Alicia Johnson, 14, admits her memories of Sept. 11, 2001, aren't as clear as those of the older teens and adults she knows. "It's kind of fuzzy, since it was in second grade," she said.

Nevertheless, she and about 300 other students her age spent half a day in community service projects on Friday in observance of Bloomington Oak Grove Middle School's sixth-annual Tom Burnett Jr. Day of Service.

Burnett, a Bloomington native and Jefferson High graduate, was among the passengers who battled the terrorists on board United Airlines Flight 93, thwarting the hijackers' plans to crash the jetliner into the White House or U.S. Capitol. Instead, it went down in a rural Pennsylvania field.

The eighth-graders washed windows, played shuffleboard with senior citizens, sorted used goods and performed other tasks at six nonprofit sites around the area as a follow-up to lessons inspired by the heroics of the Bloomington native and others on board Flight 93.

Burnett's niece, former Bloomington teacher Kathleen West, and Oak Grove's dean of students, Renee Sbrocco, introduced the initiative six years ago, in the months after the terrorist attacks. Since then, Oak Grove eighth-graders have studied citizenship and learned about other inspirational people such as Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr. as part of the service program.

Johnson and 13-year-olds Jackie Asomani and Cynthia Limsuwan discussed Burnett and others whose lives they had studied as they washed windows at the Good Samaritan senior residential facility in Inver Grove Heights.

"When [Anne Frank] was trapped in an attic she tried to be happy despite her worries," Limsuwan said. Asomani agreed that Frank's heroism was remarkable.

After cleaning windows and furniture and meeting residents of the center, the trio and their classmates boarded school buses and returned to Oak Grove for a program in memory of Burnett.

Burnett's parents, Tom and Bev Burnett of Northfield, attended the celebration. They sat in the front row of the auditorium as Oak Grove students and teachers discussed their citizenship lessons and recounted their volunteer projects.

Almost every student in the room wore a T-shirt bearing Burnett's name. Some students sported buttons with the words he said to his wife, Deena Burnett, during one of their final phone calls: "We're going to do something."

The Burnetts maintain close ties to Bloomington schools. Their foundation awards two $1,000 scholarships to a senior from each of Bloomington's high schools each year.

Jeremy Storelee, an Oak Grove social studies teacher, said the school's students have contributed more than $40,000 to the fund over the years by organizing car washes, ice cream socials and other fundraisers.

On Friday, they contributed $3,500. Bev Burnett said the foundation would match the money dollar for dollar.

"He was just like you," said Tom Burnett Sr. as he collected a large ceremonial check.

Near the end of the ceremony, students watched a slide show with still photos and music in honor of Burnett and others who died on 9/11. Afterward, dozens of students crowded around the Burnetts and thanked them for their visit while sharing details about their community service trip.

Johnson stood a few feet away as Tom Burnett Sr. spoke to one of her classmates. Her eyes were red and puffy. She wouldn't move closer to Burnett despite encouragement from friends who had met the gentle, white-haired man.

"This is where I get shy," Johnson said.

Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395