At East Grand Forks Senior High, German teacher Michelle Stenberg's class planned to take a trip to Germany next summer. But following July's wave of terrorist attacks throughout the country, those plans hang uncertain. Deeply concerned for students' safety, Stenberg and Principal Brian Loer chose to reschedule the trip for summer 2018.
"[Stenberg] didn't feel comfortable being the chaperone leading that charge, and I totally agree with her," Loer said of their choice to postpone the Germany trip. "I totally agree with her. I don't want to put any of our kids or chaperones in harm's way."
He said the worry that the attacks targeted tourist attractions particularly concerned Stenberg, who declined to comment for this story. Loer noted that the class still may make the trip to Germany next June should their travel agency deem the country safer by then.
More broadly, the spasm of high-profile attacks worldwide linked to the Islamic State group during the past few years has changed how today's teenagers perceive terrorism and in turn, shifted how Grand Forks students discuss current events in their global education classes.
On September 11, 2001, Central High Assistant Principal Gabe Dahl had just started his first year of teaching global education at Red River High School. His fellow social studies teacher Gene Martin knocked on his door and told him someone had just bombed the World Trade Center, though who was responsible was not yet clear. Dahl had two aunts living in New York at the time: one a flight attendant, in California when the attacks occurred, the other working in the World Trade Center but in a meeting elsewhere that morning.
Dahl's aunts sent him a magazine clipping that detailed the number of deaths in the attacks, and for years, he carried the clipping in a protective sleeve and binder to every class he taught. He doesn't carry it with him anymore, but he keeps the binder in the top left corner of his desk drawer.
The global shockwave of the Sept. 11 attacks has left no human life unaffected: At the very least, the fear of suicide bombers and gunmen around every corner has made airport security a little more annoying and at its very worst, ignited rampant Islamophobia. It has made terrorism a ubiquitous part of media coverage and political platforms.
But the uncommon nature of Earth-shaking terrorist attacks is foreign to today's students.
"They've grown up with an increased awareness of terrorist attacks throughout the world," said Central High global education teacher Nick Graves. "We see it on the news; almost every night there's something going on ... I wonder if in a way, it becomes almost normalized to them." At Central High, the freshman-level global education class typically studies the Middle East during the first academic quarter.
Graves explained that his class discussions on terrorism focus on understanding the attackers' motivations and history of the region, and he discourages any singular viewpoint.
"We don't want kids to see things one way ... it's not just religious ideologies. There's always something else on top of it, and we differentiate between those people's beliefs on what it is versus other people's beliefs on what religion is."
Because of the age-based difference in perception, Graves has found terrorism a challenging topic to teach. "[September 11] is a life event for us, but it's a historic event to them," he said. "It's very important that we make sure we identify what they know and don't know and work to fill in those gaps."
Despite the difficulty of structuring discussions about terrorism, Graves has an optimistic outlook. "Even with that unique challenge, I think everybody in this district does an incredible job of teaching it to kids."