Teacher Appreciation Week: Ada Dolch

  • May 6, 2022
  • A woman with short, dark hair and red glasses, wearing a light blue shirt, smiles.
  • A woman with mid-length dark hair, wearing a white tank top and small hoop earrings, smiles.

Ada Rosario Dolch, left, and her sister Wendy Rosario Wakeford. 

As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, we proudly to share the story of 9/11 family member and extraordinarily courageous educator Ada Rosario Dolch.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Ada Rosario Dolch – principal of the High School for Leadership and Public Service in lower Manhattan – observed a school full of students preparing for classes and local residents casting votes in the city’s mayoral primary election. At 8:30 a.m. she left the building intending to walk across the street to the World Trade Center to buy a replacement battery for her watch.

She never made it outside. As she reached the lobby, the lights in the building flickered off and then back on, followed by a tremendous boom. People began pouring into the lobby with descriptions of a large airplane striking the North Tower. Dolch’s first thought was, “Oh my God, my sister Wendy is there. God please, you have to take care of Wendy because I have to take care of the kids.” Ada’s sister, Wendy Rosario Wakeford, worked on the 105th floor of the North Tower for Cantor Fitzgerald.

Seventeen minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., the South Tower was deliberately struck by a second hijacked plane, and Dolch knew it was time to evacuate. She immediately directed her staff to head to Battery Park, a location safe from the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan and large enough for all the students and staff. Dolch stood watch at the front door of the school as large groups of students – led by teachers – held each other’s hands and made their way to the park.

She was within one block of the park when the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m. Fearing for her life, she jumped over a fence and huddled beside a tree with a group of women before darkness overwhelmed her. Debris from the oncoming dust cloud filled her throat. All went dark, then gray, and as light began to peak through the dust, she immediately thought of her students. She grabbed her handheld radio to check on them, communicating with school safety officers, deans, and the assistant principals who confirmed their safety.

A black hand-held radio against a dark blue background
Photo: Jin S. Lee

The hand-held radio Dolch used on the morning of September 11.

Dolch was reunited with many of her students and staff from the school by 11 a.m., and started walking home to Brooklyn with a group them. It was then that her focus shifted to Wendy. She would learn later that, along with 657 of her Cantor Fitzgerald co-workers in the offices that morning, Wendy had been killed. 

Soon after 9/11, volunteers from across the country descended upon New York City to help support the rescue, recovery, and clean-up efforts at Ground Zero. Among them was a group of real estate brokers from California who had read about Dolch and her students and wanted to help. When they met her in New York, they asked Dolch about Wendy’s legacy.

She replied, “I’m an educator; there’s only one thing I know, and that’s education. And if we don’t teach, how will we ever learn? So we have to do something about schooling to memorialize Wendy.”

In that moment, they decided to build a school in Afghanistan. 

On July 4, 2005, that school opened its doors to over 200 students, including 25 girls. For 25 years up until that point, girls in the town had been banned from attending school. A sign adorned with Wendy's name, in Farsi, stands at the school, along with a small garden created in her memory – growing flowers on the otherwise barren, hard land.

Click here to watch Ada tell her story as a part of the Anniversary in the Schools program and find teaching guides for grades 3-12.

By Megan Jones, Vice President of Education Programs

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