Emmas take the essay-writing prizes in the Andrew Stern Memorial Essay Contest

Brendan Murray Long Island Herald

Each year, students from the East Rockaway School District compete in the Andrew Stern Memorial Essay Contest, in memory of Stern, an East Rockaway resident and alumnus who lost his life in the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. This year’s winners displayed a fitting, if accidental, tribute to him.

The winners of this year’s Andrew Stern Memorial Essay Contest and members of Stern’s family. Brendan Murphy, LI Herald

The winners of this year’s Andrew Stern Memorial Essay Contest and members of Stern’s family. Brendan Murphy, LI Herald

“Each year when we review the essays we do so anonymously, each essay has a number rather than a name,” said Stern’s sister, Lisa Burch, smiling. “This year when I emailed the superintendent with the numbers, and she let me know the names of the students that won, I was a really taken aback and I thought there must have been a mistake. Each of our three winners is named Emma, and that is Andrew’s daughter’s name.”

Emma Foley-Sapio, Emma Neary and Emma Nicoletti received the elementary school, middle school, and high school awards, respectively, at Feb. 24’s board of education meeting. Their essays this year focused around the newly opened National September 11 Memorial and Museum, located at the site of the former World Trade Center, and how it can be used to educate visitors about the events of that day.

“I was very surprised and really happy when I found out about the award,” Neary, an eighth grader at East Rockaway Middle School, said. She visited the memorial with her class earlier this year, and said she’s seen first hand just what a powerful teaching tool it can be. “We visited the museum earlier this year and it was just an incredible place to see and I learned so much there.”

Her essay focused on the power of a museum to educate future students in ways that lesson plans and textbooks cannot.

“When I visited the museum, I never knew about all the people that were missing. I always assumed people knew right away what happened,” she wrote. “In 100 years, a child can visit and learn how on that day, two towers fell, and the world changed forever.”

Nicoletti’s essay said the memorial showed visitors one part of that day that would be almost impossible to see without firsthand testimony found in the museum.

“It can be used as a tool for immigrants or international travelers, so they can learn about what happened,” said the East Rockaway High School Senior. “Visitors can understand the heartbreak of how normal that day was, and how the events surprised everyone.”

Foley-Sapio, a fifth-grade student at Centre Avenue Elementary School, said the news that she had won the contest had taken her completely by surprise.

“When I found out that I won, it was first thing in the morning and I was tired I was so surprised and excited that I woke right up,” she said.

In her essay, she wrote about how her own experience at a historic site taught her more about the Civil War than she had learned in school.

“Last year I visited the Gettysburg Museum and battlefields,” she said. “It was amazing and I felt like I was actually there, and what it might have been like at that battle where so many soldiers died…Now there is another museum built at the location of a terrible, tragic day in our history. The museum is located at the actual site of the World Trade Center, and it was built to honor the people who fought for their lives on 9/11…Students can come to this museum and learn about those events at the place where it happened, which is better than reading about it in a history book or seeing it on video.”

Burch, who attended the awards presentation along with Stern’s mother, Barbara Stern, and his brother, Michael Stern, said she is proud of the legacy her brother left behind.

“I’m so grateful that the school district has made this effort to make sure no one ever forgets what happened that day, or forget Andrew,” Burch said. “The students who wrote really took it seriously and really did their research.”

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