In some ways, Sal Puglisi’s journey to becoming a high school educator began on September 11, 2001. At the time, Puglisi was an emergency medical technician with New York Weill Cornell, and he responded to the World Trade Center with his colleagues. They provided triage support and helped transport injured people to nearby hospitals.
After narrowly escaping the collapse of the North Tower, Puglisi and his partner traveled uptown to New York Weill Cornell to replenish their ambulance supplies and get ready to return to the World Trade Center and assist more people. While at the hospital, they also waited to hear news of their colleagues who had responded as well.
Later that day, Puglisi would learn that two of his regular partners—Keith Fairben and Mario Santoro—had been killed in the collapse of the towers.
“9/11 changed New York City," says Puglisi in a Stories of Hope message posted on Instagram. "It changed me personally.”
Following 9/11, he decided to change his career. He went back to school, earning his undergraduate degree and then a master's degree through the New York City Teaching Fellows program. After teaching special education in the Bronx, Puglisi discovered an opportunity that would bridge his EMT experience with his newfound teaching career: the Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management in lower Manhattan.
Working at the specialized high school where students train to become first responders, he had the unique opportunity to teach about “my colleagues and people that we had lost and put their story in context to the next generation of EMTs, police officers, firefighters.”
“One of the hardest transitions was from teaching the topic to children that were alive at the time to turning 9/11 into a history lesson,” says Puglisi. When he struggled to find educational resources, he turned to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum which offers a variety of educational activities, lesson plans, and more.
Like many educators, Puglisi struggles with the timing of September 11 when introducing students to the topic. Since the anniversary falls at the beginning of the school year before teachers have had a chance to get to know their students, it can be difficult to delve into an emotionally charged topic.
The annual 9/11 Memorial & Museum Anniversary in the Schools program, released every year on the anniversary, “is a really unique way of tackling these subjects and topics with kids […] and allow for an open dialogue,” says Puglisi.
Despite experiencing the 9/11 attacks firsthand, Puglisi says, “The Museum has completely shifted the way I teach about 9/11 […] It’s helped me redefine my craft of appealing to a new generation of learners.”
Registration is now open for this year’s Anniversary in the Schools Webinar.
By 9/11 Memorial Museum Staff