On the anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, my friend Carla, whom I’ve known since fourth grade, spoke of honoring the memory of a wonderful woman by whom we’d both been taught, Sarah M. Clark.
Thanks to guest blogger, Carla Garnett for sharing her reminiscences:
Sarah Clark was the teacher every kid wanted for 6th grade—just strict enough that the classroom never fell into free-for-all, just cool enough so that class time was never too predictable. I wasn’t lucky enough to be assigned to her homeroom, and even now I clearly recall the disappointment. I did get into her math class, though. So for about an hour a day, I experienced the hipness that was “Miss” Clark’s class. (I never knew whether she was married. I remember speculating on what guy might be smart and suave enough to complement her, though. Some glorious combination of Billy Dee and Sidney, no doubt. I was saving Michael for myself, you understand. You know how pre-teen girls do.)
Miss Clark always dressed like she’d stepped right out of the pages of Ebony magazine (our fashion bible back in the day. Jet for the who-to-know, but Ebony for the what-to-wear.) All the latest styles. Gauchos. (Father, forgive us.) Ponchos. (It was the 70s, after all.) Hair done just so. I mainly recall the air of confidence she wore. That was most enviable of all, to my way of thinking. Elementary school life can be so harsh, and the culture at Keene in northeast D.C. was no different. Oh to walk with the self-assurance of Miss Clark, I would often think. She couldn’t care less about fitting in or being popular.
I remember that we talked about a lot of current events in her class and sometimes never got around to the textbook math. That was fine for me, because math was never my strongest subject. I dreaded numbers then, and they’re still not my best friend. Word problems were/are an instrument of the devil. Fortunately, most of the time Miss Clark’s lesson plans were very different.
Only much later—long after leaving Keene—did I realize her instruction was deeper than the textbook. In one memorable hour, we discussed the energy crisis at length. She managed to impart the basic concepts of economics, supply & demand, statistics, geography and politics in approximately 50-some minutes. Math suddenly had meaning for me! Thank you, Miss Clark. I wish I had gotten to tell you how good you were. On Sept. 11, when I learned you were on one of the fateful flights, I grieved—for your family and friends who had known you intimately, certainly, but also for the hundreds of kids like the 11-year-old me, who will never know you as a role model, and never experience the joy of Miss Clark’s class. Rest in peace, Miss Clark, knowing that so many of your lessons fell on fertile ground.
Carla Renee Garnett is a proud product of Washington, D.C. public schools, and still makes her home in the metropolitan area.
Sarah M. Clark, was engaged to be married to John Wesley Milton and at 65-years-old was still committed to educating the children of DC Public Schools when she and 11-year old stellar student Asia SiVon Cottom, boarded American Airlines Flight 77 bound for California, one of three student-teacher pairs from the District selected to participate in a program at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary near Santa Barbara. The National Geographic Society-funded marine research project and educational outreach program, Sustainable Seas Expeditions was to “make geography and the environment come alive for these committed, talented teachers and their star students by putting them into the field with scientists and researchers,” (NGS president and CEO, John Fahey, Jr.)
Their plane, tragically, was the one that slammed into the Pentagon where friend of my Virginia family, 36-year-old Peggie Hurt, had only two weeks prior started a new civilian position as Army accountant. Rest in peace, all.
Sarah Clark, Asia Cottom and Peggie Hurt