On the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, Linden Fire Chief Joseph Dooley addressed Linden High School students on Monday. And with help from technology, Linden High School’s partner school in Allen, TX, joined the ceremony via video conference.

By Gary Miller

Linden Fire Chief Joseph Dooley spoke Monday at a unique 9/11 remembrance service at Linden High School that brought together students from New Jersey and Texas.

The commemoration centered around a video conference with high school students in Allen, TX, whose high school reached out to Linden in the spirit of unity and compassion shortly after 9/11. The two schools have maintained a close relationship ever since through their “Tale of Two Cities” program.

“As a New Jersey fireman, the idea that people in Texas cared about us opened my eyes,” Dooley said to the students in Allen, via video conference from Linden High School’s Academy of Science and Technology. “The fact that your schoolmates, your alumni, cared enough to come up here to find out about us, what was happening, it meant a lot. It meant we weren’t alone.

“Now 16 years later, you can see the same thing happening for your state. As you deal with Hurricane Harvey, as Florida deals with Hurricane Irma, there are police, fire and EMS workers from New York and New Jersey in Texas, in Florida, because we’ve never forgotten. People took care of us during that time, and that’s something we will always remember.”

The program also featured current and former students who were part of the “Tale of Two Cities” program, which over the years has brought students and faculty from the two schools together in both Texas and New Jersey.

Board of Education member Theresa Villani also spoke at Monday’s remembrance about her personal experience working in the World Trade Center and losing co-workers on 9/11.

“I think something like this really helps keep the memory alive of the people we lost,” she told students during the video conference.

Joseph Cataline, an administrator who helped found the program in October 2001, said it has been his passion.

“I’ve been in education for 45 years, and this program has been the highlight of my career,” said Cataline, who was honored last school year with the prestigious September 11th Teacher Award by the 9/11 Tribute Center in New York. “Over the years, I have gained so many personal friends in Allen, Texas, I feel often that they are part of my family.”

Linden High School Principal Yelena Horre said the students in the program were able to take the tragedy of 9/11 and make “something really beautiful.”

“Sitting with me today, and there in Allen, are students that don’t remember 9/11. But you keep it going, because you understand the importance of that. Allen and Linden, we’re a family,” Horre said. “We will continue to keep the charge, and make sure that we never forget the heroes of 9/11.”

# # #

This year, the “Tale of Two Cities” program has led to the start of the Pal Peers class at the high school. The class will pair high school students with elementary school students to act as mentors, and encourages students in the class to set an example for the rest of the students in the high school.

“This is no longer a club,” Horre said. “Now it’s a class. I’m so incredibly proud of you. You’ve been selected because of who you are in and out of the classroom. We’re not just about 9/11, we’re about showing a better way. About living a life that makes you proud and is an example to others.”

Nicole Campo, one of the teachers of the new Peer Pals class, said Monday was her first time taking part in the 9/11 event. “When Mrs. Horre offered me the opportunity, she promised me it would be fulfilling,” she said. “Just from today, I can tell she is 100 percent telling the truth.”