COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — When talking about Sept. 11, 2001, we use the phrase, “Never forget,” and it’s one a local social studies teacher takes to heart.

Aaron Stamper is a social studies teacher at Columbus International High School.

For him, Sept. 11 is always a very important day in the classroom, but he said over the course of his 20 years of teaching, the lesson has changed.

“With teaching, that’s what I try to explain to the kids. When I first started 20 years ago, I didn’t have to teach 9/11. I just added my story. That’s changed quite a bit. Now it is explaining and teaching to the kids what happened on 9/11 and how our lives have changed since,” Stamper said.

Today, September 11, 2023, he started his classes off by asking students to list one thing they know about the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

He said that every year, he asks a variation of this question to gauge how much the students know and adjusts the lesson based on that.

This year, he said he got answers like there was a terrorist attack and two planes hit the twin towers.

Stamper said over the years, these answers have changed too.

“My connection to 9/11 is very personal, like you said, very vivid, but 22 years later, it’s not the same way in everybody’s mind,” Stamper said.

Stamper was there at ground zero. He went there with his uncle, an emergency room doctor. Stamper was in college at The University of Akron at the time.

Stamper said while he and his uncle were driving from Ohio to New York, they actually got pulled over for speeding on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

He said when they told the state trooper what they were going to do, the trooper told them then you actually aren’t driving fast enough – and gave them a police escort the rest of the way there. They arrived on September 12. He said they thought they were going to be doing triage, but by then everyone who could evacuate Manhattan was already gone.

“They had a makeshift morgue that was set up and we were identifying bodies and transporting them to the morgue. The reason we were doing that, we were asked as soon as we got there by the police and firemen if we would do it because the bodies, they were picking up were their own and it was a very difficult job for them to do. And so, we were happy to help out,” Stamper said.

He said they did this for three days straight and it is something that will stick with him forever.

“When we got back, I had some nightmares seeing the faces of moms and brothers and sisters, husbands and wives who were still searching and holding out hope that their loved one would be found,” Stamper said. “They would show us pictures of their loved ones, they would even tell us nicknames to call out in case they didn’t respond to their name.”

Stamper said each year he tells his story and shows the boots he wore on that mission. The boots still have actual dust from ground zero on them. He said each year the students know less.

“I think that’s my challenge as a teacher to help them to understand why it should be as interesting as something they saw on TikTok last night,” Stamper said.

His goal every year on Sept. 11, he said, is that the students leave his class wanting to know more.

“I love it because as I tell the story it’s something that they actually look up from their phones and will pay attention to and so it grabs their attention and they will hear the message,” Stamper said.

Stamper said other messages he hopes his students leave class with is how the country changed after 9/11 and the unity in our country on September 12.