The Linden High School Peer Pals class gathered with special guests for a teleconference with their partner school in Allen, Texas, to mark the 17th anniversary of 9/11. 

By Gary Miller

Linden High School and Allen High School in Allen, Texas, renewed their long-standing partnership on Tuesday, Sept. 11, for a teleconference marking the 17th anniversary of 9/11.

The featured speaker was John Lara, who was 24-year Navy veteran and a White House chef on 9/11 and later spent time as a teacher at Allen High School. He spoke from Allen and was viewed on a large screen at the LHS Academy of Science and Technology by staff and students involved in the Peer Pals program, as well as other guests.


Lara told of being sent to the bunker beneath the White House with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and of a close friend who lost his son on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

“I’m humbled to be here and to see that generations, year after year, learn about 9/11 and the aftermath,” he said.

The “Tale of Two Cities” program between Linden and Allen grew out of the aftermath of 9/11, when students and staff from Allen reached out to a school in the Northeast in a gesture of unity.

educator speaking at ceremony

Joseph Cataline, a Linden Public Schools technology specialist, talking about the roots of the "Tale of Two Cities" program, which started shortly after 9/11.

Joseph Cataline, a technology specialist in Linden, told of how the program started after the ceremony. He met Linda Snap of Allen at a technology conference and she reached out to him after the attack.

“She said, ‘Joe, I know how close to New York City you are,’” he recalled. “She said the kids here are so wrapped up in what’s happening in the Northeast. Would you like to put something together about 9/11?”

The first teleconference was a simple meeting between groups from the two high schools, but grew into a partnership that has lasted 17 years. It led to the formation of the Linden Peer Pals club, which became a regular class in 2017.

Students from each high school take turns visiting each other every other year. Allen High students came to Linden in April, and Linden students will go to Allen in 2020.

Linden Board of Education Vice President Theresa Villani spoke at the ceremony about how the attack on the World Trade Center affected her personally. Her husband was near the Twin Towers when the South Tower fell, and he took shelter under a van. She passed around the clothes that he was wearing that day, enclosed in plastic bags. They are still coated in the dust from the World Trade Center’s collapse.

board of education member speaking at ceremony

Board of Education Vice President Theresa Villani showing the clothes her husband was wearing when he was nearly caught in the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Linden High School Principal Yelena Horré spoke about how the partnership of the two schools makes something great out of something tragic.

“That something like this can rise up, something that is so good and so unique, it speaks not only of the human spirit but of the American spirit,” she said. “Two such different schools, but really such good friends. I am so proud of the students here and of the students there who keep this tradition alive.

“They have vowed to remember not only the heroes of 9/11 but also the families that lost loved ones. It’s just such an unspeakable tragedy, but thank you for making something good come from that.”

Two former students from the Peer Pals club came back for the ceremony: Trevor Evan, a 2014 graduate who is on leave from the Marine Corps; and Jenise Banks, a 2010 graduate who this year was hired as a social worker at Soehl Middle School.

Peer Pals students who spoke at the ceremony included Jorge Orlando Flechas, Anthony Golabek, Hajari Tucker and Marizel Yequi. Natalie Perez lit two candles during the ceremony to symbolize the partnership of the two schools, while two candles were lit simultaneously in Allen.

Guests at the ceremony included Board of Eduation members Dawn Beviano and Tracey Birch; Business Administrator Kathleen A. Gaylord; Director of Human Resources Michele Dorney; and Director of Technology Michael Walters.

The Peer Pals are led by teachers Nicole Campo and Cherie Pizzano, social worker Ryan Devaney, and technician David Bolduc.

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two photos of cadets at flag poles

The Linden High School NJROTC held a ceremony on the morning of Sept. 11. The top 50 cadets formed up and raised the flags at the high school’s main building and at the Academy of Science and Technology as taps was playing in honor of those lost on 9/11.

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speaker talking to fifth-graders

Michael Urbanski of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness speaking at School No. 8.

School No. 8 held a special program in honor of 9/11 on Monday, Sept. 10. Michael Urbanski of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness visited the school to give students in Angela Paternostro’s, Richard Marcino’s, and Kelly Ginart’s fifth-grade classes an age-appropriate lesson about 9/11 and how it changed our world.

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two photos of students greeting firefighters
The students of  School No. 2 welcomed the Linden Fire Department on Tuesday for a Sept. 11 ceremony. The students read poetry, sang patriotic songs, and presented thank you cards to the firefighters to thank them for their service.