Ada Dolch was the principal of the High School for Leadership and Public Service, located one block south of the World Trade Center. The school’s mission is to teach students how to give back to their communities through public service. The students came from all 5 boroughs of NYC and they took subway trains that let them off in the concourse of the World Trade Center to get to school.
On the morning of September 11th, a student ran in with tears running down his face and said he had just seen a plane strike one of the towers. As more people came into the lobby in shock, Principal Dolch asked which tower had been hit because her sister Wendy worked in an office at the top of the North Tower. There was confusion, and suddenly they heard a second explosion as the second plane hit the South Tower which was closer to the school. Principal Dolch knew then that she had to get the students out of the building. She evacuated them to the very southern tip of Manhattan.
Along the way she heard an enormous crackling sound and a cloud of dust covered them, making the students no longer visible. Eventually half of the students got on ferries to Staten Island and New Jersey while Principal Dolch and others walked over the Brooklyn Bridge.
For months after the attacks the blocks around the World Trade Center site were restricted. Students had to relocate and share another school building about 3 miles away until February 2002. During that time, they received gifts, letters of empathy, and support from all over the country.
When the students could return to their school, Principal Dolch told them that they were “history makers,” that people would want to talk with them about this for the rest of their lives, to ask what they saw from the windows, to ask how they felt, to ask how they evacuated. She didn’t want them to walk away with hatred in their hearts, she wanted them to look at the ways people supported each other after September 11th, how people came forward and did whatever they could to help others to heal and rebuild after the tragedy.