Students from Allen High School in Allen, Texas, visited with Linden High School students April 12-15, continuing a long-running partnership that traces its roots to 9/11. The students went to the Jersey Shore and New York City during the visit.
By Gary Miller
Out of tragedy, something special continues to blossom between Linden High School and Allen High School in Allen, Texas.
The latest example of this long-running friendship came April 12 to 15, when LHS played host to 28 students and staff members from Allen as part of the long-running “Tale of Two Cities” program.
The two schools have had a special relationship since shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Students and staff from Allen reached out to Linden High School after 9/11 in a gesture of sympathy and unity, showing that schools all over the country were thinking of students in the Northeast.
“It started because of the horrific events of 9/11 and now it’s evolved into just a terrific friendship and camaraderie between the two schools, even though we’re 1,500 miles apart,” said J.D. Walker, the PALS coordinator for Allen High School. “I’ve been in education for 28 years and I can honestly say this is the highlight of my educational career.”
Walker said he counts Joseph Cataline, a tech specialist at Linden High School who started the program at Linden, as one of his closest friends.
“It’s unexplainable until you’re part of the program to see what’s happening,” Walker said. “The way the kids bond together, it’s like they’ve known each other, like they’re long-lost cousins.”
During this most recent visit by the Allen PALS, which stands for peer assistance and leadership, the students had a meet-and-greet on April 12 with food donated by Chevy’s in Linden, followed by a grand entrance and breakfast reception at the school on April 13. A giant Texas flag that Allen High School had given Linden in 2004 hung over the main entrance. Advisors Ryan Devaney, Nicole Campo, Cherie Pizzano and Dave Bolduc, and LHS secretary Kelly Vitoroulis worked on setting up the gym, decorating, and arranging for food and music.
“The ‘Tale of Two Cities’ program is extremely special to us here in Linden,” said Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi. “This amazing friendship with Allen, Texas, remains strong because it was kindled by their incredible kindness after an unthinkable tragedy. The fact that the program has endured for so long – when current students are too young to even remember 9/11 – is a great testament to the dedication of the educators from both schools.”
Though for many students it was the first time meeting one another in person, they know each other through frequent conversations online. The two groups videoconference with each other once a month, starting with a 9/11 memorial ceremony each September. And with advancements in technology, the students can talk face-to-face much more often.
In the spring of each year, the schools take turns visiting each other, and a few years ago student began staying with host families.
“They get to stay two nights at the host homes and see what’s life like in Jersey, or when the Jersey kids come down, what’s life like in Texas,” Walker said. “They get to see the differences and similarities. It teaches them leadership, it teaches them how to get out of their comfort zone.”
Also during the recent visit, the student traveled to the Jersey Shore, where they worked on cleaning up a beach, and New York City, where they visited the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and attended the Broadway show “Come from Away.”
“This bond will last hopefully the rest of our lives,” said Linden senior Toni Frino. “It’s such a short weekend but so many memories and it’s such a good experience. I’m happy I got to do it.
“I think more schools should have something like this. I know there are foreign exchanges and things like that. But this is such a different kind of thing because you see differences within our country. I think it’s awesome how tragedy brought us together.”
The current students involved in the Tale of Two Cities program are too young to remember 9/11, but they realize how special it is that their relationship came from something so terrible.
“It’s a testament to Americans’ ability to come together and find common ground,” Parker Primrose, a senior from Allen, said in a speech to the group Friday morning. “We have a lot of differences but we also have a lot of similarities. This is a great program to illustrate that. I really enjoy my time getting to know you guys and I’m looking forward to the rest of the memories this weekend.”
The two schools came together earlier this school year to help another Texas school: Kingwood High School in Humble, Texas, was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. When Linden students heard that their partners in Allen were raising funds to help, they wanted to pitch in. Linden’s Peer Pals sold wristbands throughout the district and raised $3,000 to help rebuild Kingwood.
“I’m just humbled and blessed to be a part of the program,” said Walker. “I can’t believe it’s been going on this long, and I hope it’s going on another 20 years. I hope it continues way past when I’m gone.”