The school continued to announce the timeline of attacks throughout the day as the students worked toward completing their challenge. Remarkably almost every single student that was able to participate finished the walk, and more than 150 students completed the bleacher climb.
“The kids exceeded our expectations with their participation and sense of honor that they approached this with, and we couldn’t be more proud of how well they represented the community of Bellevue. It was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever been a part of during my time in education,” shared Brininstool.
Collectively, all the donations made between the Bellevue Junior/Senior High School and Fire Department, along with donations from local business sponsors, are going to the Tunnel to Towers Organization, founded by Stephen Siller’s family. The 9/11 Memorial Challenge ensures ongoing recognition for the sacrifices of the first responders and the victims of 9/11. It also serves as a reminder to recognize our local first responders and their dedication and sacrifices made while serving the Bellevue community.
It was an amazing sight to see Bellevue students come together with so much heart, honoring the victims and striving to Never Forget.