Monday night’s school board meeting was anything but ordinary. Before family, friends, and staff, two groups of students were given special recognition for outstanding work.
“I am beyond proud of what we have here tonight. Our National History Day competitors, our junior division and our senior division, two separate teams, the middle school team and the high school team, both won first in the nation,” said Superintendent Katherine Metrick. “That blows my mind.”
Kutztown Middle School students Tyler Pensyl, Emily Burch, Abbie Boyer, and Meredith Ache, felt they could take first place in nationals at the competition. They came up against a record high of more than 2,873 students participating in this five-day event and not only placed first, but their exhibit, “The Idea of a Conquerable West: The Maps of Lewis and Clark As a Turning Point in Westward Expansion,” was chosen out of all of the Pennsylvania exhibits to be displayed at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Behring Center.
“We all looked around at each other. We gave hugs to our advisors, gave hugs to each other and we were just all in shock,” said Abbie Boyer. “You have to work together. If you don’t work together, it’s just going to be a complete mess. No matter how frustrated you get with each other, you have to deal with it and work through it and forget about it by the next day.”
The team knew they needed to work a little more on the bibliography after the state competition. Boyer said although they did more research, most of it stayed pretty much the same. During the five days of competition, the team presented their project at the University of Maryland, met with Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. at the Capitol in Harrisburg where they received a tour as well, traveled to the Smithsonian to present their exhibit, and then back to the competition to find out the results.
“It was awesome going to the Capitol,” said Emily Burch. “It was the highlight of my day.”
“I want to be a congressman when I’m older,” said Tyler Pensyl, who has wanted to be a senator or house representative since fifth grade and now even more so after his visit to the Capitol.
Meredith Ache was impressed that the senator took time out of his schedule to meet with the team. Boyer said he met special with them to accommodate the team’s schedule of competition and exhibition at the Smithsonian.
“He talked to us about school and stuff and he talked to us about our futures,” said Ache. “He cared what we had to say.”
For Carolyn Wasser, NHD coach, former student and once a first place NHD winner, she felt it was good for the students to show the senators what they did and was glad for them to be recognized by the senator for the work they put in.
The high school team, Emily Reiss, Trinity Hamm and Spencer Miller, did not have the opportunity to go to Harrisburg, but their exhibit, “Adding More Oil to the Anti-War Fire: The Impact of the Tet Offensive Within and Beyond the Vietnam War,” will continue to go on tour.
“First our exhibit is going in the state museum for a couple of months out in Harrisburg and then it’s going to the Army Heritage Center in Carlisle and then it’s going to the VA in Allentown,” said Hamm.
Hamm said her Pappy arranged for it to also be in the VFW in Breinigsville.
“It was just a very surreal experience for us because none of us were expecting it; it was just incredible,” said Reiss.
“Thank you for allowing us the funding to go,” Hamm said before the school board.
Miller said the project has helped him with doing research which he had never done like that before.
“I think it prepares us for college very well,” said Hamm. “My mom said that she didn’t do this extensive of research in getting her masters so to do this as a high school student, I think that’s pretty amazing.”
Alexander Lanyi, who had placed first in junior individual website at the state competition, took seventh at nationals, “which was still a good thing. This was my first time ever doing a national history project and it was a first time for Kutztown ever going in a website category.”
His website was entitled, “Testing Mankind: Bikini Atoll as a Turning Point in America’s Nuclear Mindset.”
Beth Patten, teacher and co-advisor, said, “I think that this is really showing that public education really works.”
Kutztown High School Principal Rebecca Beidelman noted that considering the social studies department is now down to just four members as opposed to five and six.
“The fact that we have students that are willing to work outside of school on a project and have done so well, I think speaks volumes about not only the quality of our students, but the quality of their education,” said Beidelman.