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Teachers, Pupils Slain in Pentagon Crash Honored


WASHINGTON — In a tearful but joyous memorial service, First Lady Laura Bush paid tribute Wednesday to three students and three teachers from a Washington school who died when their plane crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

The first lady joined classmates and faculty at the Bertie Backus Middle School in a ceremony that featured singing, dancing and shared memories of the six victims. The students had won a National Geographic competition and, escorted by their teachers, were headed to the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara for a four-day field workshop.

"The story of their lives is unique and wonderful," said Bush, who stood before a giant American flag. "They left us too soon, but we will not forget them. Today we are thinking of them and celebrating their lives."

The students--Asia Cottom, Bernard Brown Jr. and Rodney Dickens--will be remembered for their scholastic achievement, their thirst for learning and the memories of childhood joys that each left behind, their classmates said.

Sixth-grader Angelo Bynum described Dickens as his best friend, who loved Pokemon and was always willing to help others with schoolwork. Third-grader Kenneth Horn said Brown "could beat me in basketball, but couldn't beat me in football."

And sixth-grader Porsha Bynum said Cottom loved to dance and jump rope double-Dutch style.

The students applauded as their classmates sang and performed dances honoring their lost classmates and the three dedicated instructors: sixth-grade teachers Sarah Clark and Hilda Taylor, and James Debeuneure, who taught fifth grade.

Tears rolled down the cheeks of students and teachers alike as sixth-grader Ayana Reed performed her original song "If It Is to Be" about the dream of graduating from college--a dream shared by all of the three students.

In the immediate aftermath of the trauma, crisis teams offered counseling to the students, said Gary Washington, school's principal. The students' spirits have gradually lifted since then, he said.

On Wednesday, the first lady offered further encouragement to the more than 200 students from three schools who attended the ceremony.

"It might feel like winter in your hearts right now," Bush said. "But just as the brighter days of summer will be back soon, so will the joy and happiness return to our hearts."

She gave each of the students a copy of "The Children's Book of America," a colorful book that uses history, folk tales, songs and poems to capture what it means to be an American. The first lady also stressed the importance of focusing on family, friends and faith. But comfort, she said, can also come in the form of a book.

The memories of the six victims will also be honored with memorial plaques and scholarships.

The Best Friends Foundation, a youth program for girls, donated plaques in honor of each victim; the students' plaques will be dubbed the Star Award, while the teachers' plaques will be called the Eagle Award. Every year, the names of outstanding students and dedicated teachers will be added to the plaques.

Also, Catherine B. Reynolds, president of a foundation bearing her name, announced the creation of six $10,000 scholarships in the victims' names.

Three will go to Washington seniors graduating next spring. The other three will be awarded to graduates in the Class of 2008--the year Cottom, Brown and Dickens would have graduated from high school.

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