AVON LAKE, Ohio - Its a late summer evening along Lake Erie in Lorain County. School has been in session for a few weeks and the temperature sits comfortably in the high 70's.
While most of the students of Avon Lake High School bolt through the exits at the school day's end, a few stay behind, as their work for the evening is just beginning.
Students of the school's key club have an annual tradition to keep up—a tradition that includes the placement of 2,996 flags on the lawn of the school to honor each person who lost their life in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The students say it's important to remind themselves and their community of what happened that day, and to never forget the bravery and the sacrifice that took place in the days following the attacks.
For these students, studying about 9/11 and talking about 9/11 is part of the culture at Avon Lake High School under the guidance of teacher and Key Club advisor, Gjergj Haxhiu. Their knowledge and passion for the subject is evident as they describe the school's memorial, which includes bronze plaques for three former students who died while serving in the U.S. military.
Listening to them speak about 9/11, it's hard to believe these students were between the ages of 3 and 5 on that day in 2001.
The school's 9/11 memorial garden is the only one of its kind in Northeast Ohio. The memorial is the culmination of work by students past and present and is still a work in progress today.
The main focal point is a statue that sits in the midst of a reflecting pool. It is comprised of three pieces; an arrow made of five parts to represent the Pentagon, a part that resembles an eye representing the victims of Flight 93 looking down from heaven and a portion of twisted metal the represents the World Trade Center twin towers.
A dogwood tree sits in the far corner of the atrium to pay tribute to Army Captain Michael Medders, a 2001 Avon Lake high grad who died in action serving in Iraq in 2008. On the opposite side of the atrium hangs an American flag that flew over Iraq after Medder's death.
Haxhiu said that what started as a simple project of transforming a bland courtyard has now turned into an outdoor classroom and a place for reflection. The flags placed outside the school each year on September 11 have become a fixture for the community and school members alike.
The students are grateful for the community support that has enabled them to build a lasting memorial and hope that they will soon be able to add beacon lights that will point skywards and be visible from the main roads outside of the school.
If you would like to donate to the Avon Lake High School 9/11 memorial project, please contact Gjergj Haxhiu at 440-933-6290 ext. 1106 or Gjergj.Haxhiu@avonlakecityschools.org .