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Lessons of 9-11


Graphic novel helps Almont teacher bring history in focus



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November 22, 2017
ALMONT — Today's high school students are exposed nearly daily to incidents of terrorism and violence in the media.

Such is the new normal for those of us living in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Though young people are constantly deluged with news reports of terrorism around the world and in the U.S., they have no personal recollection of the events themselves.

Eighteen-year Almont High School social studies and history teacher Mark Sosnowski wants to help fill that educational void for his students.

He recently applied for and was awarded a $380 grant from the Lapeer County Community Foundation's Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) to purchase 30 graphic novels for students in his World History and 'Cold War & Beyond' classes.

Entitled the 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, the book was co-authored by well-known graphic artists Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon, and is presented in a comic-strip format.

Noting that graphic novels are growing in popularity among teenagers, Sosnowski said he was inspired by the work of Almont High School alumni, Dr. Nick Sousanis.

Now a professor at San Francisco State University, Sousanis' dissertation, Unflattening, was published as a graphic novel. "My hope is to help my students understand the historical background behind these events and the ensuing 'war on terror,'" said Sosknowski. "That can be a challenge for teachers and educators."

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Students in Mark Sosnowski's history classes display the new books they will use in their study of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. and the long-term consequences that continue to shape our and their lives.

Sosnowski said students in his Cold War & Beyond class will be the first to read the graphic novels as part of the class's unit on the United States' War of Terrorism.

He added that students in his World History class will also be reading the books.

"Understanding the events of 9/11 and the War on Terror can be rather complex," said Sosnowski. "We live in a world that is very visual. Graphic novels present a unique avenue for students to learn about history.

"Drawings are often useful in helping promote discussion among students while learning about particular topics.

"I personally believe the authors (Jacobson and Colon) do a great job of presenting these events in a thoughtful, interactive way that appeals to students."

"As a teacher," Sosnowski said, "I'm always looking for new and innovative ways to help my students learn."

Students' opinions

Some of Sosnowski's students were eager to opine about the value of graphic novels as modern teaching and learning tools.

High school senior Nathan Thomas said graphic novels can be uniquely helpful to students during the learning process.

"It allows the reader to not only learn the facts, dates and events, but the depictions of those events," said Nathan. "That helps students truly develop a full sense of the magnitude of history."

Senior Sean Fitzgerald is another of Sosnowski's students who realizes the importance of understanding history as it relates to the present day.

"The ability to visualize something we are too young to remember is an important part of teaching history," said Sean. "Not teaching us about September 11 would be akin to not teaching kids about D-Day."

Eleventh grader Jace Rinke shares his schoolmates' curiosity about the nation's most deadly terror attack.

"Everyone should have a good working knowledge about the events of September 1, 2001," Jace said. "This graphic novel gives Almont High School students a chance to learn about this devastating event in a meaningful way."

Shared effort

Sosnowski acknowledged the support and generosity of others who assisted in acquiring the modern teaching format.

"I want to thank the Lapeer County Community Foundation for their generous support," he said. "Thanks also to (Almont) Supt. Dr. Bill Kalmar and high school Principal Tim Woelkers for encouraging me to apply for the grant. Both administrators support innovative teaching and encourage the teaching staff to apply for available grants.

Nancy Boxey, Executive Director of the Lapeer County Community Foundation, credited the organization's Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) for recognizing the value of graphic novels for today's students.

"It is interesting to note that the age of current YAC members means many of them may not have been born at the time of the 9/11 attacks," said Boxey, "further heightening the need for them to understand the impact of that day.

"When reviewing grant applications," Boxey said, "our YAC students pay close attention to projects that address specific needs of youth at the local and countywide level."

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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